To say that last night’s preseason tilt with the Cincinnati Bengals didn’t go how Bills fans had hoped would be an understatement. In nearly every way imaginable, the first-team looked far from season-ready on both sides of the ball.
Before Andy Dalton received his hero’s welcome at New Era Field, the Twitterverse was abuzz following consecutive strong outings from rookie quarterback Josh Allen and the first-team offense. In fact, a majority of the fan base was calling for Allen to be named the starter. Prior to the final whistle last night, the entire narrative changed as spectators came to the crushing realization that we might be in for a long season.
Even with the laundry list of improvements that need to be made, there were a handful of encouraging notes, but still, in all, it was about as disappointing a dress rehearsal as you could imagine for a team that hopes to return to the playoffs in 2018.
Now, let’s be clear, last night’s game was less an indictment of Allen’s progress as a passer, but more an exposure of why it would be a terrible idea to play him behind such suspect protection. To compare the starting offensive line to five evenly-spaced traffic cones would be an insult to traffic cones. The Bengals defense penetrated the interior of the line with astounding ease, often giving Allen no chance to let his routes develop.
To everyone thinking “he needed to make quicker decisions”, just stop. For the most part, when Allen was under pressure, it was immediate. Once his head was slammed into the turf in his own endzone, Sean McDermott wisely called him off the field to be evaluated for a concussion. Fortunately, he did not sustain a head injury on the play, but at that point, there was no reason to throw him back in.
Next up was Nathan Peterman, who continued his strong preseason performance going 16-for-21 with 200 yards and a touchdown. It’s important to note that most of his work came after the Bengals’ first-team defense had been pulled from the game. That being said, he still faced his fair share of pressure (albeit not nearly as much as Allen), and still proved adequate.
If you pair Peterman’s string of preseason success with the fact that the offensive line is quite possibly the worst in the NFL (yes, we know that Dion Dawkins wasn’t playing, they’re still a terrible group), then you have every reason to leave Allen on the bench to start the year. That’s not to say that he couldn’t eventually see time as the starter in 2018, but with four of the team’s first six games on the road against what is the second-hardest schedule in that time frame, the right move would be to let him learn from the bench.
If Peterman does indeed get the start for week one in Baltimore, it will be interesting to see how he fares. Last season, he also showed very well during the preseason, and not-so-well when the games mattered. There’s something to be said for the situations he was thrust into, but even the most steadfast Petermaniac will concede that he wasn’t great.
We’ll end this section with a word of advice. Ignore the national media this week. Everyone outside of Western New York is going to try and spin last night’s debacle into an “I told you so” victory lap regarding Allen. These are the same people who look at a stat line but can’t be bothered to actually watch a game. Last night wasn’t his fault, but you’ll hear a lot of people tell you otherwise. Take solace in the fact that you know that they’re wrong. Though his future as an NFL quarterback is unwritten, a preseason collapse behind five turnstiles will not be the final chapter.
The Rest of the Offense
As previously mentioned the offensive line was a complete, unadulterated disaster. The first-team was a shell of the group that took the field against Carolina and Cleveland and the reality of investing zero money into a group that lost two Pro Bowlers hit Bills fans like a sack of bricks. Brandon Beane and company better pray that a reliable veteran hits the free agent market during 53-man roster cuts, otherwise they’ll look like fools for not addressing the need during the offseason (with the exception of fifth-round pick, Wyatt Teller who should replace veteran Vlad Ducasse on the left side).
Moving away from the dark cloud in the trenches, preseason MVP, Marcus Murphy continued to cement a role as a reserve back on the final roster, rushing 11 times for 53 yards. Chris Ivory also made it clear that he belongs on the team with 31 yards on three carries. While it remains to be seen who will be the primary reserve back behind Lesean McCoy, it would be a surprise if both players didn’t make the final cut.
If someone had told you this summer that the second-most intriguing competition would be for the backup tight end role, you’d have probably laughed in their face. Leading up to training camp, very few people expected the likes of Jason Croom, Khari Lee and Logan Thomas to oust Nick O’Leary as Charles Clay’s primary backup, but that possibility has become very real. In fact, that trio may just force Beane and McDermott to keep four tight ends on the roster. They’ve been that good.
Again, everything boils down the what happens in the trenches. If the Bills can pull off a miracle and fix their issues in protection, then the rest of the offense actually looks pretty promising. If not, then some of the national narratives about Buffalo finishing toward the bottom of the league may be more accurate than we were led to believe. That is of course unless the defense plays lights-out. Speaking of which…
For anyone who missed the game and was hoping to find words of encouragement here, turn back now. The first-team defense was just as brutal as the offense. The Bengals starting offense executed at will as the Bills starters floundered in coverage and Dalton had no trouble leading his team into halftime with a 20-0 lead.
For the third straight game, veteran acquisition, Vontae Davis was dreadful in coverage, getting absolutely roasted for a long touchdown on the Bengals first drive. Last year’s rookie sensation Tre White wasn’t much better, as he was caught out of position more than once. Even though he was oft-injured, the Bills may end up missing E.J. Gaines more than they realize.
A secondary that was considered one of the best in football last season sure looked rusty in what was supposed to be their dress-rehearsal. They’ll need to find some of that magic from a year ago if they hope to go from being considered an “opportunistic” group to a “reliable” one.
Rookie linebacker, Tremaine Edmunds started out a little rough but finished strong with seven tackles in the game. Same goes for second-year man Matt Milano, who also finished with seven takedowns.
As a whole, the second and third team defenses weren’t too bad, holding the Bengals backups to only six points in the second half, which is a tribute to the improved depth that was procured this offseason.
53-Man Roster Projection
Because it’s fun, and due to the fact that we didn’t have many positive notes to talk about last night, let’s do an early roster projection, which will almost certainly need revision following Thursday’s preseason finale against Chicago.
QB: Peterman – Allen – McCarron
RB: McCoy – Ivory – Murphy
WR: Benjamin – Jones – Holmes – Coleman – Kerley – McCloud
TE: Clay – Thomas – Croom – O’Leary
OT: Dawkins – Mills – Newhouse – Wesley
OG: Teller – Miller – Ducasse
C: Bodine – Groy
DE: Hughes – Murphy – Lawson – Yarbrough – Love
DT: Williams – Lotulelei – Phillips – Washington
LB: Edmunds – Alexander – Milano – Humber – Vallejo – Stanford
CB: White – Davis – Gaines – Johnson – Wallace
S: Hyde – Poyer – Bush – Neal
ST: Ryan, Hauschka, Ferguson
PS: Proehl, Reilly, Boettger, Ford, Wallace, Borders
Editor’s babble: Well that game was about as ugly as ugly gets. I’m not sure what to think after watching both first string lines get worked over for the second week in a row. Yikes. They won’t like looking at the tape of this game, that’s for sure. Thanks to Anthony Sciandra for his insight and terrific contributions to our blog. You can find Anthony on Twitter @SciandraSports.