After the Hall of Fame game most of the talk was about how the starting offense struggled, namely EJ Manuel. Ignored was the terrific performance by the starting defense (2 series, a 3 and out and a sack/fumble). Following the Panthers game the talk has been more positive, the Bills won the game, the starting offense looked much better and the starting defense was solid. Let’s take a look at who’s trending up and down following the Panthers game.
1. Bryce Brown. Bryce was a standout performer in the Hall of Fame game as well, however his performance was mostly dismissed due to the fact he was fourth in the running back pecking order and he was playing mostly against 3rd and 4th stringers. It is tough to dismiss his talent after his second straight solid performance (11 carries for 64 yards, 2 catches for 18 yards). Brown also split time with Anthony Dixon this game instead of following him in the pecking order. The future is uncertain for CJ Spiller following the 2014 season, Brown is showing the Bills why he might be the guy beginning next year.
2. Chris Hogan. Hogan had an impressive catch up the sideline for 32 yards, he finished the game with 2 catches for 43 yards but the reason he is trending up is due to the fact that again he was the 3rd receiver in the game behind Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams again. Robert Woods was sprinkled in with the first team this game but it appears it is Hogan’s job to lose right now. Hogan’s impressive play has also basically assured that TJ Graham will not make the roster. If the Bills choose to open a game in a 3 wide receiver set we could be calling 7-11 a starter sooner than later.
3. Run Defense. For the second straight game the Bills starting defense looked impressive. While they were beat in the passing game by the Panthers a few times (Kelvin Benjamin’s 29 yard touchdown pass, some underneath passes for Greg Olsen) they were dominant against the run. Now Deangleo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were not playing, but “starting” running backs Mike Tolbert and Kenjon Barner combined for 10 carries for only 10 yards. The Bills run defense appears to have a different edge under new coordinator Jim Schwartz, the addition of Brandon Spikes in the middle has certainly made a difference. Nigel Bradham looks more comfortable in the new defense (I wish we could see how Kiko would look right now).
1. Scott Chandler. I know it was his first game back from an injury he suffered in camp and he was probably rusty, but I was disappointed in how slow he looked. A tight end is supposed to be a young quarterback’s best friend and Chandler had nice numbers with EJ last year but I don’t know if he can improve on them this year. If Chandler doesn’t do a better job of passing the eye test next week here is hoping to see some of Tony Moeaki and Chris Gragg in the following weeks.
2. Big Pass Plays against the defense. For the second straight week the Bills were beat for long touchdowns in the passing game. The Benjamin touchdown was a heck of a catch but the only reason it was is because he stumbled going into the end zone. He clearly beat Stephon Gilmore on the play and it should have been an easier touchdown. Late in the game with the Bills nursing an 8 point lead the defense surrendered a long touchdown pass by Joe Webb, fortunately the defense was able to hold on the 2 point conversion attempt. I’m not going to harp on some of the defensive holding; illegal contact and defensive pass interference penalties because that is a league wide thing right now. I watched the Lions literally drive all the way down the field on illegal contact penalties against the Browns on Saturday night. The run defense has looked good, here is hoping the Bills will limit some of the big pass plays.
3. Killer Instinct. I know it is nitpicking because we are only in the Pre-Season but twice in this game I didn’t like how the Bills made some moves that seemed like “the same old Bills”. You know what I am talking about, those moments in the game that the “other” teams always seem to make but elude the Bills. The first was at the end of the first half, after the Bills forced a punt with a little over 2 minutes left. Nikell Robey muffed the punt and it forced the Bills back around their own 20, but with 2 minutes left still plenty of time to run a the 2 minute offense. Instead the Bills ran two plays for negative yardage then a 3rd run off tackle which led to Bryce Brown running out of bounds, stopping the clock so the Panthers could mount a 2 minute drive.
It ended well for the Bills with the Panthers turning it over and giving the Bills the ball in scoring position but I would have liked to see the Bills dictate the offense from the start. The second instance was at the end of the game, the Bills had the opportunity to end the game with a defensive stop up 20-12, they gave up the long TD, then made the stop on the 2 point conversion to keep the score at 20-18, should have been game over but the Bills gave up an onside kick to give the Panthers another shot. Some will say I am looking a little too deep into a preseason game but these are the type of things the Bills need to fix before the regular season starts. I promise if Peyton Manning or Tom Brady gets an extra possession at the end of the game it will not end well.
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