Have you had a chance to catch your breath yet? Since last Thursday’s preseason opener, the Buffalo Bills have been in the headlines constantly with two huge trades, Nathan Peterman’s rise up the depth chart, and the chipped sternum of Buffalo’s newest weapon Jordan Matthews.
Now it is time for the Bills and their fans to turn their attention to the next preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles. What should Bills fans be looking for when they square off with Carson Wentz and company? Let’s find out.
1.) Pass protection from the OL
This was a big concern from the opener against the Minnesota Vikings. While we had a good deal of success running the ball, pass protection was an issue as Tyrod was under duress on nearly every snap. Yes, Cordy Glenn was out, but there is a real possibility that he will not be available to start the year. Whether it be switching Dion Dawkins to left tackle, or something as drastic as trying Mills there, the Bills have to figure out a way to protect Tyrod. As magical as he can be escaping pressure and making plays out of a busted block, him running for his life is a recipe for disaster.
2.) Nathan Peterman’s continued development
Peterman had a solid outing against the Vikings. Couple that with T.J. Yates’s less than stellar performance and you have the reason for the rookie’s move to No. 2 on the depth chart.
What Peterman must do now, is continue to build on his success. The one thing we need to see from him against the Eagles is better ball placement, particularly on throws over the middle. A few times against Minnesota, the neophyte threw behind his intended receiver, which negated any chance to pick up yards after the catch.
I think this improvement will come with time as he grows accustomed to the speed of the NFL, but it is still something worth keeping an eye on Thursday.
3.) Wide receiving corps
With Sammy Watkins gone and Jordan Matthews already hurt, how will the receivers split time and where will they line up? Zay Jones and Andre Holmes have received the bulk of the work outside, allowing Anquan Boldin to play in the slot in practice.
More interesting, however, will be who steps up as a playmaker. Say what you will about Watkins and his availability, but the youngster was dynamic (as evidenced by his more than 16 yards-per-catch average). If the Bills want to take that next step as on offense, someone will need to emerge as a playmaker. Otherwise, it will become easy for defenses to stack the box and dare our receivers to beat them deep.
4.) Shuffling the cornerback deck
With the sudden departure of expected starter Ronald Darby via last Friday’s trade to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Bills now have a vacancy in their secondary. Look for the second preseason game to give insight into who head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier prefer to lineup opposite rookie Tre’Davious White as the starting right side cornerback. Despite never having taken a snap during the regular season, White, Buffalo’s first-round selection out of LSU, has impressed Bills brass during training camp and has earned the No. 1 cornerback designation.
Second-year man Kevon Seymour and free agent Shareece Wright are expected to battle to replace Darby in the starting lineup. Wright, in his seventh season out of USC, is listed as the starter at right corner on the team’s unofficial depth chart. E.J. Gaines, who the Bills acquired in the Sammy Watkins deal with the Los Angeles Rams, has been backing up White.
Seymour has battled a foot injury during training camp but has been a full participant at practice this week. Gaines, who showed flashes of his potential and was named to the Pro Football Writer’s Association’s All-Rookie team during the 2014 season, missed all of 2015 with a Lisfranc injury. In the slot, Seymour and Leonard Johnson are expected to compete for playing time.
5.) Assessing the safeties
Both of the projected starters at safety, Micah Hyde (strong safety) and Jordan Poyer (free safety), are in their first year of Buffalo’s zone-coverage scheme, and both Hyde and Poyer will be making their Buffalo debut vs. the Eagles.
Hyde, a free agent signee from the Green Bay Packers, is versatile and brings leadership to a Buffalo unit that is young and still learning Frazier’s schemes. Hyde, with the most starting experience of any Buffalo safety (33 starts in four seasons with Green Bay) is the key to the secondary playing at a high level this year.
Poyer, a free agent signee from the Cleveland Browns, doesn’t possess much starting experience in the league, and when he has seen the field, the results have been mixed. According to Football Outsider’s Aaron Schatz, Poyer followed up a great 2015 season with an awful 2016 season, although both years are considered very limited samples according to Schatz.
Colt Anderson, Bacarri Rambo, and B.T. Sanders will also see reps at free safety, while Shamiel Gary, Joe Powell, and Trae Elston will see time at strong safety.
The Bills will need contributions from more than just their two big free agent signings, Hyde and Poyer. The second preseason game should clear up the pecking order among the safeties.