Shaking the Rust Off

The long awaited debut of the 2004 Buffalo Bills hit prime time last night around the nation on the NFL Network. Fans eager to see the Bills' new draft picks on the field as well as to get a glimpse of the new and simplified offense got their wish. They may wish they hadn't gotten their wish however. In short, D good, O bad. Same old same old!

What really matters in these preseason games is the play of the first team. Those playing with the second team are likely either starters in some sort of injury recovery status, players being considered but by no means guaranteed starting roles, or players on the bubble altogether.

So let's discuss the play of the Bills' first teams in their preseason debut. To sum up the play of the first team offense, it amassed, and I use the word loosely, 25 net yards or less than two yards-per-offensive play, on three drives. Henry had no holes to run through on the line. Bledsoe was 4 of 6 for 27 yards with one interception to end the first drive on a 3rd down and then a sack for a loss of 8 on third down of the second drive to kill that drive. The third and last first team drive ended with a Bledsoe pass being batted down inside the Bronco red zone. The notion of déjà vu comes to mind. The only reason why the Bills' first unit put up a field goal was because Ryan Denney's interception set up the offense inside Denver territory at the Bronco 42-yard line.

To say that the blocking was an issue would be the understatement of the evening. The Denver defense is very good, however they are not that good. Each of the Bills' three AFC East rivals had better scoring defenses last season than Denver did. Denver was also playing without their last season top pass rusher Bert Berry who was lost to free agency.

Bledsoe's interception was a sorely underthrown ball on a timing pattern to Eric Moulds down the left sideline who had to stop and wait at the 5 yard line as the cornerback and safety caught up to Moulds with the cornerback Willie Middlebrooks subsequently forcing the INT. Had the ball been thrown accurately Moulds would have caught it in stride for a touchdown at the goal line or just inside the end zone with neither defender having a shot at making a play. Once again these types of medium to deep underthrows went very close to unnoticed by many yet were largely characteristic of Bledsoe's play last season. The question is posed again; has there been a diminishment in Bledsoe's arm strength?

The Bills quarterbacks performed in a reciprocal fashion with Losman hitting everything with laser accuracy and playing in an extremely poised manner. Brown looked very good on short passes but struggled the couple of times he went medium to deep and showed average mobility. Bledsoe did not look any different than he did last season.

Fans who have been concerned about the play of the offensive line heading into this season certainly did not have their fears allayed in the least. The team ran Travis Henry almost as if to avoid the middle. The trouble with that approach is that Henry does not possess enough corner speed to shine there.

Some of the other positives were that Eric Moulds did indeed seem faster than in the past. He appears to be in game shape already and noticeably faster than Bills fans have occasion to remember. The special teams also looked very good. Mike Mularkey made a good challenge on a would-be McGahee touchdown, which should have been overturned.

Willis McGahee looked relatively slow and tentative throughout the evening. The highlight of his evening was a single 16-yard run. He averaged about 3.5 yards-per-carry otherwise. As with Henry the play of the line was a significant factor in spite of the fact that it was primarily the second team line playing many second team defenders.

Again however, the highlight of the evening for the offense was a near perfect evening by the confident rookie signal caller from Tulane. Losman put every single throw right on the money and with the perfect touch and did it as if he had been playing in the league for several seasons.

Much like Rob Johnson however, Losman showed an early tendency to stay in bounds when he should have run out as well as to lower his head and charge into defenders when the wise move is a feet first slide. Wyche and Clements should be able to correct that post haste. Losman's play should have Bills fans drooling with anticipation however. If such play continues throughout the preseason then fans can expect to see Losman starting by midseason.

On defense, while putting up a solid performance, particularly in the turnover department, the defense benefited more from poor Bronco offensive play than they did from outplaying their offensive counterparts. Plummer played horribly all evening generating a 2.7 rating.

The Bills first team pass coverage was soft at times with coverage yards off of defenders often in zone coverage. The first interception by Terrence McGee was more luck than solid play as a well-thrown pass deflected out of the hands Ashlie Lelie and into the hands of McGee five yards off of Lelie behind him. There were four dropped passes by first team Bronco receivers by my count.

Another point of concern for Bills fans is Quentin Griffin's success running the ball. Griffin averaged nearly five yards-per-carry and had 44 yards in just over a single quarter of play.

No one was expecting miracles in this first game of the preseason, however the Bills first team offense had better reveal at least a minimal level of competency in Saturday's game vs. the Titans, again, at home at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Using the first teams as a guide however, there was not much difference between last season's performance overall with the primary change being on special teams.

Whatever touching up the Bills do however had better be done sooner than later. The Titans are the only team remaining in the preseason which offer a decent gauge of the improvement of the team's offense from last season. The Titans finished last season ranked 13th in scoring defense, the Colts 20th, and the Lions 25th. The Lion game will not be a good gauge of the improvement of the offense heading into the season opener vs. Jacksonville.

This play of the offense this week can be dismissed for a variety of reasons. The next two weeks however are put-up weeks in which it will be critical for the offensive line to strut its stuff giving fans and media confidence in their hopes that this season will in fact be different from last season.

The Bills used this game to shake the rust off. The problem is that insofar as the offense goes much of that rust did not come off.

Comments: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net


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