1. Mario Williams has four sacks in two career games against the Steelers, along with several quarterback hits and a forced fumble. With 11 sacks, he's currently on pace to challenge the league's single season sack record. He's a convicted felon, isn't he?
If by "a convicted felon" you mean "someone the Steelers should worry about on Sunday," then sure. Williams has been freed from the confines of Dave Wannstedt's formation-static scheme by new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, lining up everywhere from directly over the center to three-technique to outside linebacker. Teams are forced to account for his whereabouts on every snap, and the movement has helped to elevate the play and production of not just Williams, but other front seven defenders like Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and even Jerry Hughes. So far, this has been a career year for Williams, without a doubt.
2. Doug Marrone was something of a surprise hire this offseason. How do you feel he's done in these three areas: Roster development, game preparation/strategy and vision?
It's tough to gauge player development through nine games not just because it's still early or because the team is so young in key areas, but because so many important players have either missed time or played through significant injuries. EJ Manuel is the best example; he came into the league in need of a lot of technical refinement and seasoning, and then he missed two preseason games and four regular season games with two separate knee injuries. He's just the tip of the iceberg; C.J. Spiller, Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods, Manny Lawson, Stephon Gilmore and Jairus Byrd have all missed varying lengths of time, as well.
To this point under Marrone, the Bills have been much more consistently competitive than in years past, which speaks to his ability to keep the team afloat despite the aforementioned adversity with injuries. He and his coaching staff seem to come out with a fresh and prudent game plan each week, but they've also struggled mightily in specific situations - most recently, red zone offense has been a major issue - that has cost them wins. Right now, Marrone's job is to keep the team consistent while ironing out the remaining kinks to get them over the hump. If he can do that, the players will really buy into the program.
My Delorean finally broke down, so I'll let you know in many years. Right now, Manuel only has four and a half meaningful games under his belt. The Bills are 2-2 in the games he's finished. There have been some ugly moments, but Manuel has not been nearly as bad as expected considering his many flaws entering the league. Nor has he been particularly good; he's had a few moments where his talent level was blatantly obvious, but he hasn't had his "wow" moment yet by any stretch. The jury is still out on whether or not Manuel can be the face of a winning franchise, but Bills fans are still largely okay with finding out what he has to offer, simply because it'd been so long since the team had tried its hand at this franchise quarterback business.
4. Buffalo General Manager Doug Whaley (infamous for starting the Email Chain Read 'Round The League in 2007) is making his mark on the team with shrewd free agent acquisitions - Williams, Jerry Hughes and Manny Lawson - along with draft gems like Kiko Alonso (with the appropriate credit given to his predecessor Buddy Nix). Do you feel, if they can keep Manuel healthy the rest of the way, this team can compete for a playoff spot?
Yeah, I don't think it's out of the question that they make a wild card push over the back half of the season - but time is running short, and a lot would have to come together quickly, starting with a step forward at the quarterback position. To my eye, Whaley deserves a lot of credit for swinging a pretty thrifty preseason trade to land Thaddeus Lewis, who picked up Nate Hackett's offense quickly and was nearly as good as Manuel was when the top pick was out of the lineup. They are not far off - they have a ton of talent on offense and a good, aggressive defense capable of making big plays. They just, for a variety of reasons, haven't been able to put it all together yet this season.
5. What is the general feeling among Bills fans about former Bills RB Marshawn Lynch and his success in Seattle? Was he let go too early? Was he dragging the team down?
Two things stand out here: one, Bills fans had seen running backs leave and succeed before. Travis Henry had a 1,200-yard season in Tennessee, and Willis McGahee has stayed productive in the league for a long time. Two, the Bills traded Lynch at a time when their backfield was overcrowded, as Fred Jackson and then-rookie C.J. Spiller were also on the team. Jackson will long be remembered as a franchise great in this region, and Spiller is a star. Lynch needed a change of scenery, and he's obviously flourished out west. Bills fans are more upset about the terms of that trade than Lynch himself, I'd say; many Bills fans still love the guy.
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