This is what we know

If there's one thing the Bills have proven in preseason wins over Philadelphia and Cincinnati, it's that their special teams coverage is vastly improved from the previous season.

Danny Smith's units held Cincinnati to a 19.3-yard kickoff return average and an outstanding 5.3-yard punt return average. Against Philadelphia, it was a 12.7-yard kickoff return average. Punter Brian Moorman kicked seven times vs. the Bengals and placed three inside the 20. One set up a safety. He also had a 64-yard punt that rolled out of bounds. Moorman's performance likely clinched a job for him.

Against Cincinnati, the Bills defense started to do what Gregg Williams promised all offseason long – it forced turnovers: two interceptions and one fumbled recovery, getting drive starts in Bengals territory. The offense, however, sputtered. With six visits to the red zone during the two games, Buffalo scored only 23 points. It will live and die with defense.

Johnson questionable

Rob Johnson sat out vs. the Eagles because of his sprained index finger. Against the Bengals, Johnson struggled with making quick decisions – one of the reasons he was sacked four times. The line play wasn't awesome, but the sacks could have been prevented if Johnson got rid of the ball faster. He did throw a rollout 13-yard touchdown to Jeremy McDaniel, giving Buffalo a 12-3 second-quarter lead . McDaniel slipped a defensive back and Johnson found him while being hotly pursued.

But often when Buffalo was deep in Bengals territory, Johnson looked uncomfortable and would scrambled. Cincinnati sacked him on a third and eight from its 11 in the third quarter. It sacked him on a second and 15 from the its 20 in the second quarter.

The scary thing is that if Johnson is facing a second or third and long situation this season, teams are going to blitz and he is going to get sacked a good portion of the time. He's proven that, and that's unacceptable.

Van Pelt strong

Alex Van Pelt is a capable quarterback. Playing the first half vs. the Eagles, Van Pelt was in control, completing 17 of 25 passes for 173 yards and no interceptions. There were no touchdowns – Buffalo was inside the Philadelphia 20 twice and only scored two field goals. But Van Pelt made some smart throws, not taking stupid risks while instead opting for high-percentage pass completions – the way the Mike Sheppard offense is to be played. Van Pelt played most of the third and fourth quarters against the Bengals. He threw a touchdown to fourth-strong tight end Josh Whitman putting Buffalo up 20-10 with eight minutes, four seconds to play.

Van Pelt clearly is not strong-armed – passes into the flat are dangerous throws for him – but he's strong in the brain.

Henry better for offense than Morris, Bryson

Rookie Travis Henry should be the Bills' starting running back. Against the Bengals, Henry proved that he doesn't need a big hole to gain three to four yards. That's going to be important with the Bills' offensive line. Sammy Morris and Shawn Bryson simply need bigger holes. Yes, they're bruising and can break tackles when they get going, but they need more space.

Versus Cincinnati, Henry showed his ability on a 15-yard third quarter run off left tackle, behind blocks by Jay Riemersma and Ruben Brown, which put Buffalo at the Cincinnati 32. Henry was pushing Brown in the back, letting him know he was close behind. These may be ordinary runs for Henry, but Bills fans remain surprised because they haven't seen ordinary runs for 15 yards since Thurman Thomas.

Henry is also improving as a pass catcher as he showed against Philadelphia. He caught a screen and gained 10 yards after faking linebacker Carlos Emmons out of his jock and then slipping a Troy Vincent tackle.

Morris' best run of the two games was against Cincinnati. He busted through the left guard and tackle and ran for 26 yards down the sideline. He showed how physical he can be with three broken tackles.

Shawn Bryson played with an ankle sprain vs. Cincinnati and had two runs for 17 yards. He rushed for 51 yards on 10 carries vs. Philadelphia, including a 14-yard run. Bryson still has that speed burst, but he's not the pass catcher that Morris or Henry is.

Cowart needed

Middle linebacker Sam Cowart missed the Rams game Aug. 11 with back spasms, and the defense struggled. He made the difference vs. the Eagles. His presence on third down helped Buffalo force a sack and get an interception in the first quarter, while the third-down defense in the first half was six-for-six in preventing third-down conversions. Cowart also made two stops on Eagles Pro Bowl running back Duce Staley, shutting down potential long gains.

Buffalo needs Cowart to play 16 games. He's as important to the team as Eric Moulds.

Defense creates turnovers and points

Against the Bengals, Antoine Winfield recovered from giving up some early catches to his side with two interceptions later. He returned the first one 33 yards to the Bengals' 30. His second one gave Buffalo a drive start at the Cincinnati 23. They led to 10 points and a 12-3 Buffalo lead.

Erik Flowers' first quarter sack and safety closed the Cincinnati lead to 3-2. Flowers went inside to beat Bengals guard Mike Goff and bring down Scott Mitchell. Left end Bryce Fisher's John Kitna sack forced a third-quarter fumble that Jay Foreman recovered at the Bengals' 33.

Bengals run it

The Bills uncharacteristically gave up 183 yards rushing to the Bengals, including a 76-yard touchdown run in which running back Brandon Bennett got through the middle of the line, broke a Henry Jones tackle and was free to score. The Bills had their second-string defensive line in. Free safety Keion Carpenter had a shot at Bennett, but took too deep an angle and was out of the play. There were also two Corey Dillon runs in which Sam Cowart mistackled the star back. That doesn't happen too often. Dillon had seven runs for 34 yards – the majority coming on an impressive 24-yard scamper, which set up a 3-0 Cincinnati lead.

Penal colony

Against Cincinnati, Buffalo had nine penalties for 76 yards. Cincinnati had seven penalties for 65 yards. Against Philadelphia, Buffalo had 16 penalties for 124 yards compared to the Eagles' six penalties for 50 yards. The Bills want to be aggressive, but some of the penalties have teetered on buffoonery. Corey Moore's facemask at the end of the Eagles game gave Philadelphia a chance to tie on a 60-yard field goal attempt that luckily sailed wide. Moore, of course, was cut that week.

And against the Bengals, linebacker Fred Jones was disqualified for throwing a punch. And Eric Moulds' unnecessary roughness penalty backed Buffalo up to its 12-yard line with one minute, seventeen seconds to go in the first half. Gregg Williams had wanted his team to work on the two-minute drill. There went that opportunity.


Buffalo Football Report Top Stories