The Bills wrapped their 3rd preseason game with a 16-19 loss from a last second FG. The 1st team offense played the entire 1st half and finished with 212 yards of total offense, however were unable to get into the redzone. The Bills 1st team defense played the majority of the 1st half ended up giving two TDs in their 1st two series before finally clicking and being the dominant defense everyone expects. Here is a recap of the game with a look at the big picture and without the typical overreactions.
1) EJ Manuel’s progression
As been said hundreds and hundreds of times, the Bills go where EJ goes. The Steelers defense for the most part played very vanilla, they dropped 7 or 8 guys into coverage took away everything more than 8 yards. Instead of staring at his first read and forcing it into double coverage, he made the correct decision and threw it to his underneath weapons who steadily gained 4 or 5 yards each play. It wasn’t pretty, but it was very effective as the Bills steadily moved down the field and rack up 212 yards of total offense in the 1st half. Manuel also looked to have improved on his accuracy as he was throwing perfect passes to where his receivers were able to make a play. He was doing a better job at anticipating where his receivers were going. Finally he looked perfectly fine and composed, instead of freaking out when his 1st read was covered, he stayed in the pocket and moved through his progressions and made the right throw.
Now on to the bad. His worst decision by far is when he threw a seam route to Chandler who was tightly covered by Ryan Shazier. That was a play where Manuel underestimated how good an athlete Shazier was. Secondly there were two throws where Manuel was moving and throwing and they were thrown to where only someone like The Legend of Sammy could make a catch. That looks to be an area where it is a work in progress.
2) Offensive line struggles…Cordy Glenn please come back!
Bills continue to tinker with the offensive line with Doug Legursky starting at Left Guard where he struggled again. The line struggled to get any push on short yardage runs and on screen passes missed key blocks, turning potential big gains into losses. Seantrel Henderson continues to have an up and down preseason where he makes some real good plays then the next play misses his assignment. Pass protection was equally bad as whenever the QB took more than 3 step drop, pressure was immediately on him and he either ran for his life, or threw the ball away. One play due to the lack of protection caused an intentional grounding penalty, though in reality it wasn’t an intentional grounding foul. The good news is Cordy Glenn and Chris Williams are back at practice which means hopefully Doug Legursky doesn’t have to play left guard….ever.
3) Defense a mixed bag
The run defense continues to be good as against the Steelers, the first team defense only allowed 11 yards on 5 carries. So far this preseason they have only allowed 29 yards on 15 carries. Leading the charge is a ferocisous front four who shows no mercy and Brandon Spikes who is really good at stopping the run (just don’t ask him to cover).
However the pass defense had a bad game as Ben Roethlisberger on his first pass owned them for a 76 yard catch and run to Antonio Brown. Stephon Gilmore has looked to have a bad early preseason as the new enforcement of defensive penalties after 5 yards has shut down a key part of his game. Leodis McKelvin has been out with an injury which means Corey Graham has been starting opposite him and he looks better as a slot corner. The lone bright spot has been Nickell Robey who despite only being 5’7, plays like someone twice his size. This is another area that should get better by week 1.
Overall the game was a positive and as a typical preseason game can’t take away too much. The offense was extremely vanilla as the goal was to get the ball out of Manuel’s hands as quickly as possible and it didn’t mean extremely complex reads. The defense was just as vanilla with no complex blitzes or coverages, just the base defense. The only real concern is how awful the offensive line has played this preseason and until Cordy Glenn comes back doesn’t look to be completely solved. Red zone issues are another potential cause of concern but so far the team has been mixing and matching stuff and seeing what clicks. This game Mike Williams, designated red zone target, did not play in the red zone like he would in the regular season. It is too early to overreact to a meaningless preseason game, especially when the team is still tinkering out and figuring out what works before week 1.