The Buffalo Bills will open their 2009 home schedule this evening when they take on the Chicago Bears in their second pre-season game of the season. For those that attend Bills home games regularly hoping to catch a glimpse of WR Terrell Owens for the first time in live game action in person, you'll have to wait - Owens will miss the game as he puts the finishing touches on recovering from a sprained toe that kept him out of practice all week.
Though Owens' absence sucks what little excitement can be mustered out of a pre-season game, there are still several areas of the team worth keeping an eye on this evening. Our top five points of interest are after the jump.
What will the no-huddle look like without Owens?
Last weekend, Buffalo unveiled its no-huddle to the tune of a quick 50 yards and some escalating hopes in just one drive. Owens caught two passes for 27 yards on that drive, though; without Owens, the Bills will continue to run the no-huddle, but with largely the same skill personnel that they fielded in 2008.
Tonight is an opportunity for QB Trent Edwards to prove that the no-huddle attack can be effective on its own merit. How will it function without Owens in the lineup? There isn't a lot that we can learn in this department tonight - the starters aren't expected to play much more than a series or two, after all - but it's certainly intriguing to ponder. If the offense has another solid showing tonight, we can stash that feeling in the back of our minds in the horrifyingly-difficult-to-ponder event that we have to prepare for a meaningful game without Owens.
Game two for the offensive line
Lots of folks were concerned with the offensive line after a not-so-spectacular performance in Canton last Sunday. This time around, however, the line will be completely healthy, as RT Brad Butler will start after missing the Hall of Fame Game. For rookie guards Eric Wood and especially Andy Levitre, this game marks another chance to take a lot of reps in an effort to get as ready as possible for the regular season. Chicago's active front four will provide a great test for this unit, just as Tennessee's active front four did a week ago.
Will the backup quarterback(s) improve?
The big rumor of the week - and by "rumor," we mean completely fabricated farce that wasted our time - was that the Bills were interested in signing Michael Vick. That obviously didn't happen - nor was it ever truly an option - but Vick's signing in Philadelphia does nothing to eradicate an NFL.com report that the Bills have been taking a look at available backup quarterback options. Ryan Fitzpatrick was not terribly impressive last weekend, particularly in the red zone. If he and fellow backup Gibran Hamdan struggle tonight (and it's worth mentioning that Hamdan had a strong outing last week), the possibility at least exists that Buffalo's activity in the free agent quarterback market increases. Let's hope Fitzpatrick gives them reason to focus on signing a certain other player that remains unsigned, rather than a mediocre waiver-wire quarterback.
Defense looking to rebound
In two series' worth of action against Tennessee, Buffalo's defense gave up 107 yards on 18 plays, including a 73-yard Titans scoring drive on their second drive of the game. The Bills struggled to get off the field, and QB Kerry Collins had a field day, completing 7 of 10 passes for 82 yards and generally making it look easy.
Tonight, they square off against Bears QB Jay Cutler, a player that has put up gaudy statistics on this defense in the past. Again, this is a good test for a unit that would put ease into a lot of minds with a stronger showing, particularly against a player as talented as Cutler. And if Paul Posluszny gets his hands on another throw, we're curious to see if he can hang on this time.
Young linebackers getting a chance to shine
Maybe it's only me, but I find the battle royale at reserve linebacker for the Bills right now fascinating. Players like Marcus Buggs, Nic Harris, Alvin Bowen and Jon Corto all seem to be on a level playing field in terms of their chances of making the roster. (Ashlee Palmer is in that ballpark too, but he'll miss tonight's game with an ankle injury.) They'll get their fair share of chances to make some plays tonight, too, as the Bears have some terrible quarterbacking depth (they'll have chances at interceptions) and some solid backup running backs to test them (such as Kevin Jones, the other Adrian Peterson, and the speedy Garrett Wolfe). This group should be fun to watch.
What will y'all be paying attention to tonight? Also, be sure to join us this evening for the open game thread; I'll be at the stadium, so keep it civil and keep it chill. It's pre-season, after all.