The Buffalo Bills traveled to Washington D.C. for the all-important third preseason game to take on the Washington Redskins. Without Robert Griffin III or highly-thought-of backup Kirk Cousins in the line-up, the Bills defense had a seemingly easy matchup against Rex Grossman. We know how this story goes folks. This game, in the end, is all about blocking and tackling.
The Redskins did both well. The Bills? Neither.
A lot to takeaway from this game, and there were more than a few injury scares.
The entire Bills fan base and fantasy football owners held their breath when they saw star running back C.J. Spiller clutch his right knee after a first quarter touchdown run; luckily he returned later in the game and apparently was the recipient of a cut from a spike on his knee. Either way, I have to question the coaching staff’s decision to put our best offensive player back into the game after that scare in a preseason contest.
Bills number one cornerback, Stephon Gilmore, also left the game with a wrist injury. He will undergo tests over the weekend and head coach Doug Marrone will provide an update on Monday. Gilmore has been incredible throughout camp and is poised to take a major step forward into shutdown corner territory. If the Bills pass defense has any chance this year, Gilmore needs to be on the field against the Patriots.
The biggest injury was suffered by quarterback Kevin Kolb who slammed his head against the turf after a third down scramble. Kolb has been diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms and with the Bills’ quarterback depth chart down to undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel, the club signed Matt Leinart as insurance. The Bills also traded for quarterback Thaddeus Lewis from the Detroit Lions in exchange for linebacker Chris White. As I write this, many fear that Kolb’s concussion might be career-ending, although nothing has been confirmed at this point.
The quarterback situation in Buffalo has gone from bad to worse with injuries, and unless either Kolb or Manuel can make it back by Week 1, we’re looking at “Tuel Time” against the Patriots. Head coach Doug Marrone did say he was hopeful that Manuel would be ready to go Week 1, which looks like a real possibility at this point.
Now let’s dissect the game a little bit from the Bills’ perspective.
– I like that the Bills put a couple of deep throws on tape in this game for the early season opponents. It might give Spiller some more running room. Of the four deep attempts, one ended up in offensive pass interference, one an incompletion, and the other two resulted in defensive pass interference calls netting the Bills big yardage.
– Kolb isn’t as terrible as some fans might have you believe but he’s got some bad habits that have followed him from Arizona. His inaccuracies are due to bad footwork and a lack of feel for the pass rush. He also has a very bad habit since the beginning of camp where he panics under pressure and bails out to the right side instead of stepping up in the pocket. This resulted in a sack on the first drive; had he stepped up he had a clear lane to run for a first down.
– The no-huddle offense moved slower with Kevin Kolb again than it did with Manuel at helm. That’s neither here nor there, just an observation at this point. Tuel’s pace seemed closer to Manuel’s.
– We also witnessed the biggest drawback of the no-huddle attack: while it gives the offense a great advantage in tiring out the defense, they still have to convert third downs or else it ends up being a very quick series which will tire out the Bills defense. The Bills offense had nine three-and-outs and put its defense back out on the field within five minutes each of those times.
– Averaging 83-plays-per-game in the first two preseason games, the offense only mustered 49 plays against the Redskins. Simply put, they were unable to convert many third downs.
– Robert Woods showed us a couple times why he was considered the most polished receiver in this year’s draft. He looks like a ten year veteran out there with precise routes, catching the ball away from the body, and always knows where the closest defenders are and rarely gets caught by the first one.
– Spiller’s vision has markedly improved since his rookie year. He has developed into a capable inside runner and a dangerous outside runner. The biggest knock on him at this point is his lack of ideal size for the three-down role. If he stays healthy, he will challenge Adrian Peterson for the rushing title.
– Jeff Tuel has been a beneficiary of the most reps of any Bills quarterback in camp and preseason action and he looked like a capable place holder in his three plus quarters of play in the game. He’s got plenty of arm strength and he generally made sound decisions. He didn’t seem flustered against the Redskins first-team defense and showed that he can “feel the rush” instead of looking at it – a trait many veteran quarterbacks (including Kolb) wish they had. For all the hoopla around Da’Rick Rogers, Tuel might end up being the star of the undrafted rookie signing class. He still has a lot of work to do in terms of his inaccuracy, but his flaws seem to be coachable so far, which is what you look for in a developmental third quarterback.
– The rush defense was caught out of position for most of the game by Washington’s zone blocking scheme. Much of their woes were due to the defensive line failing to “set the edge.” Most of Washington’s success in the running game came on the offensive left side.
– Against the pass, the Bills continued their varied looks along with exotic blitzes but the coverage behind the blitz wasn’t that good which resulted in many mid size gains for the Redskins. The Bills must tighten up this part of the game or week 1 will be a blowout loss against the Patriots. This is Rex Grossman shredding the first team Bills defense; just imagine what Tom Brady would do.
– As a whole, the defense seemed to be hesitant and always a step behind the Washington third and fourth string quarterbacks, which is frightening to say the least.
– Manny Lawson always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. He’s been a bargain signing so far.
– On the other hand, Searcy continues to be a liability in coverage. The Bills can’t get Jairus Byrd into the lineup quick enough.
– The coverage on deep throws was excellent, despite play-action fakes. The throws by Grossman weren’t great but it would’ve required laser accuracy to cut through the multiple defenders near the receiver on those deep balls.
– The Bills had an atrocious time defending the read option when Pat White was in at quarterback for the Redskins. They will face at least three, possibly four teams who will run some form of the read-option in the regular season as part of their respective offenses – you can bet Pettine will be harping on this in practice in those weeks leading to the games.
– Marcell Dareus flashed a couple of excellent plays; consistency has been his biggest issue.
– Torrell Troup has very little chance to make this roster. A one-time prototypical nose-tackle prospect, he’s been marred with injuries and looks soft on tape. He was rarely double-teamed and was man-handled while he was on the field.
– Rookie wide receiver/returner Marquise Goodwin had a couple of good kickoff returns. He’ll be fun to watch all year.
– Rookie kicker Dustin Hopkins looked much better on his two kickoffs, one of which resulted in a touchback.
– Shawn Powell had a great day punting the ball as he averaged 52.8 yards on eight punts.
– The punt coverage team was up and down on Saturday afternoon as they generally held the Redskins’ punt returners in check but gave up a 31 yard return to Chris Thompson in the third quarter.
– Nickell Robey muffed a punt which ended up in a turnover as he was trying to call a fair catch. Other than that the punt returners as a unit didn’t do much else.
Overall, the Bills have a lot of work to do between now and September 8th and they have a lot of good tape from this game. With new quarterbacks in town, Hackett might have to slow down his no-huddle offense unless Manuel can be ready to go by Week 1. With roster cuts looming and a rash of injuries from this weekend, Marrone and Whaley have their work cut out for them. At least they cleaned up their penalties from the previous two games. The major silver lining is that this happened during the preseason and the Bills have some breathing room to make the necessary moves.