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Opinion: Offseason Bills narratives got juice against the Steelers

Needle of fun in a haystack of blegh

Buffalo Bills v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills turned in one of their worst performances, preseason or otherwise, of the McBeane era against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday evening.

Every narrative that percolated its way through the public consciousness was touched on in this game. Every single one of the major on-field concerns amongst Bills Mafia showed up to validate any offseason angst in a recipe perfectly suited to sow maximum concern in the fan base. Through that, a silver lining on a different organizational narrative shined through. Let’s dive into how what we saw reinforced or redirected what we already thought.

Spencer Brown

Last year, Spencer Brown’s ability in pass protection became a major story line, specifically amidst the Bills’ playoff run. After missing meaningful time that previous offseason recovering from a back injury, the Bills as an organization acquired nothing that one would consider a meaningful and safe hedge against Brown’s elevation to “adequate right tackle.” Their actions lined up with their words, where they continually pointed to the stunted development caused by the injury and placed faith in a step forward this year.

Saturday night’s preseason game in Pittsburgh did nothing to make fans feel better about right tackle for 2023.

Brown was not the only starting offensive lineman to struggle against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he was the only one who hasn’t had either a track record of effectiveness or the contributing factor of being a rookie.

Speaking of which...

O’Cyrus Torrence

One of the talking points during the 2023 offseason (and one I touched on) was that it would really help the longevity of the Bills’ Super Bowl window if general manager Brandon Beane hit a dinger or two in the draft. Beane’s recent draft history has been littered with singles and doubles, but a homer could really help push the door open for the 2023, 2024 and 2025 versions of the Bills.

So far, so good for rookie right guard O’Cyrus Torrence. Since being taken in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft, Torrence has already shown a consistent level of play in both the run and pass game, something we didn’t see in previous Day 2 pick Cody Ford. Although Ford’s development was undoubtedly stunted by playing him as a tackle his rookie year, while Torrence has been exclusively a right guard since his arrival in Buffalo.

Torrance had a strong showing against a ferocious Steelers front seven on Saturday night and, at this point, it’d be a surprise if he was anything other than a Week 1 starter for the Bills at right guard, and an effective one to start out.

But he wasn’t the only rookie to show off his chops and help start to turn the narrative around concerning Brandon Beane’s draft history...

Dalton Kincaid

Dalton Kincaid ran one route against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1 of the preseason. The biggest storyline relating to him coming out of that game was the fact that the Bills played him as if he was a starter, not as if he needed reps for seasoning against backups.

Then against Pittsburgh, the Bills played him again like a starter, and he performed like one.

Kincaid showed impressive route running, hands, and fluidity as a pass-catching weapon, and began to add another notch on the belt of Brandon Beane in regards to drafting impact players. The arrow is up for Kincaid as a player who can impact the offense early and help provide a mismatch piece for Buffalo, whether it’s against a cornerback or a linebacker.

Speaking of linebackers...

Middle Linebacker

When you let a Pro Bowl linebacker walk in free agency and replace him with essentially nobody, you’re testing the depth at the position, your ability to coach up the players already on the team, and the idea that linebacker is a replaceable position on defense the way that running back is on offense.

So far, not so good for the Bills.

2022 third-round pick Terrel Bernard has been hampered, likely out of the Week 1 starting competition at MIKE linebacker due to a hamstring injury. That leaves veteran linebacker Tyrel Dodson in the driver’s seat for the role.

It hasn’t gone well so far.

Dodson struggled against the Steelers after an underwhelming performance against Indianapolis, getting caught up on blocks and frozen by misdirection. In addition to the qualitative nature of his play, there was the timing that stuck out. In preseason, “when” and “with whom” you play is often more predictive than “how” you play. Dodson was playing with the third-team defense in the fourth quarter of the Bills’ loss to the Steelers.

Your guess is as good as mine at this point regarding where One Bills Drive goes at the position, because it doesn’t feel like there are any options right now that intersect “what the team would do” and “what would make the middle linebacker spot better.”

Spencer Brown, Beane’s drafting, and middle linebacker were three big topics for Bills Mafia since the 2022 season ended. All three of them had data added to them on Saturday night, and two of the three had bad data added.

But that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every Thursday on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!