ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) The Buffalo Bills defense can take a break.
However, quarterback EJ Manuel and Buffalo’s sputtering starting offense isn’t expected to get much rest in the preseason finale against the Detroit Lions on Thursday night.
”Yes, absolutely, I’m looking to play those guys,” Marrone said this week. ”I think, obviously, we’re much further ahead on (the defensive side) of the ball than we are (on offense).”
Marrone’s concerns on offense came after Manuel and company were booed off the field while trailing 24-0 at halftime of an eventual 27-14 preseason home loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday.
The Bills (1-3) combined for just 82 net yards and six first downs on eight first-half possessions before scoring two touchdowns on consecutive third-quarter drives against the Buccaneers’ second-string defense.
The touchdowns – Manuel’s 14-yard pass to Mike Williams and Fred Jackson’s 8-yard run – were the first Buffalo’s starters had scored after being limited to four field goals on their first 18 drives this preseason.
That’s not good enough for a unit that is 10 days away from opening the season at Chicago on Sept. 7.
”If we want to be a great offense, we have to be able to do it against their starters, not their bench,” running back C.J. Spiller said. ”I wouldn’t say discouraged. We’re disappointed.”
Manuel, last year’s first-round draft pick, still hasn’t shed questions regarding his inconsistencies in going 4-6 last season. And the Bills offensive line is still jelling after Marrone finally identified his starting five last week.
They’ll get one final dress rehearsal against the Lions (2-1), who are seeking to settle their backup quarterback competition between Dan Orlovsky and Kellen Moore.
First-year coach Jim Caldwell hasn’t divulged his plans on whether his starters will play on Thursday. The Lions do have several other competitions for roster spots, including one at receiver between Ryan Broyles, Kris Durham and Kevin Ogletree.
The game features one intriguing subplot with Caldwell’s predecessor, Jim Schwartz, now running the Bills defense.
Schwartz went 29-51 in five seasons with the Lions, including a 10-6 finish in 2011 when Detroit snapped a 12-year playoff drought. He was fired after a 7-9 finish last season, including a loss of six of their last seven.
The Bills hired Schwartz in late January after defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was hired to take over as the Cleveland Browns head coach.
Schwartz inherited a talent-laden defense that was the team’s strength and produced four Pro Bowl selections last season. Buffalo set a franchise record and finished second in the NFL with 57 sacks and also finished second in the league with 23 interceptions.
The only deficiency was stopping the run. Buffalo finished 28th in yards rushing allowed, and gave up 150-plus yards rushing seven times.
Schwartz has a strong track record in devising schemes to stop the run, which has so far carried over in Buffalo. In four preseason games, the Bills starters have allowed 80 yards rushing on 40 carries.
”We talked about it being a priority,” Schwartz said. ”We’ve still got a long way to go, but the last couple of weeks we’ve seen some real encouraging signs from the guys.”
Lions guard Rob Sims said it’ll be ”weird” seeing his former coach on the other sideline.
”It’ll be hard seeing him over there. He’s still a part of this locker room in some regard. He put a lot of us together,” Sims said. ”We won together. We lost together. He absolutely deserves my respect to go over and say `Hi.”’
AP freelance writer John Kreger in Allen Park, Michigan, contributed to this report.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL