Buffalo Bills (1-2) at Detroit Lions (2-1)
The Buffalo Bills will close out their pre-season schedule this evening with a 7:00 PM performance at Ford Field in Detroit. With just one game left to play, this contest is the final tune-up for a young Bills squad as it enters the regular season opener against the Denver Broncos. Head Coach Dick Jauron has already revealed that his starters will only get a couple of series, so this is a prime opportunity for some of Buffalo's depth players to prove they deserve to survive Saturday's final roster cutdown.
Through the first three pre-season games, I have spent my time analyzing four positions of focus in each game. That practice is going out the window tonight; we already have a pretty good idea of what is going on at each position. Instead, I will be watching four areas of play and how well the Bills perform in each. These seem pretty obvious, but young teams need to be successful in these areas:
With the exception of Fred Jackson, who in general has been lights-out for the Bills' reserve offenses, Buffalo has had a lot of trouble establishing a consistent ground game this pre-season. Some of that has been poor blocking and some of that has been the result of a very young offensive backfield. Marshawn Lynch has just 28 yards on 16 carries this pre-season. The Bills need to prove tonight that they have what it takes to pound the rock, control the clock and keep their defense off the field.
Position Battles: Fred Jackson has the upper hand as the #4 RB, but is there room for him on the roster? A good performance tonight could cement his status as a full-time Bill on the active roster; any mistakes and he may be overlooked for a position of higher need. Also, keep an eye out for rookie interior lineman Christian Gaddis - if he plays well, he could end up filling the ninth O-Line position left available by Aaron Merz' trip to IR.
Might as well hit the other half of the "run and stop the run" mantra - the Bills need to have a better showing stuffing the run tonight. Granted, Detroit has torched opponents through the passing game thus far in the pre-season (likely caused by Mike Martz running the offensive show there), but all the same, the Lions have quick backs who could really gash this defense. I'll be watching for D-Tackles penetrating and changing the flow of the rush as well as the ability of our linebackers to take on and shed blocks. Should be interesting - Detroit's offensive line has looked very good this pre-season.
Position Battles: It is as of yet unclear just how many D-Tackles the Bills will keep; with problems at DE and Fred Jackson's situation, the team may only be able to keep four. That could mean the end of a Bills career for either Tim Anderson or Jason Jefferson; a strong performance by either tonight will be more noticeable than ever before.
I've said it many times before, I'm saying it again now and I will continue to say it so long as it keeps getting overlooked - the Bills' defensive success this season depends on their ability to pressure the quarterback. With the starting defense not seeing much time, tonight is the perfect opportunity for one of our rerserve defensive ends - Anthony Hargrove, Al Wallace, Eric Powell or C.J. Ah You specifically - to prove that they can get after the quarterback consistently. But the pass rush isn't just from the edges - I'll be monitoring blitz packages as well. Let's put Kitna/Orlovsky on their cans a few times, guys.
Position Battles: There are problems at defensive end; as a result, the team could end up keeping five players at the position. Assuming Hargrove and Wallace are taking up two of those spots, is there room for the rookie Ah You to stick and work towards being a pass rush specialist?
All good teams avoid shooting themselves in the foot. When your team is this young, however, it's far more difficult to avoid doing so - yet the Bills have not been nearly as bad in this department as they could have been, especially in the opener against the Saints. Penalties have begun to hurt us over the past two weeks, however, so it would be nice to see the team shave off a few of those (especially our first-unit guys) and look crisp as the Denver game approaches.
Coming Tonight: If you're looking for the perfect place to chat with Bills fans as you watch/listen to/monitor the game, stop by the open game thread here at Buffalo Rumblings this evening! It's always a good time, so we'll see you tonight!