Fans of the Buffalo Bills have quite a bit to be encouraged about following a 19-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns in their second contest of the preseason. Of course, there are a few kinks that need to be worked out before opening day, but the progress is noticeable.
Anyone who has followed the team this offseason knows that this year is about one thing; the backup kicker spot, but aside from that, the quarterback competition has been pretty interesting too. While A.J. McCarron did get the “start” under center yesterday, his performance left a lot to be desired following an encouraging debut last week with the second-team offense.
To make matters worse for the four-year veteran, after going 3/6 for 12 yards (while failing to lead the team on a scoring drive), he suffered a fractured collarbone which will likely leave him sidelined for some time. After Nate Peterman and Josh Allen also put forth strong efforts against the Carolina Panthers last week, McCarron’s standing on the depth chart was under scrutiny amongst fans and media members alike.
Following McCarron’s pedestrian performance, Allen took over, leading the second-team offense on two consecutive scoring drives which helped the Bills end the first half with a 10-7 lead. Not only was the rookie signal-caller accurate and decisive in his command of the offense, he also did an excellent job of navigating through pressure. His ability to step up in the pocket or tuck and run was that of a seasoned veteran and a clear sign of his growth as a cerebral quarterback. With two more games remaining before the season-opener, he continues to keep himself in the starting QB race.
With Allen quickly winning over the hearts of Bills fans everywhere posting consecutive strong performances, the pressure shifted to Peterman as he took the field with the third unit. Surprisingly, his eight completions for 113 yards and a touchdown was not the most impressive thing about the second-year QB.
After one of the worst rookie debuts in league history last season, Peterman has remained resilient in his pursuit of success. Like Allen, he doesn’t seem remotely phased by the negative narratives that surround his prospects as a long-term starter in the NFL. With McCarron sidelined indefinitely, thse two will square off for the remainder of the preseason to lead the team onto the field on September 9.
Moving on from the ever-intriguing QB competition, another offensive performer who continues to impress is fourth-year running back, Marcus Murphy. Following a 65 yard (all-purpose) performance against the Panthers, he followed that up with 39 yards on four carries against Cleveland. He also showed-off his talent as a returner, nearly bringing a punt back to the house before being tripped up near midfield. If there was any question as to whether or not he had a place onthe roster leading up to training camp, it’s tough to imagine him being left out of the final 53 at this point.
Another competition that has flown under the radar during camp is the battle for the second-string tight end spot. Incumbent Nick O’Leary has had some stiff competition between Logan Thomas and Jason Croom, but his four catches for 70 yards and a touchdown this evening may have separated him from the pack. In limited action last season, O’Leary was a reliable, sure-handed target over the middle. All three quarterbacks should benefit from having him as a safety valve of sorts this season.
After a surprisingly dominant performance against Carolina, the first-team offensive line was a little less impressive yesterday evening in front of McCarron. It’s not like they were particularly bad, just not quite as endearing as the squad that took the field last Thursday. It will be interesting to see how they continue to grow as a unit as the regular season approaches.
Shifting gears toward the defensive side of the ball, three players, in particular, stood out last night (for better or worse). In the trenches, rookie third-round pick, Harrison Phillips continued to look like a worthy heir-apparent to Kyle Williams in the middle of the defensive line. In limited action he successfully penetrated the Browns’ protection, registering a tackle for a loss.
Second-string defensive end Terrence Fede also helped his cause to remain with the team by registering one of the team’s two sacks and three total tackles on the evening.
In the secondary, one of the more curious performances came from rookie safety Siran Neal. During his time with the second-team defense, he struggled in coverage, but he certainly improved as the game went on. As a player who was noted to have had a rough training camp, the fifth-round pick needs to string together a couple of very strong performances over the last two games to earn his roster spot.
Although the defense is clearly watered-down and bland during preseason action, the first-team unit has allowed scores on the first drive in both games this summer. Again, it’s certainly not cause for alarm at this point, but it is somewhat notable. Unfortunately, it remains to be seen whether defensive captain and emotional leader Kyle Williams will be available against Cincinnati on August 26. After the first drive of the game, the 35-year-old was helped to the sideline with what appeared to be a lower-body injury.
Editor’s babble: Now fans are beginning to see what I saw in Josh Allen. His growth from getting NFL level coaching is beginning to show with each game. Mechanics are vastly improved, but what I hoped he would show in terms of learning how to be calm under pressure and decision making is coming along nicely under Daboll. It will be an interesting battle, but Josh Allen just might surprise a lot of people. Not me!