The Buffalo Bills launched their preseason on the road Saturday night at Fed-Ex Field in Washington against the Redskins and were beaten, 17-14. While the three-point loss is immaterial in the standings, how the players looked doing it is not.
Here is a breakdown by position on how the Bills fared Saturday night in their preseason opener:
On Buffalo's first drive, starter Trent Edwards connected with Roscoe Parrish on a beautiful 18-yard pass on 3rd-and 12, setting up the Bills first field goal. It was his only completion in five attempts as Edwards failed to generate any other offense.
On a third-down play in the red zone, Edwards appeared to rush a pass on a blitz not in the vicinity of any receiver, though head coach Dick Jauron said after the game it was the receiver's mistake (James Hardy) to not break his off his pattern.
J.P. Losman followed Edwards in the second quarter and looked good. He connected on a 30-yard pass to Parrish, although his ball was rushed and under thrown but Parrish made a great play back on the ball. He later connected on the Bills prettiest play of the game, throwing a perfect dart in stride to Hardy in the right corner of the end zone for the team's only touchdown. Losman also connected on a nice pass to Justin Jenkins for a two point conversion and led the team to its only other three points. He finished the game 7-for-9 for 73 yards and showed something he failed to in losing his job last year- poise. If the Bills have a battle for the third quarterback spot neither guy took control of the reins.
Gibran Hamden played the entire third quarter and into fourth, going 7-for-13 for 65 yards, while Matt Baker mopped up and completed two of three passes for 25 yards, including a meaningless 22-yarder to Bruce Hall as time expired.
Marshawn Lynch started but only had three carries (nine yards) before making an expected early exit. Backup Fred Jackson did nothing to hurt his standing as the first back off the bench. He had a nice nine-yard run in the second quarter and an 11-yard reception on a screen pass. One of the hotter battles of training camp is expected between incumbent Dwayne Wright and rookie Xavier Omon for the third and likely final spot. Both players are likely kicking themselves after failing to capitalize on good opportunities. If the competition is close it's undoubtedly the same following this game. Each runner carried five times for 16 yards, had a long of nine yards and most critically, each lost a fumble.
Parrish was the star of the offense with three catches for 50 yards in less than one half of action. He's already looking like a player who'll be a big weapon for an offense greatly in need of playmakers.
Hardy was an enigma tonight as he's been throughout his first training camp. At times he looked completely out of place. He failed to break off a pattern on a blitz ,committing a false start and dropping an easy pass Losman put right in his hands over the middle of the field. Still, he showed why the Bills drafted him in the second round with just one great play. In the waning minutes of the second quarter he got behind the Redskins defense and Losman hit him in stride for the Bills only touchdown. To his credit, after the game Hardy harped on things he didn't do more than the touchdown.
Top receiver Lee Evans merely made a cameo before sitting down while potential starter Josh Reed didn't dress with a sore lower back. Steve Johnson (2-for-7 yards) and Jenkins (1-for-5) are the assumed candidates for the fifth receiver roster spot, but Felton Huggins may have entered the picture. He caught one pass for 11 yards but also got behind the Redskins defense on a play that probably would've resulted in a touchdown had Hamden not overthrown him.
Who takes control of this position was a mystery coming into the game, and remains the same following it. Starter Robert Royal only played briefly. His primary challenger Derek Schouman only had one incomplete pass thrown his way. Rookie Derek Fine caught two passes for 18 yards, but missed a block that led to the only sack against the Bills. Courtney Anderson caught a nice strike from Hamden for 18 yards, but dropped a pass he should've caught a few moments earlier.
Langston Walker has moved over to the left tackle spot while All-Pro tackle Jason Peters continues his hold out. Kirk Chambers is starting in Walker's right tackle spot. Both had first quarter false starts and the line as a whole had trouble with run blocking against the first team defense.
Matt Murphy played left tackle in the second quarter and the right side in the third. Duke Preston backed up Melvin Fowler at center while Jason Whittle was first off the bench at guard. Nevin McKaskill and Robert Felton also saw time at guard, while Demetrius Bell saw action at left tackle and Patrick Estes played briefly at right tackle. Collectively the unit didn't fair well, especially with the run.
Bills' running backs had 20 carries, and none of them went for more than nine yards. The line gave up only one sack but had protection issues throughout the game. When or if Peters will come to camp is the million (or $8-million) dollar question, but if this line wants to have success it needs to come sooner than later. Walker is admittedly uncomfortable starting on the left side, and Chambers isn't starting material on the right. Derrick Dockery and Brad Butler are getting the job done at guard, but center Melvin Fowler struggles against the stronger defensive tackles and did again tonight.
Clearly, this is an offense in dire need of having its most valuable commodity in uniform soon.
Nonetheless, the guys lining up weren't getting the job done. Washington wasn't sacked until midway through the fourth quarter, and holes were open regularly for Redskin running backs to plow through. The Redskins had 155 yards on the ground and that falls largely on the shoulders of an unproductive defensive line.
Neither Spencer Johnson, John McCargo, Kyle Williams or Chris Kelsay played with any consistency. It also doesn't say much when your first round pick of 2006 (McCargo) is on the field in the fourth quarter of your first preseason game. The best player on the line Saturday was reserve end Ryan Denney, who didn't record a tackle but was the only lineman consistently generating pressure.
Rookie Chris Ellis was in on the Bills lone sack but was mostly bullied off the line of scrimmage by backup guards and tackles. He may be productive as the season goes on, but for now Ellis needs a lot of work.
Paul Posluszny was back on the field starting for the first time since week three of 2007 after breaking his forearm. He had three tackles in just two series of play and looked quicker than he did a rookie. However, he was caught out of position more than once and got beat on badly on a draw.
New acquisition Kawika Mitchell looked great against the run but struggled in pass coverage early on. Keith Ellison, a former starter who lost his job when Mitchell was signed, filled in for injured linebacker Angelo Crowell (knee) and played well. Reserve middle linebacker John DiGiorgio was as good as any defender on team. He had the team's only sack to go with five tackles and a forced fumble on the opening kickoff. Donnie Spragan has only been in camp a short time and it showed. Marcus Buggs saw some action and had three tackles but probably remains a long shot to make the final roster.
Terrence McGee had a sore toe and Jauron decided before the game to sit him out. Opposite starter Jabari Greer had a strong outing, including good coverage on star receiver Santana Moss. The real fun begins for the nickel corner spot with no less than four candidates. Will James started the game but missed a few open field tackles.
First-round rookie Leodis McKelvin saw plenty of action. He looked good on a couple plays but made a few costly mistakes, none bigger than what became the Redskins second touchdown. Running back Ladell Betts caught a screen out on the ride side at the 14-yard line with blockers in front. McKelvin came up to make the play but instead of holding his outside position, jumped inside, allowing Betts to cut right and waltz into the end zone.
McKelvin is clearly a progress in work but glimpses of his ability were on display, especially on special teams.
Reggie Corner has been one of the stars of camp, but had an inconsistent night in coverage. Ashton Youboty is rumored to be in great danger of being cut or traded, but after tonight the coaches will have to revaluate. He finished with eight tackles, was mostly good in coverage and had the team's lone interception, leading to Buffalo's only touchdown.
Starting safety Donte Whitner sat out (ankle) while counterpart Ko Simpson only played briefly. Bryan Scott started for Whitner and struggled with both coverage and tackling. John Wendling saw a lot of time and made the most of it in leading the team with nine tackles. George Wilson wasn't a factor Saturday. Who earns playing time in the secondary is shaping up as the best battle to follow this preseason.
The Bills were solid in this department, typical for a team who's always among the league's best. They forced a fumble on the opening kickoff and McKelvin showed why he's dangerous on returns. He took a punt in the fourth quarter and nearly broke it all the way before going down 45 yards later. He also had a 37-yard kickoff return. Not bad considering he isn't even the team's primary punt (Parrish) or kick returner (McGee.) Between these three speedsters, you can expect plenty of noise in the return game.
You should never read much into a preseason game, much less the team's opener. But this was a game that looked eerily similar to the Bills of 2007; unable to move the ball and turn three points into six offensively, and inept at getting off the field defensively.
The defense gave up 207 yards in the game's first 30 minutes and allowed Washington to convert on five of seven third downs (71 percent). The Redskins had touchdown scoring drives spanning 53 yards over 12 plays, and another covering 8 plays and 65 yards. The Bills stayed in the game, just like last year on the strength of two turnovers converted into 11 points. But if this offense is anything like last year, they can't win with running backs losing two fumbles in the second half.
Buffalo has a lot of work to do, and only three more games to get it done before the score really counts. The Bills have shot themselves in the foot with slow starts over the past several years and if this opening preseason game was any indication, history could end up repeating itself.