Buffalo Bills: Top 10 Things We Learned from First Preseason Game
The Bills took a rather vanilla approach to this contest, as they didn't roll out anything very special on either side of the ball. Head coach Chan Gailey saw to it that the vast majority of the team got into the game, so they now have some real game footage on players for evaluation purposes.
If there is one good thing that Bills fans can take from this game, it's that none of the Bills players came away with any injuries to speak of. So far, so good.
This presentation will address the top 10 things we learned about the Bills from the game against the Washington Redskins.
10) John Potter Has a Big Leg as Was Advertised
Three kickoffs and three touchbacks. I would say that is mission accomplished. Bills rookie kicker John Potter boomed two kicks out of the end zone and had a third kick that went into the end zone, resulting in a touchback.
Three kicks, and three times the Washington Redskins had to start a drive at their own 20-yard line.
If you would ask either Chan Gailey or defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt how content they would be if the opposition began their drives at their own 20-yard line, I would imagine you would get a very positive response.
Forcing any opponent to drive 80 yards to get a touchdown against the Bills' defense this year could prove to be very difficult, especially as this defense learns how to gel and play with one another as the season continues to move along.
Potter may be proving that he belongs on the team.
9) Naaman Roosevelt Looks Like Bills' Best Punt Returner
Leodis McKelvin was playing in the secondary against Washington but also served as the top option on the punt return team. McKelvin wound up fair-catching several punts, of which one of them looked to be returnable, but he opted for the fair-catch route instead.
Ever since McKelvin had that disastrous fumble against the New England Patriots, I have been leery of him on the return team. To his credit, there have been some flashes of good returns, but honestly, they have too few and far between to get overly excited about what he does as a returner.
Naaman Roosevelt, however, looked like he could be an asset as a punt returner for Buffalo against the Redskins. Roosevelt returned three punts for 34 yards, averaging 11.3 yards per return. He had a long return of 21 yards.
Roosevelt obviously is fighting for a spot on the final roster. It is safe to say that Roosevelt is on the roster bubble, due to the sheer number of receivers that the Bills still have in training camp. But, if Roosevelt continues to prove that he can be a difference maker as a punt returner, that would do wonders to help his chances of making the team.
Justin Rogers didn't figure in punt returns, as he has been nursing an injury in training camp. He is another player that I would like to see more of in future preseason games.
8) Bills Defensive Starters Contained Robert Griffin III
Despite the professional debut of Robert Griffin III, many Bills fans opted to stay home, as you can tell from the empty seats in the background. If it had been a regular-season game, I have no doubt that they would have been there to rock the house and make life difficult for the rookie quarterback.
The Bills' defense was much the same, as they chose not to do any blitzing on Griffin, and instead focused on containment.
Defensive end Mario Williams made some comments about how their focus on defense was just to contain Griffin and keep him in the pocket. While that might make some sense, it also meant that nobody was laying a hand on him either. So, pick your poison.
The Bills did mix it up later in the game as the second and third defensive units tried out some different looks and assignments.
Ideally, the Bills will hope that their front four defensive linemen will be able to generate sufficient pressure to get to the quarterback, utilizing their back seven to focus on covering any receivers out in patterns. This formula works very well for the New York Giants' defense, so hopefully it can also work wonders for the Bills.
7) Ryan Fitzpatrick Still Has More Work to Do on Fundamentals
Ryan Fitzpatrick has been working with quarterback coach David Lee on many fundamental issues, especially on his footwork and overall lower-body mechanics. After watching the first preseason game, it is clear Fitzpatrick still has more work to do.
Fitzpatrick was asked to run the no-huddle offense against Washington, primarily because the Redskins employed a defensive alignment that would have made running the ball different. So, Fitzpatrick wound up passing the ball for every one of the official 14 snaps that he took.
Looking at the stats, Fitzpatrick completed only six passes out of 14 attempts for just 61 yards. The 42-percent completion percentage isn't very good, nor is the average of 4.4 yards per pass.
Unfortunately, Fitzpatrick had a touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson called back due to penalty; that play would have clearly boosted Fitzpatrick's stock considerably.
As it was, the Bills employed a few empty backfield looks, and Fitzpatrick paid the price as he took some big shots from the Redskins' defense.
