Buffalo Bills: What We've Learned Through Week 4 of Preseason
The loss dropped the Bills to 1-2 in the preseason, but it's better to work out the kinks now before the games mean anything.
Perhaps the biggest news to come from the game left Bills fans wringing their hands. Rookie wide receiver and camp standout Sammy Watkins left the game early in the first quarter with a rib injury and did not return.
However, Ian Rapoport reported that Watkins' injury doesn't appear to be serious. That sound you just heard was the collective exhale of thousands of Bills fans.
Injuries aside, there were plenty of other things to take away from the most recent week's practices and preseason game. Let's dive into five things we learned about the Bills this week.
The Offense Is Still Struggling to Get on Track
With a, we think, upgraded offensive line and several flashy new toys around him, one would have expected EJ Manuel to have an easier time on offense in the preseason.
But Manuel and the rest of the first-team offense have left much to be desired, as the first unit still has not scored a touchdown through three preseason games.
Against the Steelers, Manuel was 17-of-27 for 148 yards with an interception. What sticks out most is the 5.5 yards-per-completion average, which shows Manuel was too often content to dump it off to his running back or tight end.
Considering the wide receiver talent, the Bills do not need another "Captain Checkdown."
While it is still the preseason and the coaches could be using a pretty vanilla game plan, it's still tough to see the offense struggle so much through three preseason games.
Of course, there's still a few weeks to sort everything out, and the team should be able to lean on the defense a little.
But there will be serious cause for concern if the starting offense still can't find a rhythm against Tampa Bay.
Per Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550, head coach Doug Marrone was asked if he is satisfied with his backup quarterback play. Marrone's response? A simple and decisive "no."
Things have not looked good throughout the preseason for the Bills backup signal-callers, as noted by Buscaglia, and they didn't get any better against the Steelers.
Thad Lewis was 1-of-6 for 18 yards with an interception. Jeff Tuel was 5-of-9 for 48 yards and was sacked four times, including one that led to a fumble and the game-winning field goal for Pittsburgh.
Simply put, the Bills quarterback situation as a whole is concerning. EJ Manuel has had an up-and-down camp, and Lewis and Tuel have had down preseasons with very few ups.
Should Manuel get hurt again, the Bills could be in a world of trouble.
The Bills could look for a solution, though, as Buscaglia pointed out that Lewis' roster spot is anything but secure.
Buscaglia said, "Should the right player become available on the open market, the Bills might look to strike to help bring some composure to the position past Manuel."
Unexpected Players Pushing for Time at DT
When the Bills inked Alan Branch to a contract extension after last season, it seemed like he would be one of the primary backups to Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus.
But through a month of training camp, the Bills have been working more with The Ghost of Alan Branch. It started when Branch no-showed the team's voluntary workouts, per Joe Buscaglia of WGR.
Not a huge deal, because the time Branch missed wasn't mandatory. But it was a little concerning when Doug Marrone made it seem like he and Branch weren't in contact at all.
When Branch finally did turn up, he was out of shape and failed his conditioning test, as Buscaglia also noted.
And when preseason games rolled around, Branch found himself losing playing time to Stefan Charles, Corbin Bryant and Landon Cohen.
Charles notched two sacks and a tackle for loss in Pittsburgh, while Cohen added a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery.
Meanwhile, The Ghost of Branch didn't enter the game until the fourth quarter and didn't record a defensive statistic.
If Cohen and Charles continue their strong play and Branch doesn't make any noise, Branch's roster spot could be in jeopardy.
Buscaglia wrote as much when he reported Marrone said Branch is "working for a spot."
Kouandjio's Learning Curve Is Higher Than We Thought
Another game, another rough showing for rookie second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio.
Against the Steelers, Kouandjio again had a tough time, as he allowed the sack-fumble that led to the game-winning field goal for Pittsburgh.
Kouandjio's performance led Joe Buscaglia to name him the team's LVP for the game.
Buscaglia also said that if Kouandjio were a late-round pick, he could already be in danger of being cut. But since the team invested a high pick in him, Buscaglia thinks the team will stick it out to try to help Kouandjio realize his potential.
With Marrone's offensive line background, he is the perfect person to mentor Kouandjio.
But Kouandjio's preseason performance is still disappointing for someone who was supposed to challenge to start at right tackle this season.
If left tackle Cordy Glenn returns by the time the season starts, the Bills could use Seantrel Henderson on the right side, leaving Kouandjio behind both Henderson and Erik Pears.
Jim Kelly and Bon Jovi Joining Forces?
And now it's time for the weekly check-in on all things surrounding the Buffalo sale process.
The latest news came when Tim Graham of The Buffalo News reported that Jim Kelly and Jon Bon Jovi's group met to discuss the possibility of joining forces in a quest to buy the team.
It seemed an unlikely pairing, since Bon Jovi and his Toronto-based group want to eventually move the team, and Kelly, well, doesn't.
Graham described the move as a "Hail Mary attempt" by the Bon Jovi group, and the pass fell incomplete as Graham reported Sunday that Kelly had decided against teaming up with Bon Jovi.
The main reason Kelly spurned Bon Jovi is that (obviously) Kelly is worried Bon Jovi won't keep the Bills in Buffalo for the long haul.
Graham said reaching out to Kelly was a desperate attempt by Bon Jovi to gain local support of his group. However, Kelly apparently "couldn't be convinced" the Bon Jovi gang wanted to keep the team in Buffalo.
Graham continued that Terry and Kim Pegula are still the "perceived front-runners" to ultimately land the team, and while Kelly now seems to still be looking to latch on with another group, Graham said Kelly has not met with the Pegulas.
Whether Kelly ends up becoming involved with an ownership group or not, it looks as though the team's long-term future in Western New York is safe.