Coming off a very successful debut performance under new head coach Doug Marrone, the Bills will play host to the Minnesota Vikings Friday night at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Buffalo's first-year head coach is hoping his team can use last Sunday's game in Indianapolis as a stepping stone for Friday's game.
"You're looking for that improvement," said Marrone. "Obviously they're keeping score so the goal is to win, but at the same time from an individual standpoint you're looking for separation. There's a lot of other competition going on outside the quarterback, for spots on the roster, depth chart, special teams. So you're looking for people to step up in those areas and you're looking to see the progress in them. The coaching points that you've made and corrected you're making sure they don't make those mistakes again."
Kolb to start
It was little surprise to see veteran QB Kevin Kolb get the nod from Marrone to start Friday's game. Kolb wasn't healthy to play last Sunday coming off a freak knee injury. In an effort to maintain some measure of equality in the competition Marrone told Kolb he'd be starting after the morning walk through Wednesday.
"We're going to go ahead and start Kevin Kolb at quarterback this week," said Marrone. "The one thing that I hope everyone understands is we were very, very happy with EJ's performance in the first game. In the first game if Kevin was healthy he was going to probably start the first game and EJ start this game. Again they're in a competition and we just switched it. So that's where we are with the starting quarterback."
By this past Tuesday Kolb looked mobile again and had one of his best practices prompting the Bills head coach to let him be first in the rotation.
"Yes, obviously (Tuesday) was a big improvement for me," said Kolb. "I felt my feet get back underneath me and was able to push the ball down the field a couple of times and I was happy with it."
In the preseason opener last Sunday most of Buffalo's passing game featured short to intermediate throws and very few downfield passes. The longest pass play against the Colts covered 29 yards. Marrone expressed mild disappointment that they didn't try to stretch the field more often against Indianapolis as it was in stark contrast to the routine big pass plays that have been seen daily at training camp. That figures to change somewhat on Friday though offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett wasn't giving up the farm.
"I can't give secrets away," Hackett said. "I think any time you have the speed out there, you have to at least give it a shot. Obviously, a lot of people say, 'Oh, you should just throw it deep, you've got all these great guys out there.'
"Well, what happens is defenses, they look at things too and I think that there are ways they can do it with some coverages and you have to be creative on how you do that. So you'd like to throw it down the field quite a bit because it's C.J. Spiller's best friend, Fred Jackson's best friend is throw the ball deep. So I think you have to try and be creative and figure some way to do it."
With starting players like Stevie Johnson, T.J. Graham, Leodis McKelvin and Kiko Alonso not dressing for Friday's game there will be some lineup changes for the Vikings game.
Rookies Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin are expected to line up at receiver to start the game, while Arthur Moats is expected to start at linebacker in place of Alonso.
McKelvin's replacement is expected to be Crezdon Butler if he's healthy, but his reps were cut back in Wednesday's practice. Ron Brooks started in McKelvin's place last Sunday.
Minnesota is coming off a preseason Week 1 loss at Houston to the Texans 27-13. The Vikings had a field goal lead at the half with the score 13-10 at the break, but Houston outscored Minnesota 17-0 over the final two quarters.
Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier is looking for more production on offense after they ran just 52 plays from scrimmage against Houston's defense and were 0-for-2 in the red zone.
"We like to see our offense get some first downs, see our defense get some stops and if that happens and we're aggressive in what we're doing then we can walk away from this week and next week feeling better about where we are heading into the regular season," Frazier said. "
Adrian Peterson did not play in the Vikings preseason opener, which explains why Minnesota had just 51 rushing yards and only two first downs on the ground.
Frazier said his starters will likely play into the second quarter depending on the number of plays they run. No definitive word however, on whether Peterson will suit up.
"We want to get him some (work) these next couple of weeks," said Frazier. "Between this week and next week, obviously those would be the weeks that we would play him in the preseason. We are going to have some more discussions about it. We have an idea of what we are going to do."
Among the notable new additions for the Vikings this season are WR Greg Jennings, QB Matt Cassel and their three first-round picks from the 2013 draft in DT Shariff Floyd, CB Xavier Rhodes and WR Cordarrelle Patterson.
Rhodes did not play in the preseason opener due to injury.
Last year the Vikings beat the Bills in the Metrodome 36-14, thanks in large part to a pair of late interception returns by Minnesota LB Audie Cole.