Buffalo Bills Pre-Season Game 1 – 5 Things To Watch

The Bills kick off their preseason slate of games tonight when they host Robert Griffith III and the Washington Redskins.  It’s been a long off-season for Bills fans who were given hope in the wake of their late season collapse with the high profile free agent signing of star defensive end Mario Williams as well as a push to retain their own key players, a philosophy that had been lost on the organization in the decade prior.  The Bills will begin their push to return to the playoffs in earnest tonight with their first tune-up.  The starters will likely be on the field for roughly 12 plays before giving way to the backups who will be fighting for a roster spot.  Here are 5 things to watch in tonight’s game:

Rookie 2nd rounder Glenn will start at left tackle tonight

1. Who will be the left tackle?  This one will be interesting to watch tonight.  Both candidates for starting left tackle, rookie 2nd round pick Cordy Glenn and second year player Chris Hairston, will be in the starting lineup as incumbent starting right tackle Erik Pears is out with an injury.  In a perfect world the Bills will have Glenn as their starting left tackle and Hairston the starting right tackle in the long term but they still have the veteran Pears on the roster and both of the younger guys need to gain experience.  Glenn seems to have the edge so far at left tackle and he will get the chance to prove it with the start tonight.  Hairston played well in spurts last year but he did suffer several injuries.  Both guys will be going up against starting defensive ends at the beginning of the game which will help in evaluation.  Expect to see both guys at left tackle at certain points tonight with both the 1st and 2nd units.

2. Who will step up at wide receiver?  The Bills have two spots locked up at receiver – they have a bonafide #1 receiver in Stevie Johnson who just signed a 5-year extension in the off-season and a mainstay at slot receiver in David Nelson who has caught 92 balls over his first two seasons in the league.  Donald Jones is the #2 right now, as he was at the beginning of last season.  Jones is dependable enough when he’s healthy but he’s missed 9 games to injury over his first two seasons.  Of note to watch are two young receivers who will be jockeying for playing time – 3rd round pick T.J. Graham, a burner who can get behind a defense quickly, and 3rd year man Marcus Easley, who has yet to play a down in the NFL.  After losing his rookie season to a knee injury Easley had a good camp last year before hitting injured reserve right before the start of the season with a heart ailment.  Easley is purportedly back to 100% and is a big target with plus speed so any contribution from him will be an added bonus.  Veteran Derek Hagan, who showed good chemistry with Ryan Fitzpatrick late last season, also figures to be in the mix.  Nelson won’t play after tweaking his knee in camp last week so it should give some of the otehr guys some time with Fitz tonight.

Young has struggled in his attempt to become Fitz’s backup and may be playing for his job already in game 1

3. Will Vince Young make it to preseason week 2?  There has been rumblings out of training camp that the Bills coaching staff is already prepared to cut ties with quarterback Vince Young who has been slow to catch on to the Bills offense.  That says a lot about Young when you consider that the Bills thought so much about Young’s competition for back-up QB, Tyler Thigpen, that they let Ryan Fitzpatrick play the last 9 games of last season with cracked ribs rather than inserting Thigpen into the lineup.  It seems like a make-or-break game tonight for Young who will get to prove himself in game action before the Bills make any decision on him.  If I were Thigpen I wouldn’t rest in my laurels without Young as there is plenty of time to get someone else into practice and throw them into the competition if Young bows out this early.  Despite the reports of Young’s demise GM Buddy Nix told NFL.com’s Steve Wyche this morning that he expects the battle to go down to Week 4 of the preseason so we’ll see how it goes.

4. How will the defensive line’s second unit shape up?  We know about Mario-Kyle-Dareus-Anderson but what about the guys coming up behind them?  Chris Kelsay is an everyman who is as solid as any 3rd DE in the league.  Shawne Merriman can be a huge asset if he is healthy but he hasn’t been healthy in 4 years.  The keys to the 2nd unit are the two 3rd year men – Alex Carrington and Torell Troup.  Carrington has shown flashes in his first two years and if he continues to develop he can be molded into a Chris Canty-type player on this stacked defensive line.  Troup on the other hand has shown very little in his first two seasons  A lot of it is due to injury but again you’ve got to stay healthy to produce.  Troup played in the 4-3 in college and he said in the off-season that he would be more comfortable as an attacking d-tackle in Dave Wannstedt’s new 4-3.  Now is the time for him to show it.

