The Buffalo Bills defied the normal accepted logic of the preseason and did what head coach Rex Ryan thought was best for his team in the 2016 season. In the process, the Bills weren’t able to secure another exhibition victory, losing 21-16 to Washington at FedExField on Friday night.
How did it all play out? Seven observations from the game:
1) Rex Ryan makes the best call of the summer
- Let’s take it back to the summer of 2015: The Bills were doing mostly everything right in the offseason, had a lot of buzz about how good they could be in Rex Ryan’s defense. And then, the rug was pulled out from under them, and they suffered key injuries on the way to the start of the regular season. LeSean McCoy suffered a hamstring injury early on, and that was just the first of a string of injuries that led them to feeling they were a bit snakebitten. Rex Ryan was not going to let that happen again this year — at least for what he could control. Injuries happen, but he has made a concerted effort to not overexert his established starters on the roster, and that was no more evident than on Friday night in Landover, Maryland. The Bills sat seven total starters, and for those that actually did play, the veteran players were in for only two series. I can’t stress enough how smart of a move that was for Rex and the Bills, considering the tumultuous offseason they’ve had up to this point in time. The age old expectation is that the third preseason game is the ‘dress rehearsal’ for the regular season… but why? If the Bills were a team that were completely out of sync — to the point that they needed all the reps together that they could, then I could see it. But in their current situation, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to keep the starters out there for an extended period of time. Now, Tyrod Taylor took a few more hits than they would have liked him to in just two series, but getting him out there after just a pair of series with Sammy Watkins was a smart move. This was undoubtedly the best decision Rex Ryan has made all summer.
2) Henderson a little rusty, but shows well
- What a week for third-year offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson. The former starting right tackle, after being sidelined since December due to his bout with Crohn’s disease, not only started to practice this week — but played against Washington. And he didn’t just play a few snaps, he was given basically the entire game, too. Early on, Henderson whiffed on a couple of blocks, but then slowly settled in at his normal post at right tackle. He displayed his length, capable movement ability, and his natural movement at the position. All in all, it was a successful day for him after just coming back earlier in the week. As long as Henderson could handle it, this is a necessary thing for the Bills to do as the final roster cutdown day is fast approaching. Henderson is now on the active roster, which means they will need to make a decision on him before the first week of the regular season. If he shows to be worthy, the Bills will likely have to release one of their top two interior reserve offensive linemen — especially with how much Cyrus Kouandjio has stepped up over the last two weeks of training camp. Henderson might not be giving them any other choice but to cut one of Fernando Velasco or Ryan Groy.
3) Dez Lewis disappears
- Heading into the third preseason game, second-year wide receiver Dez Lewis had come under fire with his head coach. Rex Ryan said, in a point blank way, that Lewis had to make plays in a game setting to prove that he deserved a spot on the roster. Considering how much they raved about him in the offseason, that is a stark difference from where he once was in their minds. Unfortunately for Lewis, he didn’t have the type of night that the Bills wanted him to. The wide receiver, in his first snap during the second quarter, had a target and the ball came right to him. Instead of securing the catch, the ball went right through his hands, and pegged him in the shoulder pads before falling to the ground. The Bills immediately took him out of the game, and I didn’t see him back in the game on offense until the second half started. He has not done anything to discern himself to the coaching staff, and is likely to be left off the 53-man roster following the final preseason contest. That is, unless, Lewis lights the world on fire with a big game in Detroit.
4) O’Leary potentially seals his fate, TEs hurting
- The tight end position for the Bills hasn’t exactly inspired much confidence in the decision makers for the franchise. Charles Clay is firmly on the team, as is Chris Gragg, and you’d have to imagine that Jim Dray makes the roster just for his blocking abilities — even if Dray has failed to stand out this summer. However, in a tight end friendly offensive scheme, the Bills certainly wouldn’t be opposed to keeping a fourth tight end — except no on has stood out. Nick O’Leary and Blake Annen have each failed to impress the coaching staff during training camp and the preseason, and for O’Leary, he might have secured his roster fate. Already on shaky ground as it were, after a simple catch over the middle of the field, O’Leary fumbled the ball away and Washington easily recovered it. To make matters worse, even with the lack of depth at the position, Gragg had to leave the game due to a knee injury and did not return. With it looking like it could be a serious injury to Gragg — and a potential torn ACL, that puts an immediate hole on the roster for a No. 2 tight end.