On the very first play from scrimmage on the Bills' opening drive, Fitzpatrick was sacked by Ryan Kerrigan. Despite an 11-yard completion to Stevie Johnson, the Bills wound up with an opening drive of three-and-out.
The next drive started at the Redskins 21-yard line thanks to a turnover, but the drive wound up losing four yards. Fitzpatrick did throw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Johnson, but the play was wiped up due to an illegal formation when Johnson and C.J. Spiller had difficulty in lining up properly on one side of the formation. Chalk that one up to preseason blues. Buffalo had to settle for a Rian Lindell field goal.
Fitzpatrick's final two drives wound up with no points. He took the Bills from their own nine-yard line to their own 47 by completing three straight passes, one of which was a very nice completion to Scott Chandler over the middle (photo on the opening slide).
Fitzpatrick missed on five of his final six attempts in the game. He played the entire first quarter, and you would like to see more than just three points from the Bills' starting quarterback.
6) Johnny White Showed That He Has Some Life to Him
Johnny White failed to impress Bills fans during his rookie season last year. White didn't see a whole lot of action in 2011, even after starting running back Fred Jackson went on the I.R. list.
For the entire season, White ran the ball 12 times for 38 yards, averaging 3.2 yards per rush. Considering that he had one rush for 13 yards, if you took that away, the average is even more anemic.
So, that is why it was nice to see White actually make some plays against the Redskins. He ran the ball five times for 25 yards, averaging 5.0 yards per rush. White had a nifty run of 17 yards when he probably should have been tackled behind the line of scrimmage but found a way to fake the defensive lineman out of his jock strap and proceeded to pick up 17 yards on the play.
For now, it appears that White has a battle on his hands with Tashard Choice for the third-string running back job.
Choice had nine rushes for a meager 16 yards. When the Bills wound up settling for a 22-yard field goal attempt from Rian Lindell (which he shanked badly), it was Choice who was given the opportunity to score a touchdown. He made a bad read on one rush attempt that probably should have been a touchdown.
As to who wins the battle, it will probably come down to intangibles. Who is the better pass-blocker? Who can step in and carry the load if either Jackson or Spiller went down due to injury?
Choice played for Gailey at Georgia Tech, so the two of them have some history. But after the first game, White looked better to me.
5) The Replacement Referees Are Brutal
The NFL is threatening the union of locked-out referees, otherwise known as the NFL Referees Association, by using replacement referees in the preseason games.
Clark Judge of CBS Sports wrote an article about the situation, in which he doesn't think it is wise for the locked-out group to be so overly critical of their performance, because we can tell they stink on our own.
The danger in what the NFLRA is doing, of course, is that they are then inviting more criticism of their work when they look bad. Even labor groups can be accused of being short-sighted.
But after reviewing the Bills versus Redskins game on NFL Network, it was obvious just how brutal the replacement referees truly are. The most obviously blatant bad call was on a punt by Brian Moorman, who made a beautiful punt that the Bills downed at the five-yard line.
Ruvell Martin was trying really hard to not cross the five-yard line stripe, and the referee must have assumed that it was the goal line, because he judged it a touchback. It didn't take long for the instant replay to show it was the five-yard line, and the call was reversed.
Besides that call, the less obvious infractions that were maddening were the number of illegal motion penalties. Steve Tasker, who was broadcasting the game, doubted that the real referees would have called that many penalties for motion.
But the biggest complaint I had regarded the lack of defensive holding and pass interference calls against the Redskins. They committed at least three holding or interference calls on crucial third downs that should have resulted in Bills drives, which would have been kept alive if the right call had been made.
Every time the foul was overlooked by the replacement zebras, and the Bills were forced to punt.
I would hate to have any regular-season game being judged by these guys. As one game can determine the difference between making the postseason and going home early, the NFL owes it to the teams, players and fans of the game to get the right people out there on the field.
4) Bills' Second- and Third-String Offense Needs More Work
The contest against Washington saw the Bills' second- and third-string offense play the final three quarters. Collectively, that group put up a meager three points, and they had opportunities to score more than that.
