The Buffalo Bills entered their first true road game of the 2017 preseason campaign with the hopes to get in the win column, and also to see some growth throughout the roster as well. And by the end of the night, head coach Sean McDermott now has a few more fans asking about the potential viability of Tyrod Taylor as the starting quarterback. Mind you, it’s August 17 and only the second preseason game of the year.
So what were the main takeaways from this evening’s game? Seven observations from the Bills 20-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles:
1) What’s going on with Tyrod Taylor?
- Last week in Tyrod Taylor’s one-quarter of action against the Minnesota Vikings, we saw the starting quarterback look solid, yet a little unspectacular. That performance was miles better than what we saw on Thursday night in Philadelphia, with Taylor having as tough of a time as one could remember in his two-plus years in Buffalo. Taylor was inaccurate and threw behind his receivers, was picked off two times, and really struggled to help the offense get into any sort of flow. And to make matters worse, Taylor was picked off by former Bills cornerback Ronald Darby for one of his two interceptions. Now, to play devil’s advocate, Taylor also wasn’t getting much help from his receivers — who failed to gain separation, his offensive line was a bit nightmarish at times, and it was likely a muted playbook because it is, in fact, the preseason. However, with only one significant preseason game remaining before the games go live in the preseason, this was about as discouraging a game that fans could see from their starting quarterback. It even brought a few fans to speak up and ask if the starting quarterback job was safe. After first being vague about the starting job in the press conference following the game, the Bills further clarified that they were not, in fact, considering a change at starting quarterback — despite what the comment could have led people to believe. Taylor needs a performance next weekend in Baltimore that will instill some more confidence within the fan base — especially within this new offensive system that he’s supposed to be mastering. They’re asking Taylor to be quite a pocket passer, and that hasn’t been a strength over his two years of starting, so we’ll see fairly quickly into the regular season if this continues as to whether he’s going to sink or swim with offensive coordinator Rick Dennison.
2) Peterman buzz is building, but maybe a little too fast?
- It seemed like even before Nathan Peterman took a snap on Thursday night, there were some fans that had mentioned the premise that the rookie should challenge for Taylor’s job. And although the performance wasn’t spectacular by any means, the fact that he had any momentum going with the offense was enough for some to wonder if the rookie had a shot at the actual starting job. For what it’s worth, compared to where Peterman was literally under a week ago, the premise is just a tad ridiculous. He had been working with the third-team offense all of training camp, and one down performance from the starting quarterback of the team should not dictate and immediate change. That said, to Peterman’s credit, he threw the prettiest pass of the day to Zay Jones right in between a pair of defenders. The rookie receiver was able to toe tap along the sideline and helped set up a field goal at the end of the first half. Even with some positive throws at the end of the first half and into the second half, let’s just pump the brakes on him genuinely positioning for the starting job. The Bills are committed to seeing if Taylor has what they want out of a franchise quarterback, and after two years of starting, there really isn’t any harm in finding out through the regular season. Now, if things go awry, the Bills get off to an awful start, and it becomes increasingly clear that the new Bills offense and Taylor just don't mesh, then they can think about giving Peterman a chance. Anything right now is completely premature because the Bills should just focus on developing the two players in their own respective roles for the time being. You can never say never, but I can say ‘not right now’ with certainty.
3) Hughes is in his element
- For the second week in a row, it’s becoming increasingly clearer that defensive end Jerry Hughes is getting closer to the same form that we saw in both 2013 and 2014 — as compared to what we saw the last two years. What is the main difference? Well, it’s fairly simple: Hughes is a fish to water in a 4-3 defensive scheme that puts his sole responsibilities at containing the edge against the run, and rushing the passer when they drop back. They’re keeping it simple for the defensive line and it’s obvious that that unit is the least worrisome on the team — especially with the depth players that have stepped up through the summer. With Hughes, though, the Bills have a potential double digit sack player on their roster who just seems like he’s having fun getting after the quarterback again. Against the Eagles, Hughes was consistently in the backfield and put on a crazy spin move to bring down the quarterback for a sack. Hughes is a rejuvenated player, and it’s fun to watch.
