It's time for the Buffalo Bills' "dress rehearsal."
The third preseason game of the season is the big one for NFL teams, when the starters play into the second half and the competition for jobs nears conclusion.
"Just overall, you want the roster to take shape, and the team to take shape, and we’re getting there," Bills coach Sean McDermott said this week. "What happens a lot of times, in this first year, there’s a little bit more loose ends at this point, where you’re trying to shape it, because there’s a lot of open positions that are being battled for at this point. That’s healthy, and we want that every year.
"That said, it is important that we start to shape the shape of this football team, and we’re seeing that take shape on the practice field, the last two games. We’ll see a little bit more take shape this week on Saturday night, and you want to stay healthy to continue to shape it. The guys are working extremely hard, I love the work they put in through this week, earning the right to win come Saturday night. That’s what we can control, and that’s what we’re focused on right now is what we can control and how we play Saturday night."
Here is everything you need to know for Saturday's game, as well as five things we'll be looking for:
• Radio: Bills Radio Network. Buffalo-WGR 550 AM; Toronto-Fan 590 AM; Rochester-WCMF 96.5 FM and WROC 950 AM; Syracuse-WTKW 99.5 FM and WTKV 105.5 FM. Announcers: John Murphy (play by play), Mark Kelso (color analyst).
• Series history: Bills lead, 2-1. The Bills haven't played the Ravens in the preseason since 2003, a 20-19 Buffalo victory.
• Uni watch: The Bills are matching blue jerseys with white pants for the second straight week.
• Did you know? Bills coach Sean McDermott and Ravens coach John Harbaugh coached together in Philadelphia from 1998- 2007. From 2004-06, McDermott and Harbaugh worked directly with each other, as McDermott was the assistant defensive backs coach while Harbaugh was the special team coordinator & defensive backs coach.
• Next up: It's the biggest ripoff in professional sports! The joke that is the fourth preseason game will be held Thursday at New Era Field, as the Bills host the Lions.
Here are five things to watch for against the Ravens:
1. Can Tyrod Taylor put together a solid showing? We need to keep in mind that it's the preseason. Results don't matter. The Bills aren't game planning. That said ... Taylor didn't look very good last week against the Eagles. His protection failed him, and when he did throw, he was picked off twice while completing just 8 of 18 passes. Clearly, the Bills aren't showing much of their offense, but what we have seen hasn't been promising. The starters, led by Taylor, need a solid performance to take some momentum into the regular season.
2. Who steps up at right cornerback? It's the same question as last week. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said the hope is to rotate E.J. Gaines, Kevon Seymour and Shareece Wright through at right cornerback with the first team, but injuries could prevent that from happening. Wright has dealt with a thumb injury, Seymour recently suffered a shoulder injury in addition to dealing with a foot problem in training camp and Gaines is working through a hamstring injury. In what remains a wide-open competition for a starting job, it's time for one of them to take over.
"We hope to come out of this ball game on Saturday with some confirmation on where we’re going at that right corner spot," Frazier said. "Those guys will all get some snaps, we’ll try to get them against good competition, so we can make a good evaluation."
3. How does Dion Dawkins look on the left side? The Bills' rookie second-round draft pick is expected to start in place of Cordy Glenn. Dawkins will protect Taylor's blind side. Assuming Glenn is able to get back for Week One, Dawkins might not be on the left side for long.
"They have me at left because they need me there, but when the time comes to continue to compete at right, then I’m just going to jump back in it," Dawkins said. "Whether it’s in the middle of the season, or first game, it doesn’t matter I’m going to keep it pushing forward."
4. Will the team showcase Reggie Ragland? Buffalo's 2016 second-round draft pick continues to run with the third team at middle linebacker. The coaching staff says that Ragland is doing everything asked of him and is working hard, but isn't where he needs to be as he recovers from a torn ACL suffered just over a year ago. With roster cuts looming, Ragland figures to be prime trade bait. The Bills could boost his value by showcasing him against the Ravens.
5. Can the team stay healthy? Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman suffering what is thought be a torn ACL on Friday night is just the latest example of why the preseason is awful. Win or lose, the best thing that can possibly happen for the Bills on Saturday is the team coming out of game free of injuries. That's particularly true when it comes to Taylor and running back LeSean McCoy, the team's two most important offensive players. McDermott said the plan is to play the starters into the second half. Nobody would blame the coach, though, if he dialed back the playing time for his quarterback and running back.