The Buffalo Bills wanted to see progress heading into the 2017 regular season, and a big reason for all of that has been the lack of success on the offensive side of the ball. Many fans would have liked to see the Bills first-team offense look the part, and I’m sure the Bills would have liked to see that as well.
How did it all go on Saturday in Baltimore? Seven observations from the Bills 13-9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens:
1) Tyrod will be on hold until maybe Week One
- Before we go anywhere else, after the game on Saturday night, head coach Sean McDermott made it abundantly clear: “Tyrod’s our starting quarterback.” Now, why did that come into question? Well, for the second straight week, Taylor was slow out of the gate — and worse yet, his night was ended prematurely because the offensive line in front of him couldn’t hold up at the line of scrimmage. Taylor was trying to avoid some pressure, got whipped around, and eventually got slammed backward as his helmet hit the turf. Taylor was almost immediately taken to the locker room, and it was later established that he had a concussion. On the positive side, Taylor was able to return home with the Bills on the team plane, but concussions are still tricky business because you never quite know the severity until a day or two after the concussion actually occurs. As for his day on the field, the one glaring takeaway I had was how uncomfortable Taylor looked under center and when asked to do a five-to-seven step drop into the pocket. Pure pocket passing has never been his strong suit. Where Tyrod Taylor is most effective is when he gets out into open space because he sees the field better, and then finds his target down the field because of it. However, they are trying to get him comfortable in the offense that they are running, and it hasn’t looked fluid over the past two weeks. Now, we still haven’t seen the full complement of passing plays, nor have we seen the Bills doing much of getting Taylor into space on rollouts. You’d have to think that it becomes a part of their game plan, really to give their offense a fighting chance in the regular season against other potent offenses. Even with his deficiencies, the Bills aren’t abandoning Tyrod Taylor — and that needs to be stressed again and again as rookie Nathan Peterman gains popularity.
2) Peterman’s first dance with the ones
- Much to the delight of some Bills fans, rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman got some time with the first-team offense — even if he was brought in under the wrong circumstances. He came in to get time with the first unit after Taylor’s injury — and his first few throws were his best of the evening. Peterman completed a great pass that zipped into Zay Jones, then he completed a wonderful back shoulder throw along the sideline, and all the while in the early going he was going through his reads. It had fans excited and some — in a completely premature manner, might I add — were ready for him to be the starting quarterback of the team. As I’ve been writing, let’s just pump the brakes on him a bit, because what we saw through the rest of the game was a rookie player trying to get a feel for the professional game. He nearly was intercepted after a bad decision while in the arms of the defender, and then struggled with accuracy for the rest of the way. Now, it’s fair to point out that a couple of his big plays were called back due to a penalty on the Bills offense, but even with those, his day wasn’t near anything that would realistically push the Bills to the idea that they should even consider playing the rookie quarterback. There are definitely signs of life there for Peterman, but there is absolutely no reason to push a rookie quarterback, that has completed under 50-percent of his passes over the last two games, forward into the starting lineup when they have a player in place that they’re trying to make a decision for the future on. It’s the shiny new toy theory, but frankly, we just don’t know enough about Nathan Peterman at this point to know all his deficiencies. As one reader astutely pointed out, it’s too small of a sample size, which makes the idea of putting him in the starting lineup over a healthy Tyrod Taylor a bit far-fetched — at least for the beginning of the season.
3) Gaines looked the best of the CBs
- The Bills had a couple of battles for starting positions on the line coming into the game, and with one of them, veteran cornerback Shareece Wright likely had every opportunity to lock down the starting job on the right side. Wright’s play was up and down, showing some solid tackling ability, while getting burned down the field a couple of times, too. Especially with Kevon Seymour on the sidelines due to another injury, Wright failed to get the best of the night. The top honors in that competition actually belonged to EJ Gaines, who fought through a hamstring injury during the week to get on the field for the Ravens game — and he should be glad he did. Gaines was clearly the better player of the two with a pair of pass breakups, and really just looking like the more explosive player of the two. He even mixed in at right cornerback for the first time that we’ve seen. With that type of performance, and an up-and-down day from Wright, I would not be the least bit surprised by Gaines getting first-team work at right cornerback in the week leading up to the preseason finale.
