COMMENTARY | The third preseason game on the NFL schedule is often called the "dress rehearsal," because most teams play their regular players more in this game than they do in any other preseason contest.
The game is also often the last chance for teams to work out any remaining kinks from training camp before the season begins, because, usually, teams sit their regulars in the fourth preseason game out of fear of injury.
Unfortunately, for the Buffalo Bills, their third preseason game did nothing to prove that the team is ready for the New England Patriots in Week 1 of the regular season. The Bills were dismantled by the Washington Redskins 30-7 in a game that probably could not have gone worse for Buffalo if it was scripted by Bill Belichick. Notwithstanding this, there were a couple of bright spots.
Here are three up and three down from the game:
Second-Unit Pass Rush
Although the Bills' defensive starters struggled mightily against the Redskins (more on that below), the second unit impressed when matched up with the Washington backups. Mike Pettine, the Bills' new defensive coordinator, is known for trying to put non-stop pressure on opposing teams' quarterbacks. Against the Redskins, the second unit got the job done implementing that scheme, with Jamie Blatnick, Duke Williams, and Jerry Hughes all tallying sacks. Hopefully, when the games count, the first-team unit can implement the scheme with the same amount of success.
There is no real doubt that the Bills' regular-season offense will involve getting C.J. Spiller the ball as often as possible. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett admitted as much when training camp opened, joking that Spiller will be fed the ball until he throws up. Although Spiller did not throw up against the Redskins, he was generally effective in limited playing time, gaining 39 yards on 8 carries with a touchdown.
Spiller had a small scare, appearing to have hurt himself on his touchdown score, but all appeared well as he eventually returned to the game. All in all, it is encouraging for Bills fans that Spiller appears locked and loaded to fulfill his potential this season as one of the top producing running backs in the NFL.
There was not much else about the Bills-Redskins game that was redeeming from Buffalo's point of view. Although not everyone played terribly, no one really stood out and impressed.
To make matters worse, a few key players left the game with injury. As a result, it stands to reason that the prospects of many doctors in the Buffalo area are looking up due to the extra work that will be needed to get these players back on the field.
On the second drive of the game, starting quarterback Kevin Kolb went down with concussion-like symptoms after being kneed on the back of the head after a scramble. Early reports are that his career may be threatened, and the Bills have already acted by bringing in quarterbacks Matt Leinart and Thaddeus Lewis. With E.J. Manuel having previously been injured, it's safe to say that things are currently unsettled at the position going into the fourth preseason game.
If that was not bad enough, two key players in the Bills' secondary also went down and had to leave the game. Backup safety Da'Norris Searcy left with a head injury. Far more concerning, Stephon Gilmore, who is going to be relied on to serve as the Bills' No. 1 cornerback, also left the game with a wrist injury. Without either of these players, a thin Bills secondary will get even thinner -- which is not recommended when trying to stop Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Week 1.
The Redskins have one of the top running backs in the NFL in Alfred Morris, so there would have been little shame in struggling to contain him. However, Morris got only four carries against the Bills. Notwithstanding this, the Redskins' ground game was unstoppable. The Bills were torched for 208 running yards, including 70 by Roy Helu. The Bills also struggled against Pat White and the read option, giving up a 14-yard touchdown run to White on such a play.
Although the AFC East is not necessarily known for its read-option or strong running games, the Bills do have to contend with the Carolina Panthers in Week 2. Struggling to contain a Pat White-Roy Helu read-option does not bode well for the Bills with the thought of Cam Newton being on the other side of the field.
A lot has been written about Pettine installing his new scheme in Buffalo and stressing pressure on the opposing quarterbacks. However, in order to bring consistent pressure, it is crucial that the secondary be able to contain opposing receivers in tight one-on-one coverage. That did not happen against the Redskins.
It would be one thing if Robert Griffin III, or even Kirk Cousins, was playing quarterback for Washington. But, with both of them injured, the Redskins were relegated to Rex Grossman and Pat White, and that was all they needed. The Bills' secondary consistently gave the Redskins' receivers too much of a cushion, which allowed Grossman and White the chance to pick the defense apart, especially early in the game. Even when Grossman made terrible throws, he somehow got away with it. For instance, a gift-wrapped pick-six was dropped by cornerback Stephon Gilmore. And to add injury to the insult, safety Searcy and Gilmore left the game with injuries.
After Kolb got injured on the second drive of the game, it was clear that the remainder of the playing time at the position would have to fall on the shoulders of third-string quarterback and undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel. Although Tuel had some success in the Bills' first two preseason games, he struggled mightily against the Redskins. The Bills were not able to get anything going down the field against the Redskins, as demonstrated by Tuel's final stat line of 10-for-17 for just 63 yards.
The best the Bills could muster with the deep ball was an early pass interference call and a couple of near misses. The only other effective plays coming out of the passing game were 3- to 5-yard quick passes. This clearly won't cut it when the games count, especially if the Bills are going to look to run a quick offense that stays on the field for long periods of time.
The Bills return to action on Thursday night against the Detroit Lions to close out the preseason. With the uncertainty at the quarterback position, the fourth preseason game might mean more to the Bills than any other team in the league.
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Del Pearson is a lifelong Upstate New York resident and follower of the Buffalo Bills. He has been attending games since childhood and more recently writing about the team as a Yahoo! Contributor.
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