It's Lions in a thriller, 20-13

It's a good thing this was the last preseason game. I don't know how much of this shoddy brand of football people can take. Buffalo lost to the Lions 20-13 Thursday night, dropping their preseason record to 0-4. But the score and record don't count, so we won't bother you with that. Let's break down the issues that could really impact the team this season.

Flags

OK, so maybe the refs were calling the game a little anally as part of the NFL's annual preseason crackdown. The good news is that the Bills were penalized less than last week's game in Indy, only eight times for 55 yards.

The bad news is that Buffalo was penalized six times for 45 yards in the first half – when many of the starters were playing. Those getting whistled: Left tackle Jonas Jennings (holding); right tackle Mike Williams (false start); left guard Ruben Brown (false start, holding) and wide receiver Peerless Price (false start).

Four of the penalties that half came on first down – two on the same down – which put the Bills in a huge hole early in the offensive series and took the running game straight out of the equation.

"We did a better job of keeping penalties down in the second half," said Gregg Williams. "The errors are very correctible."

"It was the first time Jonas has been back for a few weeks," said Drew Bledsoe (9-16, 128 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs), about some of the offensive line difficulties. "We got to get it going. We'll get it straightened out. I have confidence that we'll get it done … We have to eliminate the negative plays. Those things are hard to overcome in the NFL. We gotta get those things cleaned up."

Run game struggles

When a team is constantly facing long yardage situations, the balance of the offense gets out of whack, and the running game struggles. Here's what Buffalo did: Travis Henry, two rushes for (-1) yard; Shawn Bryson, one rush for four yards; Richard Huntley five rushes for (-1) yard; and Sammy Morris 10 rushes for 37 yards and a goal-line fumble recovered by Detroit in the fourth quarter.

It appears Buffalo has a serious problem running the football, and as far as I can tell, it has more to do with the line's run-blocking than it does the abilities of the backs. This line simply is not that good. That doesn't mean they don't have potential, but it's going to take a few weeks before they start doing some damage … I think.

Bledsoe said, "I don't know what the answer is there. We have to get some balance to keep teams honest."

Gregg Williams said, "We wish we could run the football better. You know Pittsburgh struggled running against them. They have a very solid front four."

Pass rush needs blitzing

This is getting to sound like a broken record. Wait a minute, young kids don't even know what records are. OK, this is getting to sound very repetitive because I think I wrote this last week. The front-four cannot generate pressure on its own. Buffalo needs gimmicks – blitzes, zone blitzes, all kinds of wacky, crafty blitzes. When the Bills blitzed, they did get pressure on the QB, but did not record any sacks.

Unfortunately, that's high risk, high reward, or total disaster.

On Detroit's touchdown during the first quarter, which tied the game at 7, the Bills blitzed, but Mike McMahon was able to beat it for a 64-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mikhael Ricks. Strong safety Coy Wire, making his first preseason start, was playing the deep zone and got behind Ricks, who pulled in the long over-the-middle throw and took it to the end zone.

Gregg Williams said, "The first-team defense gave up one big play. Coy Wire will learn from that. He played well in spurts. It's going to be a learning experience. I don't worry about Coy."

Suffice it to say that Wire will not be starting over Billy Jenkins – yet.

Special teams play of the preseason

Charlie Rogers gave the Bills a 7-0 lead in the first quarter with a nifty 71-yard punt return for a touchdown. Rogers got some blocks from Pierson Prioleau and Chris Watson then stormed down the middle of the field, with only kicker Jason Hanson to beat. Rogers faked to the left, bringing Hanson with him and then cruised right, screwing up the kicker's entire momentum as he rushed past. It was a great return … Rookie Andre Rone showed some special-teams flare with a nice tackle on the opening kickoff against returner Larry Foster at the Detroit 14, for just eight yards. He also had three punt returns for 28 yards and two catches for 25 yards, which probably helped him finish ahead of fellow rookie Rodney Wright. But will Buffalo opt for six receivers and keep Wright? Hmmmmm. As the useless sideline reporters say, "That remains to be seen."

Etc.

The Bills were 1 for 12 on third down conversions, which is pitiful. The Lions were five for 15, which is acceptable for the Bills defense, but still could be lower … Eric Moulds didn't play because of a sore hamstring. He'll be ready for the regular season though … Kendrick Office also wasn't suited up because of a back problem. He'll also be ready Sept. 8 vs. the Jets … Mike Hollis kicked a beautiful 51-yard field goal during the fourth quarter, pulling it to 17-13. It made up for a miss from 29 yards in the second quarter … Gregg Williams said the team came out of the preseason remarkably injury free. He said, "We need to take that arsenal into the regular season and win ball games." … Nate Clements intercepted an overthrown Joey Harrington pass in the second quarter and returned it 16 yards as the Bills only forced one turnover, which simply has to be better during the regular season – particularly if they're going to give up yardage with their risk-taking defense … Guard Corey Hulsey did not play and will likely be cut in favor of rookie Mike Pucillo and Michael Early … Nice quote from Bledsoe on Peerless Price: "Peerless has made a ton of plays for me in the preseason. He's a guy I have supreme confidence in. So I'm going to give him the ball as much as I can."


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