Buffalo Bills (1-0) vs Atlanta Falcons (0-1)
7:00 PM, Ralph Wilson Stadium
Blacked Out on Local Television
Michael Vick won't be in Orchard Park tonight, taking a lot of the potential excitement out of tonight's pre-season game between the Buffalo Bills and the Atlanta Falcons. Luckily, as Bills fans, we do not abide by these "excitement rules" - so while Falcons fans prepare for a brutal 2007, we have the ability to watch the Bills tonight knowing full well that we're witnessing the earliest stages of a team that has a lot of potential. Poor Falcons fans.
The Bills opened their pre-season schedule a week ago today with a victory in New Orleans, but any intelligent Bills fan will admit that the team struggled in many facets of the game. The Bills will try to make first-unit improvements both offensively and defensively tonight in their home opener of the 2007 season.
As I did in last week's game preview, I will once again be concentrating on the play of four specific positional groups during this game. I will be at Ralph Wilson Stadium tonight (Section 114, Row 11 for anybody attending the game that wants to look me up) keeping track of...
Starter J.P. Losman is expected to see a full quarter of action, and he'll be facing a challenging Falcons defense. Atlanta boasts solid, young cornerbacks and has a threatening pass rush. A goal that I've set for Losman (and wouldn't be surprised to see him meet) is to get into a little rhythm on offense - I don't need to see explosive plays and a ton of points, but I think it's important to see him move the chains, convert third downs and score a touchdown in his quarter of action. Achieving that would be an extremely successful day.
After that, I expect Craig Nall to get the second quarter with Trent Edwards likely to play the entire second half once again. I'll be looking for consistency out of Nall and poise in the pocket from Edwards specifically, but the overall performances of all three quarterbacks will of course be analyzed.
A first-hand perspective will be just what the doctor ordered to get a good perspective on just how the offensive line performs. Center Melvin Fowler will miss the game; he'll be replaced by Duke Preston, allowing Jason Whittle to get the start at right guard. The unit needs to see improvement in passing blocking but especially in the run game, where the Saints stuffed both Anthony Thomas and Marshawn Lynch last week.
I'll also be keeping a close eye on some of the second-team players, such as Terrance Pennington, Christian Gaddis and Kirk Chambers, who are trying to lock down roster/practice squad spots. One of these guys has an opportunity to impress with both Brad Butler and Aaron Merz sidelined with injury.
Perhaps chief among my interests tonight will be the play and rotation of the linebackers. Coy Wire is set to start in place of Angelo Crowell, who could be held out as a precautionary measure with some swelling in his knee. Coy will man the strong-side position, so it will be interesting to see how he performs both in that particular slot as well as with the first-unit defense. Paul Posluszny will also, of course, be a primary focus as well. Poz played very well in last week's victory over New Orleans and with another stellar performance tonight could see himself as the first-unit middle linebacker in next week's practices (he's splitting time there already). This guy is quickly becoming my favorite player to watch.
The Falcons are likely to have a good mix of run and pass tonight, so I'll be matching up coverage skills versus run support in my analysis of linebacking play. The defense line is a bit beat up and depth seems to be getting thinner daily, so being able to fill holes and redirect Falcons runners could very well impress the coaching staff tonight.
Donte Whitner will play in tonight's game after missing the Saints game with a lingering hip flexor injury. Tonight will be the first time we can get any sort of preview as to how the coaching staff plans to utilize Whitner in nickel packages and as a blitzer, so I'll be keeping a close eye on that. Ko Simpson's run support will be of keen interest as well.
Beyond the two starters, I hope to keep a close eye on John Wendling. Contrary to what his skill set seemingly portrays (he's a big, physical safety who seems ideal for playing down in the box), Wendling was playing deep as a free safety a lot when I visited training camp Tuesday. If there's time (I only have two eyes, after all), I hope to keep an eye on how Wendling is used both defensively and on special teams.
Buffalo Rumblings Game Day Open Thread: Looking for the perfect place to get updates on the game and talk to fellow Bills fans about the festivities as well? Stop by later this afternoon, create a free account and get chatting! As I'll be in Orchard Park this evening, there won't be any updates on the front page as there were in last week's open thread. But fear not - you will have a ringleader this evening, as nickfeely8, beat writer for the Bills at NFLSpot, will be active in the open chat all evening long. So stop by, say hello to Nick and sound off on the Bills/Falcons game!