The Buffalo Bills gave a massive contract to Mario Williams last season, and by all accounts he was initially a disappointment despite picking up double-digit sacks. How's he been in his second year, moving back to more of a 3-4 linebacker role?
He has been better this season, not just because Mike Pettine's defense has freed him up a bit more, but because he's been fully healthy all year, as well. On the whole, though, there are similarities between his two seasons in Buffalo. He started off the season on fire, accumulating 11 sacks in the team's first eight games. In their five games since, he has just one sack. The book on Williams is well-established - once in a while he'll completely take over a game (see: Week 2, when he sacked Cam Newton 4.5 times), and then he'll disappear for long stretches of the season. Buffalo has a decision to make on Mario this off-season; he's due a monster $10.6 million roster bonus at the start of the new league year. This year will be the only time that they can get out of Williams' deal with ease; they probably won't want to do that, but they may want to restructure.
In a bit of a surprise to everyone, the Bills picked EJ Manuel in the first round, making him the first quarterback taken in the draft. How has EJ Manuel been on the season? What's the general outlook for him with Bills fans?
Manuel has been up and down, staying somewhere between competent and sort of bad for most of the season, with a couple of deep dives into pitiful territory (in Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay). There are a lot of flaws in his game; he's pretty bad in the pocket, many of his throws are just flat-out inaccurate (he struggles in particular to reset his feet when he's moved off his spot), and the team is scaling back their offense this week because Manuel had too much on his plate. He is what he is for now, and unless he's able to make big strides between year one and year two (which, if you ask Mike Shanahan, is essential to a top draft pick not getting benched within a calendar year), there haven't been many positive signs if you're trying to project Manuel as a long-term NFL starter.
What's the deal with C.J. Spiller? Why don't the Bills utilize him more?
Part of the reason he's only played 31.7 percent of snaps this season is that he spent the better part of two months battling through a high ankle sprain. That limited his reps quite a bit. Then there's the fact that the team correctly does not use him in the backfield on passing downs, because he can't block, where Fred Jackson is excellent in that role. That accounts for the playing time disparity between the two backs. Beyond that, every other question - like, say, why the Bills don't use an ultra-talented athlete like Spiller in any even semi-creative ways - will be met with a big fat shrug from me and any other Bills fan you encounter. It's getting to the point of being infuriating that the team can't find ways to harness his immense skill.
Kiko Alonso was the player the Jaguars seemed interested in in the NFL Draft. How's he been for the Bills so far, I know he had a hot start to the season.
He did indeed have a hot start to the season, and that's carried him to the top of the Pro Bowl voting at inside linebacker. Over the last couple of months he's come back to earth a bit; he's still doing a lot of things well (particularly in coverage), but teams are figuring out how to exploit him against the run, given that he's the only true linebacker the team uses with any regularity. Alonso is an aggressive and instinctive player, and teams are using those traits against him. He'll play in the NFL for a long time, but Alonso has cooled off considerably from his first month in the league.
Has the season played out how you thought it would so far? What's the feeling on the job Doug Marrone and company have been doing?
It has, but that's only because seven years of covering every detail of this team for SB Nation has left me a largely cynical and jaded person. In reality, the team missed out on a golden opportunity this season, throwing away a shot at the playoffs with a loss to Atlanta in Toronto and failing to make any waves in an AFC East that was wide open behind New England (the Bills have already beaten Miami and New York once each, and lost by two to the Pats in Week 1). Marrone and his coaching staff have had to battle through a lot of adversity - they've started three different quarterbacks this season, for instance - but his team has also looked bad on the road and in key games that could have kept them in the playoff hunt. Now they're playing out the string, hoping that the face of their franchise won't continue to look like hot garbage over the final three weeks of the season. So basically, things have now returned to normal.