By the time you read this, the Bills may very well have trimmed their roster to the final 53 players they’ll go into the regular season with. So, for this week's Hot Reads, I’ll focus less on players who may or not make the team and more on the overall picture of what I saw Thursday night in Detroit…..
I’ve said and written it several times this preseason, and it held true once again against the Lions. These linebackers are very good at diagnosing the play, are instinctive, and getting through blocks down the line to make stops. But they are not good at making plays in open space. There were several missed tackles in 1-on-1 situations (again) and a few times running backs or pass catchers were able to make one move and get by the linebacker in coverage after the ball was caught. It’s a catch-22 for Dave Wannstedt. He can make up for that deficiency by having the front-4 play less aggressive and tell them to play more of a gap-control game up front, but by doing that they’d of course lose some of the big-play abilities of Mario and Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. At this point, I can’t see Wannstedt wanting to do that. And I don’t think it’s the better option, anyway. The heart of this defense is the front-4 and the entire unit will be better if they’re allowed to play without those constraints. The bottom line is, we’re going to see a lot of big plays made and, unfortunately, also more big plays than we’d like to see given up by the defense this year.
It was interesting to see Chan Gailey call an "end-around" to TJ Graham. Although that particular play didn’t work, I think it’s a sign to come that Gailey is going to try to get him the ball in open space in different ways when he can. Graham’s had a very nice camp and preseason and is already proving to be the dynamic athlete and speedster the Bills drafted him to be. Through the preseason, the rookie had far and away the most receiving yards on the team (146; Naaman Roosevelt was 2nd with 102). He also netted 16.2 yards per reception. That was the most for any Bills receiver with at least three catches. Looking at last year’s regular season stats, that average would have led the Bills and been good for top-20 on the NFL for the entire regular season. As a comparison, Stevie Johnson led the Bills with a 13.2 yards-per-catch average last season. That was 56th in the NFL.
I’ve raved about the Bills special teams this preseason. Everyone has. And they’ve deserved the praise. But it was more of a feast or famine type game for them in Motown. The good was of course Marcus Easley’s 100-yard kickoff return, a blocked field goal attempt by Leodis McKelvin, John Potter putting four more kickoffs through the end zone, excellent kick coverage when two of Potter’s kicks were returned out of the and zone, and Shawn Powell putting all three of his punts inside the 20. But, Brad Smith fumbled a kickoff return, they gave up a 30-yard punt return on the lone punt the Lions returned, and Easley dropped a kickoff in the end zone he was looking to run out. Yes, still a lot more good than bad, but at least Bruce DeHaven now has a few tings he can scream about in the film room and will want to make sure are corrected before they take the field against the Jets.
The replacement officials were better in this one. In fact, they were good. The Bills, however, were not. After starting off week one with 14 flags for 134 yards, and then cleaning that number up each of the next two weeks (7 for 55 then 4 for 44), the Bills committed 8 fouls for 80 yards in this one. Several of them were of course later in the game by guys who won’t be around by the time you finish reading this sentence, but anyone who’s sporting the charging buffalo on their helmet is still a reflection of what’s happening in camp and practice and the team overall has to be more disciplined than that.
A Glimpse Into The Future:
The first drive was telling for the Bills offense. They weren’t vanilla. They played their regular offense, spread the field, ran plays we’ll see in the regular season, and the best news of all: they executed it all almost flawlessly. Ryan Fitzpatrick was 5-for-5. His timing with his receivers was great. The offensive line got out on blocks and maintained them long enough for CJ Spiller to run through holes some Detroit-made trucks would fit through. It was the perfect way for the starting offense (without Fred Jackson except for one play) to end the preseason.