For the second straight week, the first-team offense struggled to move the ball and score points as quarterback Tyrod Taylor was inconsistent and missed open receivers. The offensive line was erratic at best and was pushed around by Jim Schwartz’s aggressive defense. Rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman relieved Taylor and provided an instant spark to the offense. The run defense was stout, allowing only 66 yards on 26 carries (a paltry 2.5 yards per carry). Penalties continued to plague the Bills, as Buffalo was flagged 15 times for 131 yards.
At the halfway point of the preseason, whose stock is rising, and whose is falling?
Hughes caused chaos for the overmatched Eagles offensive line, registering one sack with two tackles while consistently making life difficult for quarterback Carson Wentz. Hughes is loving Leslie Frazier’s new 4-3 defense, and if the preseason is any indicator, Hughes is back to his dominant ways as an edge rusher opposing teams will have to double team if they hope to slow him down. After recording 11 sacks combined in 2015 and 2016, Hughes has a sack in each preseason game and seems like a lock to record 10 or more sacks. The spin move that Hughes used to bring down Wentz for a seven-yard loss on 3rd and 11 was vintage Hughes, and should give Bills fans hope that the defensive line will dominate the line of scrimmage.
Rookies on Offense
Quarterback Nathan Peterman and wide receivers Zay Jones and Brandon Reilly were among the bright spots on offense. For the second straight week, Peterman displayed poise and confidence in the pocket, completing 10 of 20 passes for 167 yards with no turnovers. Peterman is clearly the No. 2 signal caller behind Taylor, but while some fans are clamoring for Peterman to have a shot at unseating Taylor, remember these are only preseason games, and the regular season is a different challenge. But general manager Brandon Beane and the rest of the Bills’ brass should be impressed with what Peterman has shown through two preseason games. Peterman’s best — and most difficult — completion of the evening was a beautiful 22-yard sideline strike to Jones, who leapt and hauled in the pass while getting both feet in-bounds. The catch, which occurred in between two defenders, set up a field goal before halftime. Jones was spectacular in catching three passes for 42 yards, while fellow rookie Reilly added four catches for 39 yards with Buffalo’s lone touchdown. Following a Greg Mabin interception, Reilly scored an outstanding touchdown on a nine-yard toss from T.J. Yates with under five minutes remaining in the fourth to give the Bills a 16-13 lead.
When wide receiver Rod Streater went town after making a spectacular 28-yard grab of a Peterman pass, the deep threat landed awkwardly on his foot and remained on the field while a cart came onto the field. Streater, who has been a bright spot in training camp, injured his toe on the play. As impressive as Streater’s catch was, it was equally impressive to see virtually the entire Bills team huddled around Streater as he was loaded onto a cart. Let’s hope the injury to Streater isn’t that serious, and that Buffalo’s players stand by each other during the highs and lows of the 2017 season. Bonus points to ex-Eagle LeSean McCoy for purchasing 200 cheesesteaks and orders of crab fries for his teammates following the game. While Buffalo suffered another preseason loss, at least the Bills were able to sample Philly’s iconic cheesesteaks on their flight back home.
It almost doesn’t feel fair to list Taylor here. He lost his top wide receiver (and the team’s only proven deep threat) in Sammy Watkins to trade, and his replacement, Jordan Matthews, went down 15 minutes into his first practice. For the second straight week, Taylor struggled in offensive coordinator Rick Dennison’s system, which emphasizes quick throws and the horizontal passing game. Taylor finished 8-of-18 for 53 yards with a pair of interceptions, a pair of sacks, and a 12 quarterback rating. The interception by ex-Bill Ronald Darby was particularly bad, as Taylor appeared to have tight end Nick O’Leary (three receptions for 50 yards) running free across the middle of the field, but instead, Taylor forced a deep ball to Anquan Boldin that Darby easily snagged. I’m still willing to give Taylor a pass, as his receivers didn’t help him out and the offensive line did little to protect Taylor in the pocket. Plus, we haven’t truly seen this new offense execute play action passes and rollout passes, two staples of the scheme, but Taylor is not helping his case through two preseason contests in this, a make-or-break season. Is it fair to say Taylor needs a huge effort in next Saturday’s preseason game at Baltimore, his old team? Taylor is expected to play at least the first half — McCoy took it a step further, saying he felt the starters would play three quarters in the next-to-last exhibition — while directing Buffalo to several sustained scoring drives would go a long way towards silencing Taylor’s critics and quieting the premature calls for Peterman to start.
The offensive line
Guard Richie Incognito was his usual dominating self, including a ridiculous block on Mychal Kendricks at the end of the opening quarter. (Watch it here.) Incognito blew up Kendricks on a screen pass from Taylor to McCoy, freeing up Shady for an 11-yard gain on 1st and 20. Beyond that, this unit was abysmal. Free agent right guard signee Vladimir Ducasse was tossed around by the Eagles, both on pass protection and run blocking, while third-year guard John Miller has done nothing to demonstrate he deserves to be starting. If left tackle Cordy Glenn is unable to get his ailing foot healthy, the line, once considered a strength of this team, will quickly turn into a major weakness.
So much for the Bills tightening things up when it came to penalties. One week after committing 10 infractions for 106 yards in the loss to the Vikings, Buffalo was flagged 15 times for 131 yards, and it could have been much worse: in the first quarter alone, Buffalo committed eight penalties (five were accepted). The penalties were not limited to one particular facet of the game, as Buffalo was an equal-opportunity rules violator, committing pre-snap infractions, special teams violations, and penalties on both offense and defense. In the post-game press conference, McDermott deemed the sheer number of Buffalo penalties as “completely unacceptable.” How the team gets back on track and stops committing mind-numbing penalties will be an issue to watch as the preseason continues.