Buffalo Bills' Biggest Preseason Disappointments so Far
Heading into the preseason, the Buffalo Bills had high expectations.
The defense was coming off a season in which it was second in the league in sacks, and despite losing Kiko Alonso, the unit looks to be stout again. Meanwhile, the team overhauled the offensive line and skill positions, all with the goal of giving EJ Manuel more help and an easier path to success.
So far, the Bills have looked good in some areas. The defense indeed appears stout again, and newcomers such as Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers have shown early returns.
But there are still some concerns surrounding the Bills as the regular season quickly approaches. Let's take a look at the five biggest disappointments for the Bills during the preseason. When compiling the rankings, we took into account positional importance, level of underachievement and expectations surrounding each player/unit.
5. Tony Moeaki
Tony Moeaki was supposed to be the athletic complement to Scott Chandler at tight end. Heading into camp, A.J. Devine of BuffaloBills.com named Moeaki as an "offensive player to watch."
After OTAs, Devine said Moeaki "has looked like a smooth route-runner and seems versatile enough to line up in a variety of positions and formations." But that was basically the last we heard of Tony Moeaki during the preseason.
Devine started his section on Moeaki by saying "After a full offseason to get healthy..." Moeaki has a history of injuries, and he was healthy for about an hour in Bills training camp. A hamstring injury has sidelined him for most of camp, robbing the Bills of a second reliable pass-catching tight end.
Moeaki could still make the roster, but it could be a mistake to keep a player who has been injured for most of camp. If the team is already using a roster spot on a quarterback coach, maybe Moeaki's could be put to better use on a developmental player.
4. Backup Quarterbacks
After EJ Manuel went down last year, the Bills were unprepared to replace him. The only other quarterbacks they had were an undrafted rookie and a former practice squad player.
The team had the entire offseason to address its quarterback depth, yet it decided to roll with what it had. This preseason has proved that what it has is not enough.
When talking to Tim Graham of The Buffalo News, Doug Marrone said "I’m not going to sit here and say I’m satisfied with the backup quarterback. I’m not." That's because Jeff Tuel, Thad Lewis and Dennis Dixon left much to be desired when they got in preseason games.
Lewis in particular was so bad, Joe Buscaglia of WGR named him camp LVP. The Bills were equally unimpressed with Lewis, leading to his release from the team. Oh well, he will still always be Discount Tuna for the Bills (because he wasn't "Dolphin Safe"...I'll show myself out).
Lewis' release opened the door for the Bills to bring in Jordan Palmer, per Mike Rodak of ESPN. Palmer has been a career backup, but he also works as a quarterback coach at EXOS, which is a training center in California. One of Palmer's most recent students was Blake Bortles.
Rodak said part of the reason for bringing in Palmer is to give Manuel another "veteran tutor." So they will likely be using a roster spot on someone they aren't sure can help on the field should his services be needed. If Manuel gets hurt again, the Bills could be in serious trouble.
3. Alan Branch
Almost as soon as Alan Branch signed his three-year extension, he started disappointing the Bills.
You know the story by now. Branch no-showed voluntary workouts, and he wasn't in contact with Doug Marrone at all about the matter. When he made it to training camp, he was out of shape and failed his physical. Then when he worked his way into shape, he underwhelmed on the field and Stefan Charles, Corbin Bryant and Landon Cohen left Branch in the dust.
Finally, the night before the game against the Bucs, Branch was arrested for drunk driving. The report included police finding branch vomiting out the driver's side door of his car. Naturally, Branch was inactive for the game and the Bills cut him the following day.
Even though Branch signed a three-year deal, the Bills aren't on the hook for too much money. Aside from a $3.1 million signing bonus they have to flush down the toilet, the Bills will only have $1.55 million in dead money against next year's cap, per Mike Rodak of ESPN.
Mike Pettine's departure for Cleveland created a scheme change in Buffalo, but Branch was supposed to be one of the main backups to Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. Luckily, the Bills seem to have some depth at defensive tackle anyway, so Branch's departure shouldn't sting too much. But to have a veteran player totally check out after signing a contract extension leaves a sour taste in Bills fans' mouths.
2. Cyrus Kouandjio
The Bills drafted Cyrus Kouandjio in the second round this year to be the future starting right tackle. Considering the play the Bills got out of the position last year, the future was supposed to be now. But after a rocky training camp, the future will have to be, well, the future.
Kouandjio looks like anything but a starting NFL tackle right now. He has struggled mightily throughout camp, and it showed in the preseason games as he worked exclusively with the second- and third-team offenses. Even when facing backups, Kouandjio was beaten time and again and even gave up the strip sack that led to the game-winning field goal for the Steelers.
Joe Buscaglia of WGR pegged Kouandjio as his "rookie dud" for camp because of the Alabama product's lack of success. As Buscaglia noted, the only thing keeping Kouandjio in the running for a roster spot is his status as a high draft pick. To cut him after just drafting him so early would be an admission that the team screwed up the pick.
Considering Doug Marrone's offensive line background, the team is hoping to groom Kouandjio over time into a successful NFL player.
1. The Offense
Two new running backs. Four new offensive linemen. Two new wide receivers, including one the Bills had to give up a future first-round pick to get. All of the additions were supposed to make for an improved offense that gave defenses fits because of all its playmakers.
But so far, the Bills offense has looked the same as it always has. The first-team offense couldn't score a touchdown in the team's first three preseason games. The team would show moments of moving the ball competently only for a drive to end in a field goal or a turnover. It all culminated with the Bills leaving the field at halftime against Tampa Bay down 24-0 with boos raining down.
Bills fans are fragile. They still refuse to believe their last playoff memory actually happened (click with caution), and they have since been subjected to 14 years of disappointment. Nevertheless, they entered this season excited by all of the talented players the team has assembled. So maybe they have a right to be frustrated when the offense can't get out of its own way in a preseason game that's supposed to most resemble a regular-season contest.
EJ Manuel did say the team is saving some plays for the regular season, but that's still no excuse for the offense's struggles thus far. For the team to make any noise this season, the offense needs to sort out the issues.