Players that were getting hit with penalties ranged from Corey McIntyre, Mark Asper, T.J. Graham, Lee Smith, Sam Young and David Snow. Some of these guys were in their first NFL game, so it can be chalked up to nerves.
But there were veterans who committed infractions as well. The most maddening penalty was the one that negated the touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Stevie Johnson.
The first two drives for Tyler Thigpen resulted in three-and-outs, as did the first two drives for Vince Young.
None of the Bills' quarterbacks were able to complete at least 50 percent of their passes, and none of the Bills' quarterbacks were even able to average five yards per pass. Both of those statements are pretty bad, but after all this is the first preseason game, so I am going to chalk this up to knocking off the rust.
Going forward, the second- and third-string offense will see some additional work in the second preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings this Friday night. The players who continue to make mistakes will probably be released by the Bills soon enough.
Speaking about being released, here are the key dates to remember going forward:
Aug. 28: Roster cutdown to 80 players, then just five short days later.....
Sept. 2: Roster cutdown to 53 players.
Sept. 9: Regular season opening game at New York Jets.
3) Injured Bills Players from 2011 Looked Pretty Healthy
Steve Johnson officially caught two passes for 21 yards in the first quarter, but the illegal formation call cost him another catch for 20 yards and a touchdown reception.
He was moving around very well on the field, and looked like he was over any fallout from the prior groin injury and the operation.
A fully recovered Johnson will be a key to the success of the Bills' offense. It was very difficult to judge how star running back Fred Jackson looked, since neither Jackson or C.J. Spiller were given any rushing attempts.
Other key Bills players returning from injury included Kyle Williams and Shawne Merriman. They both were running around the field and looked healthy. Merriman appeared to be in the best physical shape since he was been with the team, while Williams was moving around like the Kyle of old.
We did not see Eric Wood in the contest as he is not yet ready to play.
2) Vince Young Looked Great Scrambling with the Ball
Vince Young wound up being the Bills' leading rusher in the game, as he had five rushes (scrambles) for 37 yards, averaging 7.4 yards per rush (er scramble). He had a long rush of 21 yards.
Young displayed great lateral movement, quickness, speed and agility as he pulled away from linebackers and linemen alike. He picked up a first down on a third-and-one when he was flushed out of the pocket, and he also picked up a first down on a third-and-20 when he was flushed out of the pocket.
That play alone shows Bills fans why he probably makes more sense to have as the backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick.
If the Bills' offense gets decimated with injuries later in the season and Fitzpatrick can't play, Young can keep you in games with his legs. He is 6'5" and weighs 232 pounds. That makes him not only big and strong, but tough for one player to bring him down without him falling ahead for extra yards.
Granted, he wasn't playing against the Redskins' first-team defense, but then again, those weren't the Bills' starting offensive linemen that were trying to protect him either.
Young is slated to get the call to be working with the second-team for the game against Minnesota. We will see how he fares with an upgrade in talent around him.
1) Final Thoughts
It was great to see Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, Vince Young and all the rookies from the 2012 draft class in Bills' uniforms.
The players that stood out to me were Ron Brooks, Tank Carder, Scott McKillop, Scott Chandler and Vince Young.
Brooks made a very nice interception but did drop another pass that would have given him two picks on the night. Carder and McKillop were sticking Redskins out there and showed that there are some athletic players in the reserve linebackers.
Chandler made a difficult catch on a high pass and held the ball up high so the Redskins couldn't knock the ball out of his hands. That is something that we might see more of from the big 6'7" tight end later in the regular season.
Young impressed with his scrambling abilities and kept drives alive with his legs.
All in all, the Bills didn't try to reveal very much on offense and defense.
It was interesting that the sack totals were so different compared to the game in Toronto last year when these teams last met. The Bills had 10 sacks in Toronto, but with their improved defensive line, they had none in this game. That was with Washington missing three starters on their offensive line. The Redskins were credited with four sacks on the Bills' quarterbacks.
You can expect the Bills to do a little more game-planning and working more plays into their offense for each of the remaining preseason games, as we get closer to the start of the regular season.
The game you really want to watch is the contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers at home on Saturday, August 25. That is the game where the starting units will play the most. It should be interesting to watch the Bills' defense go up against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers' new linemen.
Thanks for checking out the presentation.