The Buffalo Bills play their second game of the 2022 NFL preseason this week, as they host the Denver Broncos in what should be as close to a “dress rehearsal” game as we see this preseason. Traditionally, back in the day when four preseason games was the norm, the third exhibition match was the one where starters played. With only three preseason games, the Bills and head coach Sean McDermott will play their starters “a healthy amount” in the second preseason game.
The key word in that phrase is “healthy,” and while McDermott may mean it in more ways than one, I’m really only focusing on one possible meaning. That’s the major thing to watch this week, but it isn’t the only one. Here’s what we’ll be looking for this weekend.
This is a running theme for every preseason, but it takes on special meaning in a game where Buffalo’s starters are expected to play. Count me among the people who don’t think, in today’s NFL, a team’s best players need these exhibition contests to whip themselves into game shape heading into the regular season. Quarterback Josh Allen has the privilege of practicing against one of the league’s best defenses every day. The same goes for Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis, Dawson Knox, Mitch Morse, Dion Dawkins, and a host of other Bills whose health is paramount to this season’s success. The same goes for the defense, as Buffalo’s defense has the good fortune of practicing against one of the league’s best offenses every day. I just don’t see the need to expose these guys to hits in a game that means nothing.
I’ve heard the arguments that suggest these preseason games can help to establish rhythm, especially as it relates to integrating new players into the team and the offensive and defensive systems. The only way that would be true is if the Bills planned to run anything like they will in the regular season, which they just aren’t going to do. No one puts anything of use on tape before the games matter, which limits the excitement I’ll have to see offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey calling plays for Josh Allen (more on that in a minute). Add in the fact that Denver will be playing most of their reserves, a group that has far more incentive to play hard in an exhibition game than a starting group, and it’s a recipe for anxiety on every snap Allen and the starting group play.
Ken Dorsey and Josh Allen’s connection
It’s obviously happening in a low-stakes environment, but watching Dorsey set up drives and plays for Allen is something I’ll be watching. There should be exactly zero called runs for the quarterback, but will he come out looking for short throws to establish rhythm? Will he take advantage of Josh’s howitzer arm and go deep early? How will Dorsey utilize the running backs when the threat of Allen burning the secondary is there for the defense? Even though it will be a vanilla offense, it will be interesting to see the first professional drive Allen runs with an offensive coordinator not named Brian Daboll.
Denver isn’t playing its starters. Buffalo is. If the Bills are the team we think they are, regardless of the stakes of the game, that means that we should watch them dominate while it’s their first-string versus Denver’s second-string. Will we panic if that doesn’t happen? Of course not—we Bills fans are known for being level-headed and rational, after all (sarcasm included). The game means nothing, but there are roles to be earned and narratives to be written, in both the literal and the figurative sense. The players control all that, and while the other team might have pros too, it’s a little different facing Russel Wilson than it is facing Josh Johnson.
Positional battles abound
I’ll do some bullet-pointing here, as there are myriad players and battles worth watching, but here are some quick-hitters:
- Case Keenum just had a bad day last week, right? He can’t possibly be outplayed by Matt Barkley again...or can he?
- Does Zack Moss capitalize on some of the momentum he’s built from practice?
- Can Isaiah Hodgins continue to play well enough to knock Jake Kumerow off the roster? And does Khalil Shakir have an even better showing than he did in his debut?
- Will Tommy Sweeney or Quintin Morris earn the TE3 spot? Or can they make it TE2 and continue outplaying O.J. Howard?
- Is Bobby Hart going to make this team? Most reports about him have been positive, and if I have to eat every bad thing I’ve ever written about the guy, I’m all for it.
- Kingsley Jonathan was a force last week, as was Tim Settle. One of those things isn’t necessarily a surprise. Does Jonathan stick around, or has he played well enough to be poached once final cuts happen?
- Terrel Bernard and Baylon Spector each had impressive debuts. Can they keep up the momentum?
- Kaiir Elam vs. Dane Jackson may not be a discussion we need to have immediately, depending on Tre’Davious White’s knee, but Christian Benford vs. Kaiir Elam vs. Dane Jackson has made for a great problem to have, as the Bills have a plethora of strong corners.
- Is Jaquan Johnson a player to keep next year when his rookie deal lapses? He makes plays whenever he sees the field...can he keep it up?
- Matt Araiza vs. Matt Haack. Punt-a-palooza continues! I’d love to see Araiza hit a 60-yarder that drops out of bounds at the ten, but I’ll take another 80-yard bomb, too.
Seriously guys...stay healthy.