Like Ryan Fitzpatrick going no-huddle and throwing on the first fifteen plays from scrimmage, here are some quick Hot Reads from Thursday night’s preseason opener.
One note. Please add the words, “Even though it’s preseason” before each of these Reads. Because, inevitably this time of year, the discussion turns to a debate over what preseason means instead of what actually happened in the game. Yes, preseason wins, losses, team and personal stats all get erased after four games. But we all still want to see the Bills execute well, look comfortable and confident, and of course, get through healthy. All that written……
What you should be concerned about:
The penalties. 14 for 134 yards! Those numbers are so high you’d think the NFL had replacement officials who didn’t know what they were doing throwing flags. Oh. Wait…..
But in all honesty, there’s no excuse for this. Especially considering there were so many false start penalties. In the home stadium. With not a large crowd. A penalty cost the Bills a touchdown. Another six points would’ve won the game. In this league, every five yards matter. One penalty can be the difference between a win and a loss. Being that undisciplined each week can be the difference between picking in the top-15 in the draft and contending for the playoffs in December.
Also, the Bills didn’t convert a 3rd down until their 7th attempt. They finished 4-for-16 (25%). That’s not even close to acceptable. They were 32% overall last year and that was only good for 28th in the league. The really efficient teams convert at least 45% on third downs throughout a season. The Bills can’t afford to fall too far short of that number and once again give opponents more chances with the football.
What you should be pleased with:
First and foremost, other than the usual bumps and bruises, it appears the team came out of this one healthy. Other than any stat or performance, that’s always the biggest concern for any team in August. When you see Fitz, Stevie, Fred, CJ, and everyone along the starting defensive line standing on the sidelines with their helmets off and their night over and ready to practice the next day, no matter how well or poorly anyone played, it's a nice sight and a relief.
The punt coverage unit was excellent. Brian Moorman placed two punts inside the Skins 5 yard line, and four inside their 20. Of course that always takes a little help from his friends running down the field, too. Moorman’s been one of the most consistent punters in the game for over a decade. The Bills added depth on offense and defense should also help improve the special teams units. Moorman and his coverage group could really give teams long fields to have to work against the Bills defense this season.
A lot of buzz about how well cornerback Ron Brooks played. And deservedly so. Brooks had the Bills lone interception. He also had two tackles and led the team with three pass deflections. More importantly than the stat sheet, though, was that he looked totally comfortable and in position most of the night. He had excellent coverage several times he was tested.
Some of the concern about rookie wide receiver TJ Graham throughout camp has been his ability to grasp the entire offense (always a little tougher for a rookie receiver in Chan Gailey’s system) and his ability to run routes that aren’t just straight ahead using his speed. He washed away both those concerns in one game for me. Of course there’s a lot more to see out of him, but Graham ran good routes and got to the open spot. And that paid off for him as. The rookie led the team in both receptions (5) and receiving yards (37).
I focused on Mario Williams several plays from the broadcast booth (yes I had to throw that in there because I am still pinching myself about being in the booth with John Murphy and Mark Kelso!). The Redskins ran right at Williams several times. That often negated him as a defender. In fact, he didn’t show up on the final stat sheet. Williams is so good at getting off the ball that when teams run at him (like Washington did) they can use a pulling o-lineman or running back or fullback to kick him out and take him out of the play. That’s ok, as long as the linebacker or safety behind Williams fills the gap quickly. If those guys don’t, it can result in a big play. I expect teams to do this a lot to take away Williams’ ability to rush the passer or chase the play down from the backside or at his sideline. So don’t expect a lot of big tackle numbers this year from Mario. Expect him to do what the Bills mainly signed him for – to get off the ball and rush the passer. He should get his sack numbers, and his share of tackles. But if the first preseason game is any indication, a lot will be put on the players behind Super Mario to do their jobs when the offense runs right at him. And they will.
Next week in Minnesota. I don’t expect the Bills to come out and throw it the first fifteen plays. But I also don’t think Chan Gailey will suddenly decide to turn Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller into preseason workhorses, either. They’ll get some touches, but it would make sense that Fitz and the passing game get back to work, too. The offensive line needs to continue to get reps on calls and pass blocking, and working on timing and reads is always really important for Fitzpatrick and his wide receivers.
Gailey said the penalties are on him. He took responsibility, as most coaches do for that. So, I’d expect those to be cleaned up in a big way.
I want to see better execution on 3rd down, especially from the first unit offense.
I hope to see Ron Brooks and TJ Graham carry their fine performances into their next game. You can look great one week and horrible the next in this league. Seeing consistency from rookies would be really encouraging.
And, of course, I expect the replacement officials to miss more calls.