The Buffalo Bills are now halfway through the preseason, which means they’re only about two weeks out from the start of the regular season. And while the time before the Bills game against the New York Giants was essentially blown up by not only the team releasing backup running back Karlos Williams, but also star defensive lineman Marcell Dareus’ decision to check into rehab, there was still a game that took place after the fact.
And during the Bills 21-0 win over the New York Giants, we saw some big performances from areas the Bills were looking to improve upon.
Seven observations from the team’s second preseason game:
1) Tyrod, McCoy provide some flash… and some fright
- Just ahead of Thursday night’s practice, Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan told reporters that his starting offense and defense would play more than they did in the first week of the preseason, and perhaps into the second quarter of this game. That included both quarterback Tyrod Taylor and running back LeSean McCoy, who provided some incredible moments and potential signs of things to come. Taylor’s watershed moment in a 7-of-10, 132-yard and one touchdown performance was the longest play from scrimmage in the first half. The Giants sent Janoris Jenkins on a cornerback blitz and he came in untouched. Taylor spotted him with his peripheral vision, spun out of the pocket, rolled left, and uncorked a bomb to a wide open Charles Clay deep down the field. When things break down around Taylor, he is truly at his greatest because he has the ability to keep his eyes down the field and make a good decision with the ball. As for McCoy, he was given a surprising amount of touches (9), and provided some sparks on offense — including his touchdown reception. However, they were both left in a bit too long — at least for my liking, anyway. Taylor even dove for more yardage on some plays and put himself in position to take a big hit. McCoy was also gang tackled on some of his receptions/carries. With McCoy especially, they really don’t have anything to prove with him on the field because they know what he is at this point. While the starters are likely to get more time against Washington, there’s no need to push it with McCoy. They need him for the regular season, end of story.
2) Defensively dominant
- After the first half, the Buffalo Bills had to have loved what they saw on the scoreboard from their defense. Not only did they keep the Giants off the scoreboard, they also held them to only 37 yards. Over the course of the game, the Giants three quarterbacks went a combined 8-of-25 for 86 yards and two interceptions. The secondary was playing well, the run defense was playing even better, and the Bills were consistently getting pressure on the quarterback — led by none other than outside linebacker Jerry Hughes. He set the table for the rest of his teammates in what was just a dominant effort. It had Rex Ryan boasting a bit after the game, too. When asked about shutting out the Giants and what he meant to him, he at first rejected that it meant anything, and then, slowly let the real Rex shine.
“Nothing. Not really. I mean, I like it, there’s no question I like it. But it’s well-noted, everybody said we have a terrible coach and all that stuff, so we’ll find out.”
Oh, that’s just Rex being Rex, of course.
3) Greg Little makes a statement
- The Bills thought they might be able to sneak top wide receiver Sammy Watkins out on to the field for one offensive series. That ended up not being the case, and without him, it opened up a big opportunity for one player to step in with the first-team offense on sets that featured three wide receivers. Joining Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin on Saturday was Greg Little, who is attempting to revive his career with the Bills, and he made the most of his opportunity. Little not only played with the top unit, but stayed in with the second-team offense as well and was the most-targeted player on the team. Six passes were thrown his way, and even though stats will read he only had three catches for 35 yards and one touchdown, he was robbed of another touchdown. The ridiculous rules of ‘What is a catch?’ in the NFL struck again, and even though Little had taken about three steps out of bounds with possession of the ball, the defender then ripped the ball out and it was ruled incomplete. With that said, Little was making contested catches and showed that he can do well in a big moment with the pair of clutch catches. He’s fighting for one of the remaining spots at wide receiver this summer, and already a solid blocking wide receiver, games like this one go a long way in him potentially making the team. He’s still a bubble guy, but by this performance, it looks like he might just be on the right side of it for now.
4) Dez Lewis buried on the depth chart
- Just as telling as Little’s opportunity with the first-team offense, Dez Lewis didn’t get an offensive snap until deep into the second quarter, and even that occurred just because there was a brief injury. Little, Walt Powell, and Jarrett Boykin all saw time ahead of Lewis on the field, who then got most of his work in the second half with the third-team offense. To be this low on the totem pole this deep into the summer is not at all a good indicator for him and his chances to make the team. To his credit, he made a nice grab on the team’s successful two-point conversion in the first half and roped in a 21-yard reception from Cardale Jones. But again, that was it, while Little, Powell, and Boykin have all taken turns really standing out in either games or practices. He needs to show something and in a hurry, otherwise the Bills might just try to sneak him on the practice squad again.
