The Buffalo Bills take on the Pittsburgh Steelers this evening for Week 2 of the 2023 NFL preseason. Both clubs are entering the contest with victories under their belt from last weekend. Here are some specific things to tune in for and focus on during tonight’s matchup.
More action for the starters
Teams are still getting used to the new three preseason game format, but also have the added benefit of only having to make one roster cut at the end of the preseason this year. This means we get to have more fun analyzing some of the battles that are going for the final spots on the roster. However, it seems most teams will use Week 2 of the preseason to give their starters some reps in preparation for the season opener. Playing key players in Week 2 of the preseason makes sense, it gives them a little tune-up in live game action, but if they do get banged up they would still have a full three weeks to get healthy before their first regular-season game. We also can expect to see the Steelers’ starters playing early in this game.
Head coach Sean McDermott said that Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and the rest of the Bills’ starters will likely see about a quarter and a half of action. I wouldn’t put much stock into what happens during that quarter and a half. We already know that Allen is insanely good, so the goal is just to get out of there healthy. But everyone can agree that a Josh Allen laser for a touchdown to rookie TE Dalton Kincaid would be fun to watch.
Position battles are fun to analyze. Here are some to pay attention to:
O’Cyrus Torrence got the nod in Week 1 and appears set to reprise that role, according to the Week 2 depth charts. Check out my in-depth analysis of Torrence’s play versus the Indianapolis Colts here. It seems as if Torrence may be pulling away with this job, but I wouldn’t count out Ryan Bates quite yet. Bates’ versatility to play all five positions on the offensive line might actually be hurting him in this position battle. I would think the Bills want Bates as the “sixth” offensive lineman, someone who can be slotted in if an injury strikes. Honestly, this isn’t a bad idea knowing Bates is the backup center and current starter Mitch Morse’s concussion history.
Middle linebacker is probably the most intriguing position battle to watch regarding the Bills, simply because it seems to be wide open. After Sean McDermott’s “room for improvement” comment regarding the MLB position, all bets are off. I thought that Tyrel Dodson would run away with the job after Terrel Bernard got injured, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. There are plenty of bodies in the mix: Tyrel Dodson, Terrel Bernard, Dorian Williams, A.J. Klein, and Baylon Spector. It should be fun to see how this one shakes out.
Is Buffalo just too good at drafting late-round cornerbacks? One would think that 2022 first-round draft pick Kaiir Elam has a clear runway for this spot, but Dane Jackson (seventh-round pick) and Christian Benford (sixth-round pick) aren’t making it easy on him. All three players have had a solid training camp. Could we be entering another year of a platoon at CB2? Unless Kaiir Elam plays insanely well the rest of the preseason, it looks like a platoon between Elam and Jackson will be the outcome.
You might be thinking why is wide receiver on the position battle list? It’s because the Bills are loaded with talent battling for the last WR spot on the roster. We can assume that Diggs, Davis, Sherfield, Harty, and Shakir are going to make the roster. The question becomes are the Bills going to keep six or seven WRs on the final 53-man roster? I am guessing that fifth-round rookie WR Justin Shorter will make the roster because the Bills don’t want to waste a draft pick, so that would make six WRs. Marcell Ateman, Andy Isabella, KeeSean Johnson, Dezmon Patmon, and Tyrell Shavers all made their case for the Bills to keep seven WRs in the first preseaon game. This roster spot will likely come down to how well the player can contribute on special teams.
Increase usage of Dalton Kincaid
In the first preseason game Kincaid didn’t show up in the box score, and honestly didn’t get that much playing time. I can guarantee you that the Bills didn’t draft Kincaid in the first round to use him sparingly. I would look for Kincaid to get plenty of run with the starters and Josh Allen this game. The Bills won’t show all their tricks with Kincaid, but he should get some balls thrown his way to get him acclimated to the NFL game.
A glimpse of new free agent WRs roles
Wide receivers Trent Sherfield and Deonte Harty were free-agent signings by the Bills this offseason and are expected to contribute fairly substantially in Buffalo’s offense. Expect to get a quick glimpse of what type of role they will fill. Harty is an explosive slot threat who could be a fun addition for Allen to work with. We already saw Sherfield bring some value in run blocking in Week 1 when he threw a key block for James Cook on his TD.
Be on the lookout for Sherfield excelling in similar blocking situations during the game versus the Steelers.