Buffalo Bills Preseason Game 3 Recap: Two steps forward, two steps back!

Sammy gets hit by Steelers Linebacker. - Photo via bigstory.ap.org

Sammy gets hit by Steelers Linebacker. – Photo via bigstory.ap.org

With three preseason games in the books, the Bills are 1-2 after yet another game in which the first team offense couldn’t find the end zone. The Bills spent the week with the Steelers with Joint practices Wednesday and Thursday followed by the game Saturday night at Heinz Field. The week started off great; the media were giving EJ Manuel many accolades for his play in practice and more highlights from Sammy Watkins. In fact, EJ was looking the best he’s looked all camp and against a good opposition’s defense. Thursday he was shredding the Steelers and didn’t seem to miss a pass. His accuracy was sharp, the offense looked good, Mike Williams was singing his praise… But that was practice, and in the famous words of Paula Abdul and MC Cat: two steps forward, and then they take two steps back. Hopefully, opposites will eventually attract, because preseason hasn’t looked good for the first team offense. Well, at least once they are inside the red zone.

Since I try to always remain positive as I don’t want to be a negative Nancy like some other Buffalo sports writers, I’ll start with my new favorite player! I really like the play of Landon Cohen. I’ve said to keep my eye on him since the Hall of Fame game, and this week he continued to rock and roll! Cohen started his night getting off the ball fast, breaking into the back field almost at the same time the ball was snapped. He had a tackle for a loss and created some havoc on a few other plays. Cohen followed up with a fumble recovery (forced by Stephan Charles) and a 59-yard rumbling bumbling, stumbling scamper, which gave the Bills offense possession inside the Steelers 20 (eventually leading to a Boobie Dixon TD). Stephan Charles is also looking really good over the last two weeks with the 2nd team defense along with Jarius Wynn. Both were in on that fumble as Wynn forced the QB to side step right into Charles who knocked the ball loose. The DE depth seemed like a weak link at the start of the season but is looking better now. The first team run defense looked great again only giving up 11 yards rushing. The passing defense, however, looked a little confused at times giving up a TD on a quick five-yard slant pass from Big Ben to Antonio Brown on their first series. Brown took it 76 yards for the score. You could see Duke Williams and Corey Graham collide in the coverage leading to the big play.

EJ has still not led the Bills into the end zone in preseason! - Photo via www.zimbio.com

EJ has still not led the Bills into the end zone in preseason! – Photo via http://www.zimbio.com

Now, I’m not going to bash EJ Manuel as I do see improvement from him even if this game wasn’t his best of the three. I see the Bills moving the ball well between the 20’s. I see them extending series and getting first downs. I see them in shorter 3rd down situations. What I don’t see improvement on is the play calling from offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. He continues to come out in strictly read option with two and three wide receiver sets, one TE, and a single running back. Running plays seem to always be some sort of misdirection counter type run, which takes away from the RB’s ability to just take the ball at full speed and head to a hole. These runs work when used sparingly, but, when used every time, the defense can read it easily and contain the RB as he tries to make his cut or change direction while in the back field.

Hackett’s play calling inside the 10 has also been atrocious. When needing a first down inside the five, here are some examples: He decided to run Fred Jackson using the same play three times against the Panthers when there were nine guys already in the box and heavy to that side. There was no audible to change the play. The Bills have Scott Chandler who is 6’7” and went out and got Mike Williams who supposedly can out-jump anyone on the field, but on 1st and goal from the five the Bills try a fade pass to Robert Woods who was blanketed by the corner and pushed out of bounds. Then an ill-advised pass to Fred Jackson in the flat which was read instantly by the LB as Manuel never took his eyes off Jackson. That was followed by a running play instead of trying a play action pass or fade to Williams or Hogan. They did try to get it to Chandler in the end zone once, but the throw was high and to the wrong shoulder, which allowed the smaller DB to jump over his back and bat the ball away. However, they never went back to that play even though it would have worked with a better throw.

I also question Doug Marrone on when he goes for it on 4th down. There was a very make-able 4th and 1 on which they ended up kicking a field goal, but then they went for it on a harder 4th and 3 or more when they weren’t as deep in Steeler territory. I mean, it’s the preseason. Anything 4th & 3 or lower you should go for all of the time in my opinion. As was evident at times last year, the coaching staff still seems to have some trouble making calls and managing the game. Hopefully, they can get on track.

Dan Carpenter should hold on to the kicker job and rightfully so! - Photo via proplayerinsiders.com

Dan Carpenter should hold on to the kicker job and rightfully so! – Photo via proplayerinsiders.com

The first team offense played the entire first half. EJ did complete 18 of 27 passes with one interception on an under-thrown ball to Chandler and did seem to lock on to receivers at times. Sammy Watkins left early with a bruised rib as he took a knee to the back/side when Steelers LB Ryan Shazier jumped to avoid a collision with his falling teammate. It was a weird play, and I’m sure Sammy would have returned in a regular season game. TJ Graham had some decent returns but is still on the bubble for making the team. Cyrus Kouandjio continues to struggle as Henderson and Richardson have excelled, taking advantage of injuries to Cordy Glenn and Chris Williams. Lastly, look for Dan Carpenter to hold on to that kicking job. Dustin Hopkins didn’t dress, and Carpenter kicked very well, hitting field goals of 53, 44, and 37 yards and kicking the ball out of the end zone consistently on kickoffs.

Well, that’s it Bills nation. Unfortunately not much to talk about in this one with the exception of the 2nd team defense and the kicker. This week the Bills finally come back home to the newly renovated Ralph Wilson Stadium. Let’s give them a great home welcoming as the Bills and Bucs face off Saturday, August 23 at 4:30pm. It’s kid’s day, so get your tickets now! There’s no preseason game this year in Toronto, so both will be here at the Ralph! The first cut-downs are coming on the 26th prior to 4:00pm when they need to trim down to 75 active roster players. Who makes the cut? What are you hoping to see this week? Anyone you’re really enjoying watching? As always leave me a comment here or on twitter @jasonsins, and remember Bills nation, keep your heads up and spirits positive, because in three weeks it’ll be game time for real! Let’s Go BUFFALO!

By: Jason Sinsabaugh

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