The third preseason game is generally when fans get the longest extended look at starters. Buffalo has not said how long the first team offense and defense will play on Saturday against the Steelers, but the game will give coaches and fans alike a chance to evaluate the team. When the Buffalo Bills take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, here are a few things to watch.
Which QB moves the ball the best?
E.J. Manuel will start for the Bills at quarterback on Saturday but the quarterback order really doesn’t matter tomorrow. Buffalo will play Manuel, Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor with the first team offense against Pittsburgh’s defense. It’s yet to be determined how long each quarterback will play, but there is a lot at stake for the quarterbacks. Rex Ryan has said that the coaching staff will know who their starting quarterback is following the Steelers game, so a strong performance could win the job.
Entering the game, Taylor and Cassel seem to have the lead among the quarterbacks. Taylor has had the most consistent camp and preseason, while Cassel has simply appeared to have an edge due to his game management skills. Manuel isn’t completely out of the race, but to win the job Manuel will have to be nearly flawless on Saturday and see the other quarterbacks struggle.
If Taylor or Cassel stand out among the crowd in terms of moving the ball for the Bills, fans will probably have a good idea of who will be starting against the Colts in Week 1.
Backup offensive line play
Buffalo’s starting offensive line is set in stone, barring injury:
In addition to the starting five, Cyrus Kouandjio and Kraig Urbik also appear to be safe in terms of the 53-man roster. Beyond those seven, no other player has stood out consistently on Buffalo’s offensive line. On Saturday, a job or two could be won on the line with a strong performance. Cyril Richardson has the inside track for the eighth offensive line job, but he needs a strong effort against the Steelers to show that he’s worth a roster spot. If Richardson and the others continue to show inconsistent play, they may be replaced by players elsewhere. When other teams trim their rosters down to 53 players, some notable offensive linemen will be looking for work. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Bills bring in one of those players for their offensive line.
Which receiver steps up?
On Saturday, Buffalo is expected to be without Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Percy Harvin and Chris Hogan. Deonte Thompson, the team’s most consistent preseason receiver suffered an injury on Thursday and his status is also unknown for the game. Someone will have to step up at receiver for Buffalo if all of these players are out. Two players to really keep an eye on are Marquise Goodwin and Andre Davis. Goodwin has seen himself more involved in the offense in camp and the preseason, and on Saturday he may be the team’s No. 1 receiver. He seems like a favorite to make the roster, but he could lock down a spot with a strong performance.
Andre Davis has also had a great camp. The UDFA has stood out often in camp and was rewarded last week by being targeted twice late in the game against the Browns. He caught a touchdown pass that gave the Bills that pulled the team within one point and may be lined up across from Goodwin if Thompson is unable to go. Davis is on the outside of the roster bubble due to the talent and depth on the roster, but he could make an argument for himself on Saturday.
Buffalo’s starting defense
The Bills have great talent on the defensive side of the ball. There’s a reason they finished fourth in the NFL last season in total defense, but this offseason Ryan has said that he expects Buffalo’s defense to be the best. To be the best, you need to beat the best. That sounds like a generic version of Ric Flair’s, “To be the man, you need to beat the man,” but Saturday will be a great test for the Bills defense. Pittsburgh has no shortage of talent on the offensive side of the ball.
Ben Roethlisberger can pick apart defenses and Pittsburgh has one of the best backs in the league in Le’Veon Bell. They also have Antonio Brown who is one of the best receivers in the NFL and there’s plenty of talent and depth behind Brown.
Buffalo’s defense is expected to see significant time on the field and it’ll be interesting to see how they fare against one of the better offenses in the NFL. If Buffalo’s defense can keep the Steelers offense in check, fans and coaches alike will feel optimistic that the defense will be able to do the same in Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts.