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Bills/Steelers: First Half Film Session

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Evans (83), wideouts impressive in victory (Photo Source)

The Buffalo Bills are back on the practice field and in the film room, and just like the Bills, we'll be breaking down a little film today.  I found some time this weekend to re-watch the first half of Buffalo's pre-season win over Pittsburgh, and trust me - it was as enjoyable to watch them "on film" as it was to watch the game live Thursday night.

Here are some general observations that I made - and hope you find useful - from Thursday's win:

Quarterbacks: What else can you say about Trent Edwards' performance (9/11, 104 yards, 2 TD)?  Unlike in Washington, where I saw Edwards make a few bad reads, I didn't see a single poor decision from Edwards Thursday night.  What made him click was the rhythm to the offense - Trent is at his absolute best when he's in sync with his receivers (which goes for any NFL quarterback), and his rhythm was perfect Thursday night.  Edwards may not have the strongest arm in the world, but he's clearly got enough zip on his throws to squeeze a pass between three defenders in the end zone.  That's strong enough for me.  If Edwards can play consistently near the level he displayed Thursday night (asking him to play at that level might be pushing it), this is a playoff team.

Running Backs: Marshawn Lynch looked quick, explosive and powerful.  He also had a superb blitz pickup on Edwards' first score of the evening, and did a nice impression of run blocking for Edwards on his 22-yard scramble.  Fred Jackson was Fred Jackson - more powerful than he looks (with great balance - see his screen reception) and one heck of a receiver.  I think it's pretty clear that rookie sixth-round pick Xavier Omon has leapfrogged Dwayne Wright on the depth chart - Omon is still better in pass protection and doesn't seem to have quite the fumbling issue that Wright does.  It's a pity, too - Wright ran the ball really well on Thursday night (not that Omon didn't), and his fumble really negated all of the excellent things he put together.

Wide Receivers: I thought Buffalo's wideouts were superb.  Few NFL receivers can run a route like Lee Evans when he's on his game.  He's so dangerous as a deep threat that he can get 18-20 yards downfield, stop on a dime, and be wide open.  If Edwards has the time to throw that he did on Thursday throughout this season, Evans is going to have a big year.  He might have a big year otherwise.  Roscoe Parrish looked good in my estimation, too - he needs to learn to run after the catch more like Evans in certain situations (like getting out of bounds in the two-minute drill), but it's clear that Turk Schonert is concentrating hard on getting him the ball this season.  I also like what I've seen out of Felton Huggins - he's a bit more well-rounded at this point than Steve Johnson, and I actually feel that if the Bills were to keep six receivers, Huggins might edge the rookie out.

Tight Ends/Fullbacks: Well, Robert Royal was the star (and by the way - this guy blocks like an offensive tackle when he wants to), but I still think I'm most impressed by Derek Fine.  Royal looked better than I've ever seen him catching the ball; maybe this is the season in which he's not a total liability as a pass-catcher for the offense.  Fine is a smooth athlete - he's not the fastest guy in the world (not even close), but he looks good running routes and especially in motion and working out of the slot.  He looks far more natural than any of his tight end peers; if things go well, I'm going to say he's the team's starter at tight end in 2009.

Offensive Line: I don't have much to add to Ron from NM, our resident O-Line guru; I will say that I was impressed once again by Demetrius Bell.  I wasn't sure how he'd hold up against a 3-4 defense (the toughest to pass protect against by far), but he showed that he's athletic enough to handle the speed rush at the NFL level.  He had a lot of help from tight end Courtney Anderson at times, but in all, it was an impressive performance for a guy who's only been playing football since 2005.  He's got a future.

Defensive Line: I dedicated most of my work on the defensive line to watching Marcus Stroud, and more specifically, how the Steelers dealt with him.  Stroud was on the field for 12 defensive plays - 8 passes and 4 runs.  On the eight passes (one a screen pass), Stroud was double-teamed twice.  Of the six pass plays he was single-teamed, he was able to create significant pressure on Ben Roethlisberger twice.  He was also tripped/blatantly held once as well.  Of the four run plays, he was double-teamed three times; the one time he wasn't, he crashed the line and made the tackle.  He is, quite simply, a force to be reckoned with - and while he can be handled by one blocker on occasion, that's usually not the case.  It's quite fun to watch that man play football.

Linebackers: Overall, this unit performed better than they did in Washington, but I still wasn't all that impressed.  Granted, the unit has been without Angelo Crowell for two games, so they're bound to improve when he returns to the lineup.  Kawika Mitchell was impressive against the run, and Paul Posluszny was solid as usual.  My problem is with Keith Ellison.  He just isn't physical enough to be good against the run; he can mop up when a running back is channeled to him, but what linebacker can't?  He's also consistently out of position dropping back into coverage, though that isn't specific just to Ellison.  Buffalo's defense struggles mightily with slant routes and the skinny post, and it's because the linebackers struggle moving backwards and the corners don't jam often.  I'm starting to think that the Bills concentrate on linebacker early in next year's draft, but the unit is scrappy and talented enough to be getting on with for now.

Defensive Backs: They weren't great.  Ko Simpson made an excellent play on a Roethlisberger pass that was eventually picked off by Donte Whitner; Whitner and the rest of his safety-mates looked good in run support as well.  Whitner in particular made a nice play at the line of scrimmage, an encouraging sign to be certain.  The pass coverage, in general, was weak; when there was no pass rush to be had, the Bills got gouged pretty badly (again, not a huge surprise).  I was particularly disappointed by Will James' performance - he tackled very poorly, took poor angles, and allowed a tight reception to Hines Ward on an excellent sideline throw under duress by Roethlisberger.  He'll need to pick his play up to hang on to the nickel job.

Leodis McKelvin and Ashton Youboty were the second-team corners (behind starters Terrence McGee and Jabari Greer), and the duo took their lumps, Youboty in particular.  Obviously, Youboty and free safety George Wilson gave up a long touchdown throw to Santonio Holmes; it was called a blown coverage on the broadcast, but it looked more like a disguised Cover 3 to me.  The Bills lined up in a Cover 2 look, but prior to the snap, SS Bryan Scott crept up to the line of scrimmage.  Buffalo's two corners and Wilson were to man the deep portion of the field in a three-man zone shell, but it didn't look like Youboty got as deep as he should have - he may have been peeking into the offensive backfield.  The result was that Holmes burned Youboty, and Wilson just missed making up for the gaffe.  (This was different than my viewpoint in the Open Game Thread, so I wanted to rectify my error here.)

Special Teams: Obviously, McKelvin's 95-yard touchdown kickoff return was the highlight and was an excellent individual play.  Outside of that return, however, the Bills' return game was rather pedestrian - Pittsburgh's punters did a nice job stalemating the punt return game, and the kickoffs never really got going outside of the touchdown play.  There's work to be done in that department.  McKelvin needs to learn to trust his wedge more often, and the wedge blockers themselves need to be more... well... wedge-y.

There was one change in terms of the starting kick coverage unit - Youboty replaced Will James, who was among that unit in Washington, and Youboty made a nice tackle on the second kickoff of the game.  Clearly, the Bills are sliding him up the depth chart in an attempt to find a way to keep him on the roster; he performed poorly defensively, but outside of McGee, he's the best tackler in Buffalo's secondary.  When Derek Schouman went down with his knee injury, fullback Darian Barnes took his spot on the kick coverage units.

Rookies Steve Johnson and Kennard Cox were the second-team punt gunners, and Johnson looked pretty good in this role.  If he's going to make the team, however, he'll need to show more than Huggins has in this role - and comparing notes from last pre-season, Huggins is still better in this role.

We'll discuss the second half of this game in our Second Half Film Session tomorrow afternoon.