Football is back! Did you miss it? Me too. I'm sure you could write this about any team in the first preseason game coming out of a 132-day lockout, but the Buffalo Bills did some good things and some not so good things as well.
Let's start with what has the fans of the Buffalo Bills buzzing:
- Two words. Lights Out. Shawne Merriman had his way with the Bears left tackle on the first two series. During the first series, he was a hold away from being right there with Marcell Dareus for the Bills first sack of the game. Then on the next Chicago drive, Merriman went back-to-back plays with sacks. We've been wondering how well he would look in a game setting and not against Demetrius Bell and Ed Wang. The answer? Pretty darn good.
- Marcell Dareus looks like a major player. A man amongst boys. Dareus didn't look like a rookie at all. Like I mentioned before -- he got a sack. But that's not my favorite Dareus play of the night. Not even close. It was on a run play to the left side for the Bears. Dareus was lined up against Bears lineman Lance Louis. Right at the snap of the ball, Dareus exploded off the line of scrimmage and knocked Louis completely off his block and he stumbled backward in to the backfield. Yeah, this guy is pretty good. Bills fans should be excited about him.
- Through training camp, we've seen that the weak link along the offensive line has been Kraig Urbik. That trend continued on Saturday night against Chicago. Urbik looked in run blocking, getting blown up en route to CJ Spiller being stopped three yards in the backfield on his first carry. Then, on a 3rd-and-8, Urbik loafed in to his block that ended up blowing the play and preventing Spiller's screen attempt from getting to the marker. Urbik has three more games to get this figured out, but he's off to a terrible start. The rest of the line wasn't too bad as far as the starters go. But the backups are terrifying.
- Not much to report on the start of the Donald Jones era as the starting wide receiver opposite Stevie Johnson. His only notable play was a pass interference call on him that was blatant. I liked him as a fifth receiver. As a number two? Ehhhhhh not so much. I just don't think he has the natural hands to start at wideout. He lets the ball hit his pads when trying to catch it way too often. We'll just have to see how he develops.
- I like the different ways the Bills are utilizing QB/WR Brad Smith, and believe me, we haven't even seen the half of it. Smith lined up in shotgun knows how to find the hole on draw plays and pick up good yardage. Another thing to look for with Smith at quarterback is one particular formation I saw. They went with trips right, with one of those wide receivers being running back Johnny White. Expect that to be C.J. Spiller when the regular season rolls around. That could make for some very, very dazzling play calls.
- Fred Jackson's stiff arm? +1
- #Mayhem Maybin getting blown up by a running back? -1
- Aaron Williams showing off his supreme athletic ability is a special thing. That pass deflection in to a diving interception in the third quarter was a thing of beauty. He's done that in practice, too. Now he just has to be a more consistent cornerback, but it's early in his career yet. He'll be a starter by next season.
- The Bills made a solid effort to try and get the football to their tight end. Color me surprised. Scott Chandler had two catches and four targets. Now if only they had a real tight end.
- A couple more notes on the defensive side of the ball. I loved the game played by Spencer Johnson and Danny Batten. Johnson has been impressive in training camp to my eye. It had to be a long-time coming for Batten, looking good on fighting through blocks for a tackle and a sack. Good for him.
- Oh yeah, that Kyle Williams guy? He's not so bad either. Fighting through two guys on one play to disrupt a play before it gets started is just another day in the office for the Pro Bowl defensive tackle. The Bills need to extend him quickly. Nothing has changed from last year it seems.
- Marcus Easley had some major butterflies going on. His knee was down, but Easley fumbled on his first kickoff return. A penalty was called on the play so they kicked it off one more time. The Bears elected to squib it, and it was about to travel out of bounds. Instead of letting it go, Easley picked it up and returned it for about 5 yards. A net loss of around 14 yards if he had just let it go. Rookie mistakes.
- I'm not going to make excuses for backup quarterback Tyler Thigpen, but he looked very rusty so I feel compelled to provide some sort of reasoning. Today's date is August 13. The first day he could practice was August 4. They had one day off, and one travel day. That means he's only thrown with his receivers and played with the offensive line for seven actual practices. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for a week or so more.
Bills' MVP: Shawne Merriman - 3 tackles, 2 sacks and electricity saved. Bills' LVP: Kraig Urbik - Here's to hoping they give Geoff Hangartner a look at starting at RG.
Up Next: Saturday, August 20 at Denver, 8:30 p.m. Final Thoughts: Score notwithstanding, it was a good preseason game to get their feet wet. The pass rush looked great, the first team run defense looks good and there are some positive building blocks. I think it's a game that feeds some optimism in to the minds of Bills fans.