On Saturday night, the Buffalo Bills will go through with the most important preseason game of 2017. It’s the third game, otherwise known as the ‘dress rehearsal’ for the regular season. For the Bills, it’s a chance to iron out what has ailed them during the first two preseason games — and an even bigger chance for some to grab a hold of key roles with the team.
What are some of the biggest storylines heading into Week Three against the Baltimore Ravens? 5 things to watch:
1) Will the starting offense score a touchdown?
- Two games in, so far, the end zone has been a place that has evaded the Buffalo Bills first-team offense. Tyrod Taylor really struggled against the Philadelphia Eagles, which didn’t allow the offense to really get into any rhythm. Predictably, the Bills aren’t going to show much of their offense during the preseason, but what we did see were plays that didn’t really mesh well with the skillset of Tyrod Taylor. We saw a lot of pocket-based plays, and with a player like Taylor, he’s much more effective while on the move. However, it wasn’t all Taylor’s fault. The wide receivers just weren’t winning on a lot of routes, and when they did, the offensive line performed poorly — which never let Taylor get comfortable. Getting in the end zone a time or two will at least calm some of the nerves of the fan base heading into the regular season, and perhaps even instill some confidence for the players on that side of the ball, too. Overall, they just need to show signs of life on offense.
2) Keeping LeSean McCoy healthy
- Nothing else in this game matters as much as the Bills keeping their prized jewel of 2017, LeSean McCoy, healthy and available for the start of the regular season. Last week against the Eagles, McCoy came back into the game during the second quarter — which caused much anxiety within the fan base. The Bills have been relatively smart with McCoy all summer long, realizing he doesn’t need to take every single rep with the first-team offense in practice to get him ready for the season. It’s clear that he’s one of the best players on the field nearly every time he touches the ball, so they know what he is by now, and having him in the preseason doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things. With that written, the Bills seem intent on using McCoy — perhaps not every play — the full time that the starters are in the game. That’s all well and good, but there isn’t another player on the roster that can have as much of an impact on the success or failure of the team than McCoy, so they should stay away from taking any unnecessary chances.
3) Will Shareece Wright win CB job by default?
- Ever since the Bills sent Ronald Darby to the Philadelphia Eagles for a third round pick and Jordan Matthews, it has opened up a competition to find another starter to use with Tre’Davious White. To this point, it hasn’t been much of a competition because of various injuries. Shareece Wright has taken the majority of the starting reps over Kevon Seymour, due to Seymour trying to bounce back from a foot injury. Seymour did get some first-team reps but struggled in his time on the field. And now, he’s injured again because of a shoulder ailment that just popped up at practice — meaning he has a chance to not play in Baltimore. EJ Gaines picked off a pass in the second half and has been mentioned by the Bills as a potential starting candidate, but a hamstring injury has slowed him down. Given Wright’s struggles in 2016, it likely won’t be a permanent option for the team in the upcoming season, but he might wind up being the starting right cornerback because he’s the last man standing. If Seymour and Gaines can give it a go on Saturday, it could make it a tad more interesting. However, Wright appears to be the leader in the clubhouse and he might be able to lock up the Week One start this week.
4) The fascination with Vladimir Ducasse continues
- For the majority of the summer, we’ve seen the Bills split time between both John Miller and Vladimir Ducasse with the first-team offense, even though Ducasse’s struggles have been well-documented by this point. The redeeming quality of the competition, though, has been that Miller would get the first reps at guard, and Ducasse would filter in on a series or two during the first two preseason games. It continued even with the second-team offense, where both Ducasse and Miller received reps. To me, Miller has been the more consistent option at right guard, but based on something we’ve seen develop in practice over the past few days, the Bills don’t agree. Ducasse was working with the first unit ahead of Miller, and Sean McDermott confirmed that Ducasse would be getting the start against the Ravens. Perhaps Ducasse is a better fit for the zone blocking scheme they’re trying to run, and that’s why they’re giving him every opportunity to win the job. Or, to play devil’s advocate, maybe they want to give Ducasse a big workload against the Ravens to see if he’s worthy of keeping on the 53-man roster, you never really know what the true intentions of the preseason are. However, if they are intent on starting Vladimir Ducasse, that could sneakily turn John Miller — who is still only in his third season and has a lot of starts to his name — a candidate to be traded before the start of the regular season. If Ducasse struggles as much as he has been, though, I just don’t see how they can justify that player starting for them.
5) Young WRs trying to sneak on the roster
- With the surprise retirement of Anquan Boldin, it has opened the door for some players to make the team that otherwise would have just been left in the dust of final cut down day. While the Bills could go with the “safe” option of keeping veteran wideout Philly Brown, he has been less than impressive during the summer and that roster spot could instead be used on a younger player that has impressed the coaches. Two of those players that could be positioning themselves to make the team are Daikiel Shorts and Brandon Reilly. One two separate occasions, Sean McDermott mentioned them as players that have stepped up this summer, which could mean they have a tremendous opportunity to make the initial 53-man roster in early September. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean one of them will remain with the Bills past the weekend due to the waiver wire, but it’s good that they’re catching the eye of the coaching staff now — which could yield future opportunities of getting called up from a practice squad. Both are likely to get some time in the second half of the game and need to take advantage of a chance where they know that the head coach will be keeping an eye out for them. And maybe even if one does well enough, it could convince the Bills that they don’t need to try and add a bottom of the roster wide receiver on the waiver wire. It’s a big two weeks for those two in particular.