2nd year man Williams has a leg up on the competition for 2nd CB spot

5. How will the cornerback unit shape up?  So far in training camp Stephon Gilmore has lived up to the hype and appears to be a lock for one of the starters jobs.  2nd year man Aaron Williams has been playing the #2 spot to mixed results, one day Gailey and Wannstedt will criticize his play and the next they will praise him.  He definitely played well as a rookie.  Leodis McKelvin has been working in the slot and that might be the best spot for him.  He struggles mightily against bigger receivers and gets beat along the sidelines often so the middle of the field might be the best place for him.  Terrence McGee is coming back from injury and looking to make one last run with the Bills in his 9th season with the team.  He will be pushed by youngsters Justin Rogers, who was a revelation as a 7th round pick last season, and Ron Brooks, who played behind two All-Americans at LSU.

That’s the 5 biggest things to look for in this game tonight.  There are of course larger issues such as how Wannstedt’s new 4-3 defense acclimates but that is something better reviewed over the long haul of the full preseason schedule rather than after 1 game.  The 1st game will really be about young guys jockeying for position and fringe roster players fighting to live another week.  It will be interesting to see how conservative RG3 is in his first NFL preseason game, particularly against the Bills’ revamped and revved-up defensive front.  One thing is for sure – it’s great to see some NFL action again after a long off-season.  Enjoy the game.

Follow me on Twitter


The Staggering Anatomy Of The Buffalo Bills Playoff Drought

With the trading deadline behind us and the stretch run ready to begin in baseball I can finally turn my attention to NFL training camp.  Next week will be the first week with live games as the pre-season schedule kicks off but the past few weeks have been all about training camp around the NFL.  Expectations have been set and they are quite high in the usual places like New England and Green Bay.  In Buffalo expectations have been heightened by the arrival of former #1 pick Mario Williams and the retention of several of their own key players.  It’s been 12 years since the Bills have been in the playoffs and breaking down the numbers shows exactly what this Buffalo Bills team is up against.

Jim Kelly, who was the last Bills starting QB to win a playoff game, has been in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame for a decade

The 12 year playoff drought is the longest active streak in the NFL, 3 seasons ahead of the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders who each have 9 year droughts.  They also have the 3rd longest active drought since a division title at 16.  I’m sure Bills fans wouldn’t mind seeing that record continue if the prior one is snapped this year with a wild card berth.  16 is also the number of years since their last playoff victory, a win over the Miami Dolphins in the wild card round of the 1995 playoffs.  They hold the 4th longest playoff drought in that category, which is pretty impressive since two of the teams ahead of them (Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals) were both in the playoffs last season.  If Bills fans want to aim higher than a simple playoff berth then they can beat these current active streaks as well – they are tied with the Chiefs for the 6th longest championship game appearance drought at 18 seasons (although 1 ahead of their rival Dolphins whose drought stands at 19).  They also have the 9th longest Super Bowl appearance drought, also at 18.  Surprisingly that is only the second shortest drought in the AFC East behind New England who is at 0.  The Dolphins have gone 27 years and the Jets 43 since their last Super Bowl appearances.  They are also one of 9 teams who existed at the advent of the Super Bowl that have yet to win it (Arizona, Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota, Philadelphia, San Diego, Tennessee/Houston).

Barring injury Brian Moorman will have played 192 games for the Bills without a playoff appearance by the end of the season

Then there are the individual players.  The Bills signed punter Brian Moorman as an undrafted free agent after the 2000 season, the 1st year of the Bills current playoff drought.  Moorman has played in all 176 of the Bills regular season games since then.  That is the most regular season games for an active player in the NFL to play on the same team without a playoff appearance.  That is also the 3rd longest active streak for most regular season games without a playoff appearance for any player in the NFL.  Of the two players ahead of Moorman on that list #1, linebacker Takeo Spikes, played 47 of his 203 career games with the Bills from 2003-2006 and #2, kicker Rian Lindell, has played the last 136 of his 180 career games with the Buffalo Bills.  He is one of 4 players on the Bills who has played more than 100 games without a playoff appearance along with Moorman, defensive end Chris Kelsay (138) and cornerback Terrence McGee (115).  And you can add the 16 games that they will play this year to their totals as they will obviously not secure a playoff berth before the end of this season.  Adding in those 16 games will put defensive tackle Kyle Williams 1 short of 100 games played without a playoff appearance.  Here’s hoping that game #99 is a charm for big Kyle.

