Bills vs. Vikings: 10 Things We Learned from Buffalo's 36-14 Loss
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder had an outstanding night against a Bills defense that gave up multiple big plays via the run and through the air.
Aside from two sacks from Marcel Dareus and Kyle Williams on the opening drive, Ponder was able to regain his composure and lead the team to 10 quick points in the first quarter.
He finished his night midway through the second quarter, going 10-13 for 136 yards and a touchdown.
The Buffalo offense continued to look like a unit trying to find themselves in their first extended game time of the young season.
The Starting Offense Isn't There Yet
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Ryan Fitzpatrick was efficient in the four drives he saw with the starting offense, but rarely looked for players downfield. Fitzpatrick's arm limitations aside, he needed to recognize that the Vikings were playing the passes to the flat and the quick screens.
The few passes he attempted to look downfield on were broken up on a few nice plays by Vikings' corners Chris Cook and rookie Josh Robinson. Even the touchdown pass was a quick slant to Donald Jones where he broke a tackle, got a nice block from tight end Scott Chandler and scampered to the end zone.
From the looks of it, the offensive line held up pretty well in the pass-blocking department, as Fitzpatrick had enough time to complete 8-of-11 passes without being pressured much.
The run blocking could use a little more work as both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller were met close to the line of scrimmage on all but Jackson's second-quarter rush for 20 yards.
This next week will be pivotal for the offense to work through the kinks before next week's battle against the Steelers. The third game of the preseason is usually the last time the starters get extended playing time.
Vince Young Took the Lead for the Backup Spot
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Vince Young was hoping the Bills would be a safe landing spot for him to make something of his disappointing NFL career. After signing a contract in May, Young was likely looking to quickly carve a niche for himself on the roster after an ugly one-year stint with the Eagles in 2011.
With the interest in his services at virtual standstill, Young jumped at the opportunity to join a Chan Gailey-run offense that traditionally succeeds with a quarterback of Young's skill set.
The first few months have shown uninspiring play and an admittance that he isn't comfortable with the offense just yet. The results have been miserable in practice and in the first preseason game, Young looked lost during his short time on the field.
There were whispers that he was struggling to beat out a less-talented Tyler Thigpen for the backup position and could be on the final cut list.
Young silenced his detractors, at least for one night, after putting together a solid 8-for-13 effort through the air. Half of his yards came on one play, a 64-yard pass to speedy rookie T.J. Graham, but Young looked efficient all night.
For the first time in a Bills' jersey, Young looked comfortable in the pocket, never looking to scramble once, but instead working through his progressions.
Thigpen and Brad Smith, who is likely a roster lock as a "weapon," looked horrible in comparison to Young. Each threw interceptions to rookie Audie Cole, which he returned for two touchdowns in a 13-second span in the fourth quarter.
Thigpen isn't going to crack the final roster with another performance like tonight's.
Donald Jones Is Still the No. 2 WR
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Incumbent starter Donald Jones, a third-year man out of Youngstown State, was listed opposite Stevie Johnson on the initial depth chart released by the Bills. With the pressure being felt from veteran Derek Hagan and T.J. Graham, who along with Jones had started to separate from the pack, Jones needed a few display to remain the starter.
Jones showed his deceptive speed on his 31-yard touchdown, breaking a Chris Carr tackle and running along the Bills' sideline for the score. Carr likely should have made the play, but credit Jones for making a big play to maintain top-dog status for the No. 2 job.
T.J. Graham's Speed Will Prove Beneficial
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Graham's straight-line speed is obvious when watching him run routes and this was the skill he was "reached" for in the draft this year. His return abilities were a big draw and they were also what many thought would be his only real contribution to the team in his rookie season.
However, Graham has been looking to dispel all that and make an instant impact on offense as a downfield threat. The bomb from Young to Graham in the third quarter showed a sign of possible things to come and that the young receiver has done a lot of work in camp.
