On Friday night the Buffalo Bills hosted the Carolina Panthers in their first preseason contest of the 2015 NFL Season. While they lost the game by a score of 25-24, there was a lot of positives to come from the performances from the first-through-third units on both offense and defense. With several new faces on both sides of the ball, there’s serious competition for significant playing time at various positions on each side of the ball.
After watching the game, here’s what stood out to me the most.
Young Offensive Guards Look Impressive
In 2014, the Bills’ offensive line was atrocious—failing to consistently create lanes in the running game and allowing too much pressure. On Friday night, rookie third-round pick John Miller made the start at right guard and was impressive in pass protection as well as run blocking.
In the following play, Miller is able to move the defensive tackle several yards off the ball, allowing Matt Cassel to step up in the pocket and find Charles Clay for a 17-yard gain.
He showed the ability to pull out to the second level, as shown in the next play that results in a gain of seven for LeSean McCoy.
But John Miller wasn’t the only offensive linemen that was impressive on Friday night. Cyril Richardson, who was the team’s fifth-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft looked like a totally different player in his first action since being benched during the middle of last season. He looked lighter and more fluid with his movement skills and made a handful of “wow” plays.
Ronald Darby Struggles in Debut
Second-round cornerback Ronald Darby started in place of an injured Leodis McKelvin and the Carolina Panthers targeted the raw defensive back early and often. Darby was beaten several times—once for a touchdown against former Florida State teammate Kelvin Benjamin.
He did break up a pair of passes on consecutive plays, once on a jump-ball in the endzone and again by using his elite speed and transition ability to break on the ball.
Darby’s struggles were blatant and the Panthers took advantage of him in the passing game as often as they could.
It was known that Darby was raw and inexperienced from a technique standpoint, so it will be interesting to see how he progresses throughout the preseason, while monitoring McKelvin’s health.
Tyrod Taylor Lives Up To Hype
The coverage of Tyrod Taylor throughout the offseason has grown near a Kiko Alonso-like level, and he showed why on Friday, completing 5-of-8 passes for 49 yards and adding another 47 yards on six rushes. Taylor’s stat line would’ve looked a lot better if it wasn’t for an awful drop by Marquise Goodwin on a deep go-route that would’ve easily resulted in a touchdown.
He showed off his ability to extend plays by escaping the pocket, keeping his eyes downfield and moving the ball through the air.
Taylor also picked up big chunks of yardage on scrambles and designed runs, playing well enough for Rex Ryan to name him the starter for next week’s game against the Cleveland Browns.
First-Team Defense Looks Ready
Following the 2014 season in which the Bills’ defense ranked in the top five of nearly every statistical category, the hiring of Rex Ryan brought about discussions regarding whether this team could field one of the best in league history. While those are large claims, the team has arguably the most talented front four in the National Football League, a duo of two young, athletic and playmaking linebackers, backed by a secondary loaded with depth and talent.
Ryan’s defense is multiple and designed to create “organized chaos” for opposing offenses. His defenders will constantly move around prior to the snap, disguising coverages and showing blitzes at the line of scrimmage in order to cause confusion for the offense.
The Bills’ “Cold Front” made themselves known by the first play of the game, as Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes brought down Fozzy Whitaker for a gain of one.
All questions regarding Jerry Hughes’ fit in a “3-4” should be put to rest after watching the following rep. Kicking inside to the five-technique, almost a defensive tackle position, Hughes takes on the center and guard—defeating both blocks and still bringing down the ball-carrier by himself for no gain.
On the following play, linebacker Manny Lawson is lined up in the slot. Prior to the snap, he shifts inside, showing blitz. Cam Newton receives the snap and looks downfield for his target, only to see Bills’ middle linebacker rushing through the middle on a delayed blitz. This six-man rush forces a bad throw by Newton resulting in an incompletion.
S Aaron Williams Tackle For Loss
LT Cordy Glenn Manhandles Panthers DE
Sammy Picks up 15 on Shallow Crosser
If you’ve followed me on twitter for the last year or so, you may know that I’m a huge fan of linebacker Randell Johnson, the Bills’ 7th-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. I was initially intrigued by Johnson’s measurables (6’3” 245 lbs, 4.6 40-yd, 1.66 10-yd, 23 Bench Reps, 38.5” Vertical Leap, 10’0” Broad Jump, 4.36 20-yd shuttle, 7.21 three-cone drill) that are on par with premier linebackers such as Aldon Smith, KJ Wright and Khalil Mack.
Johnson played special teams last year as a rookie and saw limited snaps on Friday’s game against the Panthers, but he definitely made the most of his opportunity in both run defense and pass rush.
Here, Johnson fights through traffic against a running play, sheds his blocker and makes the stop at the line of scrimmage.
In the following clip, Johnson is used as a stand-up pass rusher from the left side of the defensive formation. His length allows him to get inside the pads of the lineman, and while he doesn’t register a sack, the pressure is enough to force a poor pass.
On his next pass rush attempt, the quarterback gets the ball out before Johnson can get home, but he has the instincts and awareness to get his hands up and bat the pass down.
Here’s another stop against the run.
Johnson is currently backing up Manny Lawson, so there’s no guarantee that he’ll have huge numbers in his sophomore season, but this type of athlete with the tape he’s putting out is impressive, and it shouldn’t take long for coaches to notice.
Stay tuned to BillsMafia.com for more preseason coverage, including previews, key matchups to focus on and in-depth recaps!