The Bills finally seem to have the team that can get into the mix and put together a serious playoff run.  As you can see from above they have an uphill battle with history if they are going to climb that mountain.  There is a lot of bad history to eradicate and only 16 games to do it.  We’ll see if the 2012 version of the Buffalo Bills has what it takes to finally re-write that history.

Follow me on Twitter

Thoughts on Bills/Cowboys

Ugly.  Even that is an understatement.  The Bills came into this game knowing that they needed a win to keep pace with the playoff teams in the AFC and they flat out laid an egg.  This was the worst possible performance that you could imagine and the worst-case scenario.  Can they come back from this?  Maybe so but an uphill climb got even steeper after the Bills performance yesterday.  Here are my thoughts:

  • I was just thinking that a reason that the Bills haven’t been successfully running screens and draws the past few weeks is that they didn’t have Andy Levitre, an outstanding pull guard, on the interior of the line.  Well unfortunately I will get my wish for the rest of the season as Levitre will move to center for the rest of the year after Eric Wood was lost to a torn ACL (suffered while making a tackle on an INT).  If there was ever a time for Demetrius Bell to step up, be healthy, and play well, the time is now.
  • Scott Chandler runs great routes, has good hands, gets open, and makes difficult catches.  Please explain to me why he is not targeted more often?
  • Next week the Bills needs to run Fred Jackson more.  Then the week after that they need to run Fred Jackson more.  Then the week after that they need to run Fred Jackson more.  Get my point?
  • C.J. Spiller…what to say about this guy?  You really want to root for this kid but he has just got to start making more plays.  The thing is that you need to continue to use him like you did on Sunday.  With Donald Jones likely to be hobbled by that high ankle sprain for the rest of the year Spiller is the only deep threat you’ve got.  You need to keep a defense honest and keep the safeties from guarding the short routes and crowding Fred Jackson in the run game.
  • Defensively the Bills are a mess.  The problems seem to be starting with the outside linebacker position where there is too much inexperience.  I think a lot of fans and media types need to start sending their apologies to Chris Kelsay as he is clearly a huge part of the Bills defense, both with what he brings on the field and off it.
  • Leodis McKelvin can cover any receiver, he just can’t make a play on the ball.  Get it together kid, you could be great.
  • Alex Carrington, Kelvin Sheppard, and Jairus Byrd all seem to be improving yet you see no better results from the defense.  You start to look at scheme in situations like that.
  • Terrence McGee is still solid as can be in run defense but he is struggling mightily against the pass.  It would be nice to get some young blood in there, hopefully Aaron Williams can make his return soon.
  • Tony Romo never looked better.  Seriously it was embarrassing.  DeMarco Murray you can see because he is such a tough, physical back.  But letting Romo look like he did?  Unacceptable.

So it’s now put up or shut up time for the Bills.  They have a must win game coming up in Miami.  They need to win at least two more road games if they are going to make it to 10 wins.  This has to be one of them.  They need to get back to basics and take care of a team that they are clearly better than.  Than worry about the Jets.  Now just take care of business,

Twitter @ErikVenskus

Thoughts on Bills/Giants

The Bills lost their second game of the season by a field goal on Sunday, both times in the final two minutes.  While the Cincinnati game was solely on the defense you can’t totally put this one on the D as Ryan Fitzpatrick channeled his inner Tony Romo and gave the ball away to the Giants defense while he had them on its heels.  Here are my thoughts…