4) Penalties, penalties, and more penalties
- It would appear the penalty problem of the Buffalo Bills wasn’t just only a Doug Marrone or a Rex Ryan problem. Through two weeks of the preseason, it seems to be an inherited issue for the team that Sean McDermott will not stand for. Through it all, the Bills wound up with 15 penalties for 131 yards — just one penalty shy of matching how many points they had in the game. There were pre-snap penalties, loads of special teams infractions, and just enough that made McDermott get to the point of frustration. After the game, he said taking that many penalties and putting the team in bad situations is “completely unacceptable.” Now, how do the Bills go ahead fixing this problem? What measures will he take since it’s been an issue two weeks in a row? It’s an interesting question to find the answer to, considering how young into being a head coach McDermott is.
5) The right cornerback job is up for grabs
- When the game started on Thursday night, who lined up with the first-team defense at right cornerback was one of my main storylines to track. To start things off, veteran cornerback Shareece Wright took the first few series and tried his best to secure the starting role for the departed Ronald Darby. Wright was solid, allowing some catches in the zone right in front of him while never getting beat deep — although he wasn’t really tested deep, either. Second-year player Kevon Seymour came in and took some time with the first-team defense as well, but really fell short in one area that Wright excelled in: run support and containing the edge. On one play, in particular, Seymour was the last line of defense on a stretch run towards his side, he over-pursued it, and the runner caught the edge and busted it up the field for a huge gain. Now, consider this: Seymour really isn’t the prototypical player that McDermott likes in his cornerbacks. He’s shorter with short arms, and he’s not a great tackler — as it was evidenced against the Eagles on a couple of occasions. Through one game, to me, it looked like Wright seems to be a tad ahead. However, Wright struggled in coverage quite a bit last season, so it’ll be good to see if the Baltimore Ravens try and test the duo deeper down the field than what we saw Thursday — just to see who brings the most to the table from that side of things. The right cornerback job is still very undecided.
6) Ducasse struggles yet again
- As the practices and games continue to rack up, more evidence gets added to the notion that the Bills could build a 53-man roster without the free agent signing Vladimir Ducasse. The right guard, who was still splitting first-team reps with John Miller for some reason, was just getting blown off the ball for the second week in a row. At the very least, Miller should be the starting right guard in 2017 if they are hell-bent on keeping Ducasse. However, Miller’s competition has yet to show any versatility throughout training camp or the preseason. There was some thought that he could swing outside to tackle, and that hasn’t happened at all. He has no experience at center, either, so that limits any other versatility he could provide the Bills. Ducasse has a lot to prove over the final two weeks of practice and the preseason if he wants to secure a spot, because at this point I could make a more compelling case for someone like Michael Ola — who plays both guard and tackle, to make the team as a mostly inactive depth offensive lineman.
7) Brandon Tate closing in on securing a job
- As the Bills have continued to take multiple special teams penalties, all Brandon Tate has done as the main return man has been to consistently produce with sound decisions along the way. If it weren’t for a borderline holding call on one first half punt return, Tate would have had the Bills deep in Eagles territory by using his excellent vision throughout the return. He did so again with a great kick return, making people miss and reading his blocks correctly. Of all their options, Tate has been the runaway best player to take reps back there, which to me means he’s nearing the security of a spot on the 53-man roster.
Bills MVP: DE Jerry Hughes
- The guy has been fantastic all summer long, and that continued again on Thursday in Philadelphia.
Bills LVP: QB Tyrod Taylor
-Two interceptions, inaccurate intermediate throws, and even some fans calling for you to be benched for a completely unknown rookie quarterback? Yeah, Tyrod Taylor has seen better days.
Up Next: The Bills get back on the practice field on late Friday afternoon in Orchard Park. Head coach Sean McDermott will meet with the media