Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Buffalo Bills:
1. During coach Doug Marrone's season-ending radio appearance two weeks ago, a caller asked Marrone about the Bills' lack of height at receiver, a position that figures to be among Buffalo's top draft needs in May. Marrone said that the Bills "feel we have two big targets that can both run that we can implement into our offense," mentioning Kevin Elliott, who spent the entire season on injured reserve, and Cordell Roberson, who was promoted from the practice squad in Week 17. Elliott (6-foot-3) and Roberson (6-foot-4) both have size but were never considered can't-miss talents, so Marrone's answer isn't likely to please many Bills fans.
2. Marrone's response highlights one of two approaches coaches can take when trying to get a losing team back on a winning track. The first option is to talk up what you have, preaching patience and offering a brighter future for the players already on the roster. The Bills are deep into that process with EJ Manuel, giving their rookie quarterback a vote of confidence despite him having one of the NFL's worst passer ratings this season. The object, of course, is to keep players comfortable in hopes of having them grow within the system. The other option is to put everyone on notice, attempting to create an uncomfortable environment where players could be more motivated to perform in order to save their jobs. We haven't seen much of that tactic, at least publicly, from Marrone in his tenure as coach.
3. This isn't the first time that Marrone has raised some eyebrows by lauding bottom-of-the-roster players. When Mario Williams was sidelined for the start of training camp, the Bills were left with Jerry Hughes, Jamie Blatnick, and Kourtnei Brown as their top pass-rushers. That created some uncertainty but Marrone was quick to talk up his personnel at the position. "We feel we have some good young players there," Marrone said. "We feel very comfortable about how that position is going to develop and we’re excited for all those guys." While Hughes was a former first-round pick, Blatnick and Brown were inexperienced and overmatched in the NFL. Blatnick spent the first six weeks of the season on the practice squad and now plays in the Arena Football League. Brown is out of football.
4. While Blatnick and Brown didn't pan out, Hughes gave the Bills a career season. He wasn't alone on the defense either, as cornerback Leodis McKelvin (first round), defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (first round), and safety Aaron Williams (second round) all turned things around this season after rough starts in Buffalo. It's hard to think of another team in recent history where that many high draft picks had things click with a new coach, but the Kansas City Chiefs this season make a strong case.
5. Tight end Tony Moeaki, a third-round pick of the Chiefs in 2010, was signed on Dec. 4 but did not play an offensive snap in any of the final four games. Moeaki has a $1 million base salary for next season, the eight-highest on the Bills' offense. That won't count against the salary cap if the Bills release Moeaki, but it suggests the Bills had competition when signing him late this season. It's a signing that hasn't paid off to this point but it would hardly be a shock if the Bills talk up the tight end's potential throughout the spring and summer.
6a. The Bills' official website posted a story last week exploring Manuel's performance in the final four minutes of each half. In 10 games, Manuel's QBR in the final four minutes of each half was 70.9, the ninth-best in the NFL. His completion percentage (70.6) was second-best behind Josh McCown, while his yards per attempt (5.69) ranked 34th. Including only drives that began inside the four-minute mark, Manuel had the second-best QBR (88.0), behind only Jay Cutler.
6b. Outside of the final four minutes of each half, Manuel had a QBR of 37.0, ranking him 32nd. His yards per attempt (6.54) ranked 34th and his completion percentage (56.3) ranked 36th.
6c. ESPN Stats & Information uses a metric called "Clutch-weighted expected points added" to track quarterback performance in "clutch" situations. On the season, Manuel had a 14.83 CwEPA rating, which was 26th in the NFL.
7. Former Bills playing this weekend for teams remaining in the playoffs: quarterback Tarvaris Jackson (Seattle), running back Marshawn Lynch (Seattle), kicker Shayne Graham (New Orleans), wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers (Indianapolis), running back Tashard Choice (Indianapolis), linebacker Kelvin Sheppard (Indianapolis), long-snapper Danny Aiken (New England), linebacker Chris White (New England), offensive lineman Chad Rinehart (San Diego), cornerback Crezdon Butler (San Diego), offensive lineman Chris Scott (Carolina), offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner (Carolina), defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (Carolina), cornerback Drayton Florence (Carolina), and safety Donte Whitner (San Francisco).
8. Andrew Luck's four interceptions in Saturday's loss to the Patriots were a good reminder that even the cream of the crop of young quarterbacks can struggle. Luck made some magnificent throws in the game but it was his interceptions -- including one that was nearly returned for a touchdown on the opening drive -- that helped change the tide. It's an issue that we explored all season with Manuel: If you're tutoring a young quarterback, do you want him to "go out there and sling it" or be more conservative and controlled? Luck may have strayed too much to the former and now the Colts' season is over.
9. The Miami Dolphins have taken some heat for a tumultuous front office situation that saw the team and general manager Jeff Ireland "mutually part ways" last week. A common criticism is that the Dolphins should "clean house" and fire head coach Joe Philbin, which would avoid any potential problems between Philbin and the new general manager. However, I was impressed with the way Philbin handled the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin situation this season and I think he deserves to stay. The Dolphins can point to the New York Jets' decision to keep head coach Rex Ryan last offseason, while swapping general managers, as one example of why their plan could work.
10. The Washington Redskins' hire of Jay Gruden as head coach last week reunites him with tight ends coach Sean McVay, who is the leading candidate to be named offensive coordinator. McVay and Gruden were on Jim Haslett's staff with the Florida Tuskers during the United Football League's inaugural 2009 season. The Tuskers' wide receivers coach that season was Ike Hilliard, who was recently fired as Bills receivers coach.