  • Injuries are a poor excuse but it’s awful tough to play your game up front when you are missing Kyle Williams, Chris Kelsay, and Shawne Merriman and have a nicked-up Nick Barnett.  Eli Manning had all day to throw and that is when he is at his most dangerous.  They need at least most of this unit back healthy after the bye week if they want to contend for a playoff spot in the second half of the season.
  • Drayton Florence was just brutal yesterday.  God awful.  This has been a problem all year with the CB’s where McKelvin strings together a few good games and then puts up a tinker, then he recovers and it’s Florence’s turn.  If these guys can get consistent than we might see the 300-400 yard games by the QB’s every single week go away.  Terrence McGee did look good in his first full game of the season yesterday.  He was beat a couple of times but that’s too be expected.  The Bills really missed his run defense on the corner in the first five games.
  • Marcell Dareus was a man among boys out there.  As a testament to how poor the rest of the front 3 or 4 played all game I saw Dareus consistently getting double and triple teamed and still wind up being the guy closest to Manning when he got off the pass.  Danny Batten particularly was invisible out there and I suspect he may lose playing time to Moats when Kelsay and Merriman are back in the lineup.
  • George Wilson was quiet after his coming out party last week.  Hope to see a big second half of the season from him.
  • Fred Jackson is a beast, plain and simple.  His 80 yard run may have been the slowest 80 yard touchdown that I have ever seen but you’ll rarely see a running back put a move on a DB chasing him down like Freddie did at the end of that run.  Jackson is known for such an unconventional running style and that summed it up right there.
  • While Jackson had the slowest 80 Yard Touchdown run ever, Naaman Roosevelt had the slowest 60 yards Touchdown catch and run ever.  Still congratulations to the kid for his first NFL TD.
  • C.J. Spiller played Wide Receiver all day yesterday and he actually looked like a receiver out there.  He ran good routes but I’d like to see them let him fly on a couple after the bye.  I see him staying on the outside predominantly until Donald Jones comes back from injury.
  • David Nelson was shut out in the first half but was a huge difference maker in the second half.  I think Chan Gailey will need to start designing more plays specifically to get the ball into Nelson’s hands.
  • Whither Scott Chandler?
  • The offensive line played galliantly despite injuries against a tough D-Line this week.  Hairston took on Osi Umenyiora all day and Levitre held his own when he had to switch over there.  Erik Pears’ play has been unoffensive but I’m wondering if you don’t look to get your two best offensive tackles on the field at the same time when they are both healthy and that would be Bell and Hairston.  I guess we’ll find out in a month when Hairston recovers from his injury.
  • Now onto Fitzpatrick, I think there was more good than bad to be honest.  This was definitely his toughest test to date with an attacking Giants defensive line.  He took a few bad sacks but he stood in there and made some throws.  He missed the same pass twice and it ultimately cost them the game.  He took the loss on his shoulders and rightfully so.  Gailey made the call that had a match-up he thought he could exploit and Stevie Johnson beat his man.  Fitzpatrick didn’t make the throws.  It will happen and you just have to elarn from it and move on.  We’ll see how Fitz bounces back in two weeks.
  • Regarding the play call on Fitzpatrick’s interception, I for one have no problem with it.  As I just said, Gailey saw a weakness and Stevie exploited.  Perfect execution gives you 7 points and Eli Manning with the pressure to score a TD in the final minutes.  You either play to win or play not to lose.  Dick Jauron played not to lose.  Yesterday in the Cowboys/Patriots game Jason Garrett played not to lose.  Chan Gailey played to win.  His quarterback didn’t execute and it goes in the loss column.  Maybe next time he does and it’s a win.

So there you have it, the Bills are 4-2 at the bye week and only a soft game behind the New England Patriots in the AFC East.  It’s a surprise to most but at the same time a disappointment, with two losses on last second field goals in winnable games.  Even so, they are 4-2 with an opponent’s win % at .600, not bad to say the least.  The bye week comes at a great time for the Bills as they need many key contributors to heal up from their injuries.  The two weeks rest will do the team good until they head up to the Great White North for their annual excursion to Toronto for a “home game” against the Redskins.  But, hey, this team is 4-2 and the game is almost sold out so maybe we will see what the Toronto series was supposed to be when they made this deal in the first place.

Twitter @ErikVenskus