5) Kouandjio improving, Groy struggles
- The performances of former second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio have been noticeable over the past week of training camp, and mostly for good reasons. Kouandjio has been playing at left tackle in place of the injured Cordy Glenn, and looks so much more natural playing there than he ever did on the right side earlier in camp. Kouandjio extended those positive days of practice into the preseason game against the New York Giants — and against some really good competition. He was mostly going up against Olivier Vernon, who was one of the highest yielding free agents on the market this offseason. Kouandjio did quite well with his movement, kick slide, and balance for the majority of his time in the game. He got caught falling asleep one time and allowed an interior rush to Vernon that resulted in a sack of the quarterback, but you can’t help but notice his progress — and it’s a great sight for the Bills. They desperately need some sort of answer for depth on the offensive line. However, Kouandjio still hasn’t been able to acclimate himself to right tackle, which makes Jordan Mills the favorite to hang on to that job. As for tonight’s starting left guard Ryan Groy, it’s never a good sign when multiple fans send unsolicited tweets my way about an offensive lineman, and that’s just what was happening with Groy. He allowed multiple plays to get blown up, and showed that perhaps the Bills may need to check on the waiver wire near the time of final cuts for some better depth on the interior offensive line.
6) The Cardale curve
- Last week, we saw the flashes of brilliance from rookie quarterback Cardale Jones. He showed his big arm, and even an ability to lead a clutch drive in the final moment of a game. Those were all signs in the ‘plus’ category for Jones. His game against the Giants showed he still has some learning to do, too. Jones finished the evening 6-of-12, and while he threw for 83 yards and had a high yards per completion, Jones also threw a really bad interception on a play that wasn’t even close. He also chucked it into double coverage a couple of other times, and failed to get into the groove of the game. That’s the thing with rookie quarterbacks, it’s a one-step forward, one-step back sort of thing, and there is still plenty of time for him to progress. He likely won’t get a lot of time in the third preseason game, but I’d expect we see a great deal of Cardale Jones in Detroit against the Lions for the preseason finale.
7) Dan Carpenter’s grip on kicking job gets firmer
- Ever since the Bills cut Marshall Morgan from the roster in early August, Dan Carpenter has been on fire at training camp. Even though he’s been hitting an extremely high percentage of his field goal attempts, though, the Bills still wanted to give Jordan Gay a chance to win the field goal kicking job outright. Gay is much improved at the skill, after what we saw from him in both 2014 and 2015, but he still wasn’t quite on Carpenter’s level. That was only confirmed on Saturday against the Giants, when Gay got the opportunity to be the place kicker in the game. He hit his first extra point attempt, and then followed that up by clanging both a field goal attempt and another extra point attempt off the upright, and they fell to the turf. The Bills also gave Dan Carpenter the chance to do kickoffs for the first time in a long time, and Rex Ryan said he was impressed by what the veteran showed. Rex Ryan wouldn’t commit to anything, but it’s looking more and more like the Bills want this to be a one kicker team, and Carpenter has to be getting close to winning the job outright.
Bills MVP: OLB Jerry Hughes
- Not only was he getting pressure on the passer, he was setting the table for his teammates to make plays. His switch to the left side of the defense has gone over incredibly well.
Bills LVP: K Jordan Gay
- His first real chance to kick field goals in a game ended up quite badly. He went a combined 1-for-3 on two extra point attempts and a field goal attempt, and his hopes for a job with the Bills might be dwindling.
Up Next: The Bills will practice on Monday, August 22 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at St. John Fisher College. Their next game, the third preseason game of the year, is Friday night in Washington at 7:30 pm.
- The game went about as well for the Bills as it could have, considering the awful start to the day that they had with the news about both Karlos Williams and Marcell Dareus. The performance of the defense against the Giants starters even led Rex Ryan back to a bit of his boastful ways, which means he was quite happy with his performance. Not just the defense, the offense showed real flashes, getting Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy, Charles Clay, and even Marquise Goodwin going, because all four will be playing a substantial role in the offense this season. In one of the two most important preseason games of the year, they showed up in a big way. It’s an excellent building block towards the start of the regular season, but there is still much work to be done and the team can’t rest on their laurels of one solid preseason game. Still, Bills fans have to be encouraged by the progress of both sides of the ball, and the potential for explosiveness on offense especially.