The sold out scrimmage at St. John Fisher College on Saturday night will be the first real test for the Buffalo Bills quarterback competition.
“I think that scrimmage that we’re gonna have it is important,” Bills head coach Rex Ryan said. “I think that’s just as important as a preseason game. … You’ll see the cream rise to the top that day, generally. And that’s when it needs to.”
The scrimmage may, very well, determine who starts the first preseason game against the Carolina Panthers next Friday night.
Let’s take a look at every quarterback and who to watch for in the scrimmage…
Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor, E.J. Manuel, and Matt Simms all have an opportunity to compete for the starting job. Each quarterback faces equal amount of pressure. The Bills have such a good roster they could actually win with one of these players.
Buffalo is challenging the notion that you need a top-20 QB to win in this league. If it is going to work, the question needs to be can one of these guys be Trent Dilfer?
Who is Trent Dilfer?
Trent Dilfer played for many teams during his career. His most notable season came guiding the 2000 Ravens to a 34-7 Super Bowl win over the Giants.
Fun fact: Dilfer never had above a 60-percent regular season completion percentage.
In the Ravens Super Bowl run, he had a crisp 47.9-percent completion percentage. He was sacked 23 times in eleven games. His yards per attempt averaged 6.6-yards. He threw 12 touchdowns and eleven interceptions during the regular season.
How did the Ravens win a Super Bowl with this guy?
How to become Trent Difler
To win with a Trent Dilfer-like quarterback, you need four things:
- An elite defense. (Bills looking like they have that)
- A great running game. (Bills’ offensive coordinator, Greg Roman is a “rushing guru.” More on that later.)
- Occasionally make a nice throw. (Occasionally look like a starting Quarterback)
- Do not turn the ball over, ESPECIALLY in important games
The fact is, Dilfer was a below average quarterback. He was 38th in yards per game, 22nd in quarterback rating (with quarterbacks who attempted at least 200 passes), and was middle of the pack regarding completion percentage. Dilfer was so valuable to the Ravens that he never played for them again after winning the Super Bowl. In the playoffs, Dilfer threw only one interception in four games.
Here is an example: if you fast forward to 3:05, Dilfer makes a 38-yard throw down the middle to Brandon Stokley for a touchdown in the Super Bowl against the Giants.
Can any of the Bills quarterbacks make that throw, and follow the rules above to become Trent Dilfer? Let’s examine:
Cassel thinks it is his job to lose, as he should. He is the most seasoned quarterback in the competition, and faces the risk of being cut if he doesn’t start week one. The Bills could save 4.2 million dollars if they cut him. That seems like an attractive option if they go with another quarterback come week one.
Cassel has been accurate at most throws under 15-yards, and good at getting the ball out towards the sidelines on screens, comebacks, and outs all within that range. Cassel may be the epitome of average. He has a career 59-percent completion percentage, he usually throws more touchdowns than interceptions (96-70 career TD-INT ratio), and his career yards per attempt average is 6.6-yards. Sound familiar?
Matt Cassel has put together two great years with two different teams in his career, under Josh McDaniels (2008, New England Patriots) and Todd Haley (2010, Kansas City Chiefs). He even had an underrated 2013 with Norv Turner and the Minnesota Vikings. Greg Roman could put Cassel’s ceiling at that 21 touchdown, eleven-interception season like he had with the Patriots.
Were those successful years?
2008 – Patriots: 6th in rushing
2009 – Chiefs: 11th in rushing
2010 – Chiefs: 1st in rushing, made the Pro Bowl that year.
2013 – Vikings: 8th in rushing
Greg Roman has finished all four years at offensive coordinator in the top ten in rushing and three of them in the top five. They brought in LeSean McCoy, Richie Incognito, and drafted guard John Miller, who has looked fantastic. Percy Harvin is another man who can lineup in the backfield. If the Bills have an elite defense and a top five rushing year, Cassell is going to be close to, if not, a top-20 quarterback.
The key for Cassel is to stay healthy. He has not been able to since 2010 and one can say that it has not helped him.
If you are going to win games in “Quarterback Purgatory,” you are best off getting a Dilfer with the guidelines above. The Bills have got their Dilfer here. Can this Dilfer stay healthy? If he does, general manager Doug Whaley should get the General Manager of the year for the roster he has built to cater Matt Cassel. The Bills probably win the division as well.
Chance of being Dilfer: 9.5 out of 10
Chance of exceeding Dilfer: 7 out of 10
The former first round pick is someone to root for, but is just so inconsistent. He has not made much improvement in his accuracy since arriving to Buffalo. His ability to read defenses has improved according to coaches, but his inconsistency is the first thing you will take away from any practice or scrimmage you go to. He has terrific arm strength, which allows him to make some great throws, but for each great throw he follows up with a mistake. He is learning a new offense, but that did not stop Dilfer from achieving the label of “competent” in his one year with the Ravens.
Manuel has had a rough go of it in his tenure with the Bills. Doug Marrone gave up on him faster than people gave up on JaMarcus Russell in Oakland. He was not allowed to throw on first downs for the majority of his time starting, and did not look horrific when he played. He was a Stevie Johnson drop from his first ever start being a win against the New England Patriots. He led a two-minute drill final drive win against the Carolina Panthers a week later. He made some smart plays against the Chicago Bears week one last year in their surprising win at Soldier Field. There are positives, but he needs to develop consistency.
Statistically, he is slightly behind Cassel in most categories if not the same, albeit, a smaller sample size. What Manuel teases is the potential to use his legs as weapons. Thus far he has not.
Looking back at Cassel’s time with the Vikings, the argument could be made that he was not far behind on the ground to what Manuel has produced so far.
EJ has a lot to prove if he thinks he can be the Bills’ Trent Dilfer.
Chance of being Dilfer: 6 out of 10
Chance of exceeding Dilfer: 4 out of 10
No one was talking about Tyrod Taylor becoming a starter last year. Coming from the Ravens after backing up Joe Flacco for four years, he has been given an opportunity to compete in Buffalo.
Taylor does not look like he will be Dilfer. He screams boom or bust. He is, by far, the best rusher out of all the quarterbacks at camp. Since camp started, he has made one of the best throws almost every day. Yet, there are times he holds onto the ball a little too long, and he also needs to develop more consistency. Last Wednesday he had a horrific first hour of practice in simple drills with no receivers involved. Once he had bodies for the second hour, he showed potential to be an actual starter. He connected on throws past 15 yards consecutively and had the best throw of the day in 11 on 11s.
What impresses is his pocket awareness and ability to keep his eyes downfield. He has also been making less big mistakes as practice and camp has progressed. If that, Taylor shows up during the scrimmages and preseason games, he is your best bet to run an offense utilizing read option plays.
“I’m not gonna say he’s Russell Wilson, but he’s got a little of that in him,” Rex Ryan said. “He’s able to run zone reads, and pull the ball down and be effective.”
He is a sexy unknown that Bills fans would love to exceed expectations. We will not know for sure until we see more of him in game situations. But as of right now, his stock is on the rise from early camp performances.
Chance of being Dilfer: 5 out of 10
Chance of exceeding Dilfer: 7 out of 10
No. Maybe he will surprise. Probably not. His family believes politics are holding him back…
He is a career backup at best. He could make this roster as a third Quarterback.
Chance of being Dilfer: 3 out of 10
Chance of exceeding Dilfer: 1 out of 10
This is an open competition, but this roster is catered to Cassel. Somebody is going to have to pry it away from him with an impressive performance. Saturday night will be the first opportunity to do so.
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