The Buffalo Bills’ starters - minus a handful of big-name veterans - played the first quarter of Thursday night’s 2018 preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers. As can be expected from an exhibition game, the Bills’ performance in a 7-7 draw with the Panthers was a mixed bag on both sides of the ball.
Nathan Peterman, vying for the starting quarterback job, will end up being the major talking point for the next few days as the Bills move forward toward the start of the regular season.
Offense slings it
With just two first-quarter possessions to work with, Buffalo’s coaching staff made a very wise decision and let their (first preseason) starting quarterback sling it. Including two passes that did not make the stat sheet due to called penalties, Peterman attempted 12 passes, while Bills runners logged just two carries in the quarter.
Peterman was sharp, despite his first throw of the night looking pretty rough (it worked out nicely, as it helped force a Panthers defensive pass interference call), and despite the fact that his last throw of the night glanced off of the shoulder of Chris Ivory and was ultimately intercepted.
In between those bookends, Peterman completed every pass he attempted, extending one drive with a nice outside-the-pocket conversion to Kelvin Benjamin on third down, and then capping off the opening drive of the night with a 28-yard touchdown toss to Benjamin. It was not a perfect night for Peterman, but it was pretty close; he looked in command, his timing was crisp, and he produced. His 9-of-10, 119-yard performance will be hard to ignore as the Bills’ three-man quarterback competition proceeds.
Benjamin’s performance should also be encouraging for Bills fans worried about Buffalo’s passing offense. He finished the quarter with four receptions for 59 yards and the aforementioned touchdown.
Running back LeSean McCoy suited up for the Bills in the contest, but did not play, for the obvious reason that they’re keen on keeping their best player healthy for the start of the regular season. McCoy was replaced by a combination of Ivory, Travaris Cadet, and Marcus Murphy.
Defense a bit leaky
Things were not quite as crisp for the Bills defensively. They also saw two possessions’ worth of playing time, yielding a short Christian McCaffrey touchdown run on Carolina’s second possession to close out their evening.
With the usual caveats - they did very little game planning and opponent scouting, and did not throw much in the way of unique looks at the Panthers - the Bills came off as a little loose defensively. They struggled in particular to defend runners out of the backfield; three of Cam Newton’s six completions went to backs, for 44 out of his 84 passing yards on the evening.
Newton (6-of-9, 84 yards) also made a nice back-shoulder throw to Jarius Wright, single-covered by Vontae Davis, that yielded 28 yards and set up the Panthers’ game-tying touchdown.
Buffalo’s defense is facing fairly lofty expectations entering the second season of Sean McDermott’s tenure, but there are enough moving parts and new faces - especially in the front seven - that it’s fair to expect some early growing pains. What we saw tonight should not be cause for concern, but it’s difficult to imagine that the starting defense is overly happy with their first performance of the season.
One bright spot: safety Jordan Poyer, who forced a McCaffrey fumble on the Panthers’ opening possession (which Carolina recovered), and who nearly corralled a bad Newton overthrow to force a turnover. Buffalo’s safeties were a major part of their success in turning the football over last season, and Poyer’s performance tonight lends hope that their 2017 output won’t be an anomaly.
Just like on offense, the Bills were playing without a tenured veteran on defense, as tackle Kyle Williams took the night off. Rookie third-round pick Harrison Phillips replaced him in the starting lineup. Trent Murphy also did not play; Shaq Lawson replaced him at left defensive end.