He'll likely be the fourth receiver on the depth chart when they open the season, but Gailey likes to run 4-Wide sets quite a bit, which should give Graham plenty of chances to rack up highlight catches.
The Pass Rush Is Coming Along
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Mario Williams still hasn't recorded his first unofficial sack of his short Bills' career, but the defensive line showed the pressure they can put on a quarterback during their quarter-and-a-half showcase.
Ironically, the only two Bills to record sacks with the starting unit were their returners on the line, Marcel Dareus and Kyle Williams.
The line will still need to tighten up on their run defense, as they allowed too many big runs by fill-in starter Toby Gerhart.
Cordy Glenn Is Improving
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The Bills' offensive line held an active Vikings' defensive line without a sack and for the most part limited their mistakes in the penalty department.
Glenn and right tackles Erik Pears and Chris Hairston had the tall task of going against reigning NFL sack leader Jared Allen and wing man Brian Robison for three series.
Glenn continues to look a little bit slow off the block, but it was apparent that his footwork is improving from where it was entering rookie camp.
The Bills have committed to Glenn as their starting left tackle to enter the season and will experience some growing pains to go along with that commitment. As long as the improvement is steady, then the Bills offense will have eventual success.
The Outside Linebacker Spot Is Undecided
The Arthur Moats and Kirk Morrison battle is one that is predictably undecided. Neither player has stood out enough to make a case for the starting gig opposite Nick Barnett and likewise, neither has played poorly enough to relinquish the job completely.
Morrison remains atop the depth chart, but Moats is on equal footing in the competition. Each player added three solo tackles in split time with Moats adding a few tackle assists to his name.
From a long-term standpoint, Moats offers the best potential because of his pass-rushing ability and athleticism over Morrison's more limited skill set. Either way, neither player will be seeing much time in obvious passing situations with Bryan Scott filling that role.
Ron Brooks: Nickel Corner?
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The fourth-round draft pick out of LSU has outplayed a majority of the Bills' secondary throughout camp after being the forgotten man in his college secondary. Brooks came into camp with something to prove and prove himself he has.
For the second straight game, Brooks has made the most of his time on the field. He has shown an uncanny ability to be around the ball, intercepting one against the Redskins last week and dropping another easy one in the same game.
Brooks played well against the Vikings second-team offense, sticking his nose in every play within his reach. He finished with four tackles on the night, without allowing any real big plays.
He is still likely below incumbents Terrence McGee and Leodis McKelvin, but Brooks is making a case for solid playing time with the other two struggling with consistency and injury.
Which Play Are We Running, Coach?
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As an outside observer, it is easy to sometimes be baffled by the play calling. Due to the no-huddle approach sometimes applied by the Bills' offense, it remains to be seen how much Gailey is leaving in the hands of Fitzpatrick in terms of play calling.
Gailey has yet to figure out a consistency with how to deploy his two running backs, Jackson and Spiller. Jackson was able to rip off one long run, which he is usually good for at least once or twice, but Spiller had negative yardage on limited looks.
With the success Spiller had at the end of the season, a top three rusher over the final four weeks, one would think that Gailey would look to get either guy hot even in the preseason.
It's understandable wanting to get the pass offense back in rhythm, but the rushing offense likely needs some work, too. Finding a better mix of play calling will prove necessary if the Bills want another high-octane offense.
NFL Referees Need to Sign an Agreement Quickly
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No one wants to pick on the replacement referees too much, after all they are auditioning for positions just like many of the players. However, many have come into the situation unprepared and it has shown its ugly head during a majority of the preseason games thus far.
Missed calls happen, but wrong calls are happening at an alarming rate over the last two weeks. If there was another option for the NFL, they likely would have sought it out by now because the auditions haven't been very good.
Perhaps they an create a reality selection show for the replacements? At least that would create some entertainment and comedy to a situation that is anything but comedic. Any time Ed Hochuli wants to suit back up and run out onto the field would be great.
Let's get it done, NFL, for the sake of the game and the season.