4) Ducasse vs. Miller continues
- The battle to be the starting right guard continued on Saturday, with an even more aggressive plan in place to figure which of the two players would get the starting job. Vladimir Ducasse got the start, but he switched off with John Miller every single series. The Bills appear to be continually fascinated with the idea of Ducasse starting at right guard, and he once again showed — with a pair of bad beats and a penalty to boot — that he is playing below the level that his counterpart has shown. Miller was the more consistent player of the two, but they might just not like him in the zone blocking scheme. If they continue to see what we all see, Miller would win the starting job. Perhaps this was Ducasse’s big chance to claim a roster spot — and if he didn’t perform perhaps they could move on from him. However, you would have thought Miller would have pulled away by now. It will be quite telling who is lining up with the first unit on Sunday and on Tuesday during practice. If it’s Ducasse, Bills fans might want to get used to seeing number-62 in between Eric Wood and Jordan Mills.
5) Two special teams standouts
- For the second week in a row, the specialists of special teams stood out for the right reasons. I thought Brandon Tate was explosive as a returner for the second straight game, with another explosive return called back by a penalty that wasn’t anywhere near what he was doing. Tate has basically locked up both the kickoff and punt return responsibilities with continued solid play. Punter Colton Schmidt has also been phenomenal all summer long. Even though he was late on to the field, he came in and boomed a punt inside the five-yard line that should have been downed there, but Taiwan Jones whiffed on it. He went and did it again, though this time the Bills coverage was successful. Later in the game, he sent an angled punt a long ways down the field and pinned the returner deep and on the sidelines, limiting what he could do. Schmidt flourished this summer with some competition and looks poised to have a solid year for the Bills.
6) Is #FreeEddieYarbrough pushing Lawson for time?
- The Bills were mixing and matching with the defensive line into the first unit, but one player I saw quite a bit of with the first unit was none other than training camp darling Eddie Yarbrough. Now, when the second-team defense came in, we didn’t see much of former first-round pick Shaq Lawson on the field — it was all Yarbrough. However, the Bills continued to work the summer sensation into some reps with the first unit, which could be a signal that he’ll have a legitimate role with the team in 2017. Yarbrough once again stood out, getting after the passer, and trusting his instincts to read a play which forced negative plays for the Ravens offense. Where at the beginning of training camp it looked like Lawson was probably an every down player, Yarbrough might have put the Bills in a position where they can keep Lawson quite fresh throughout the game while giving the impressive former Wyoming Cowboy a reward for all the hard work he’s put in during the summer. Keep an eye on this one in Week One against the New York Jets.
7) McCoy stayed healthy
- This is by far the most important facet of the game. The Bills tried to get him the ball on nine different occasions through the first three quarters. He ended the game with six rushes for seven yards, and two receptions for negative-two yards. The stats of McCoy are not an issue for the third preseason game, and odds are we didn’t see the Bills really open it up how they would with McCoy in the regular season. Still, there were a couple of tense moments where he took a bigger hit, but he popped up and got back to the sidelines none the worse for wear. Now with Tyrod Taylor potentially up in the air for the start of the season, keeping LeSean McCoy healthy and upright — and ready to play at peak performance — is of utmost importance to the Bills. With what little we’ve seen from the passing offense in three preseason games, McCoy is everything to the Bills — and they know it.
Bills MVP: P Colton Schmidt
- There wasn’t a lot of positives from the evening, but Schmidt was a standout for the Bills. Though, admittedly, it’s not exactly ideal when the best player on the field was the punter.
Bills LVP: QB T.J. Yates
- His first throw was a terrible interception, and he almost doubled down on that by throwing an even worse interception by targeting a player that was blanketed by two separate defenders. It’s abundantly clear that Nathan Peterman will be the backup quarterback, and now the question will be whether or not they keep T.J. Yates, or elect to go outside of the building for a third quarterback (if they keep three). If they keep three, Yates could be replaced by a waiver acquisition in early September.
Up Next: Preseason finale vs. Detroit Lions, 7:00 pm at New Era Field.