Bills offense must show, not just tell

It was the ballad of the Buffalo Bills during the preseason: We're holding a lot back, so wait and see what our offense will show you in the regular season.

Now we've reached that point, and it's time for the Bills to show they offered more than empty promises.

Throughout an abysmal preseason for EJ Manuel and the Bills' offense, the tune was the same. From Manuel to coach Doug Marrone, there were constant reminders from players and coaches that their scheme was vanilla and their play-calling bland -- and that their careful construction of a regular-season game plan would prove August to be a fluke.

All that talk reached a crescendo after the Bills' shutout loss to the Detroit Lions last week.

"We really haven’t put a lot in, as far as trying to game plan and everything like that," Marrone said. "I hate to lean on that as an excuse for [the offense's performance], but we really showed absolutely nothing."

It could very well be an accurate statement. After all, the Bills offense was pitiful in the preseason. Here is where it ranked among other NFL teams:

Points per game: 12.6 (32nd)

Yards per game: 284.4 (25th)

Yards per play: 4.3 (30th)

Third-down conversions: 33 percent (27th)

Completion percentage: 57.4 (26th)

Passing touchdowns: 3 (tied-30th)

Quarterback rating: 57.5 (32nd)

Interceptions: 9 (most in NFL)

Sacks allowed: 18 (most in NFL)

The Bills' lack of game-planning and simplified playbook in the preseason came up again and again as a reason for the troubles. Marrone and Manuel both said they weren't trying to use those points as an excuse, but it had the effect of one.

Ignored in the process is that virtually every other team across the NFL takes the same approach. Having the chance to catch up with Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on Wednesday, I asked him how much he game-planned for preseason opponents.

"Minimal," Cutler said. "The first two games, you're looking at [the opponent] for maybe a day-and-a-half. At the end of the day, training camp is to try to get your team better, take a look at some new guys, maybe try out some new concepts offensively and defensively, and see how it goes."

Somehow, Cutler and the Bears were able to move the ball and score points in the preseason. In three games, he completed 67 percent of his passes, threw two touchdowns, and posted a 95.0 quarterback rating. Overall, the Bears' offense scored over 18 points per game with "minimal" preparation.

That's why Manuel and Marrone didn't come off well when they harped on their lack of preparation for most of the preseason. Every NFL team is in the same situation -- including the opposing defenses that weren't studying up on the Bills' offense -- and yet somehow more than three-quarters of the league finished better in most offensive statistics.

The problem with lowering expectations all preseason is that the Bills have now built anticipation for the regular season. The more the Bills talked about "holding back" on offense, the more fans grew to expect on Sunday in Chicago.

"I'm feeling very good, very positive about this Chicago week. I like our game plan going in to what they do offensively. I'm excited about it," Manuel said Wednesday. "[The game plan] is quite different [from the preseason]. I think there's a bunch of formations and different gadgets that we've added in going into this game.

"That's why I'm excited to get into this game, because it's a true game-plan week. We really put in a lot of work. Coach [Nate] Hackett has a great plan for these guys. I think it's just a matter of us offensively executing what he has for us."

Fair enough. If the Bills offense has held all that back for their five preseason games, it had better come out with spectacular success against the Bears' defense.

Anything else would be a letdown.