5) Gronkowski putting some heat on?
- When we last left the Bills, Rex Ryan was singing the praises of undrafted rookie and backup fullback Glenn Gronkowski. He was doing it so much that by the end of it, he inferred that he would not be opposed to keeping two fullbacks on the roster. That’s right… both Jerome Felton and Glenn Gronkowski. Perhaps brimming with the confidence from his head coach, Gronkowski took over fullback duties once the starters left the field, and followed it up with a humongous block on the Bills best offensive play of the evening. Without him, the Jonathan Williams touchdown run doesn’t happen. Gronkowski met the linebacker in the running lane, got low, and crushed him forward for a block that sprung Williams into open field. I’m not keen on the idea of both Felton and Gronkowski being kept, but if Rex Ryan is even considering it, you can’t rule it out completely. I think the likeliest outcome is that the Bills extend a practice squad invitation to Gronkowski after a strong finish to the summer.
6) Carpenter puts the nail in the coffin
- As if we needed any further proof that the field goal kicker competition was over, Dan Carpenter made it so with a statement in the team’s third preseason game. The Bills gave Jordan Gay a chance to attempt field goals against the New York Giants, and he went a combined 1-of-3 between two extra point and one field goal attempts. Carpenter was given the keys to kick in the Washington game, and proceeded to nail two 52-yard kicks to widen the gap to what looks to be an uncatchable distance for Gay. Make no mistake, this is Carpenter’s job. The only question that remains is if Gay will make the roster as the kickoff specialist, which they haven’t totally ruled out just yet.
7) Powell making a strong case
- Even though Rex Ryan has been hesitant to give Walt Powell total praise in press conferences — instead pointing out that they need him to be consistent in knowing his assignments — you can’t help but notice Powell almost every single night. The wide receiver, who is in a battle to be one of the last receivers on the 53-man roster, once again showed what he’s capable of on Friday. Not only did he end the game with five catches for 55 yards, leading the team in receptions, receiving yards, and targets (10), but he showed some more flash in the return game, too. The latter part of his game is what makes him so intriguing, because he can provide a skill that is close to non-existent for everyone else on the roster not named Reggie Bush. Powell has done enough to this point, especially in comparison to players like Dez Lewis and Jarrett Boykin. He may need to beat out Greg Little for the final spot, but it is a close contest — and the tie may just go to the special teams abilities.
Bills MVP: HC Rex Ryan
- He made the conscious decision to not put his starters in a position to get hurt in a meaningless game. That’s the best move of the day in my estimation.
Bills LVP: TE Nick O’Leary
- On a night where he needed to stand out — especially with an injury to Chris Gragg, he fumbled the ball away. He is on the outside looking in on the roster as it stands today.
Up Next: Thursday, September 1 at Detroit, 7:30 pm. The Bills next practice in Orchard Park on Sunday, August 28.
- The Bills suffered a pair of grueling injuries to some of their depth players, but in the grand scheme of things, getting out of Maryland without an injury to one of their key starters on the team is a much bigger win than the one they could have gotten on the scoreboard. Now the Bills are into the ‘park the car in the garage’ portion of the preseason, and they’ll have most of their starting players available to them for Week One of the season in Baltimore. I can’t commend Rex Ryan enough for the decision to not put his starters for longer than two series in an otherwise meaningless game. In the process, the Bills were able to go through and find out who among the bubble players of their roster could potentially make a difference for them down the line. All in all, despite the injuries to Gragg and Jonathan Dowling, it couldn’t have gone better for Rex and the starters in Washington.
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