You can bet the Buffalo Bills’ coaches will be harping on ball security over the next nine days before the start of the regular season.
Here were top observations from the Bills’ 24-20 win over Detroit in the summer’s third exhibition game:
1. The Bills’ giveaways were reminiscent of last season.
Buffalo took a 14-13 lead into halftime despite the fact they lost two fumbles in their own territory and Josh Allen had an ill-advised intercepted pass that was wiped out by a penalty on the Lions.
Cole Beasley lost a fumble that gave Detroit the ball at Buffalo’s 27. Reserve receiver Victor Bolden Jr. fumbled a kickoff return that gave Detroit the ball at the Bills’ 13.
Allen's throw late over the middle and off his back foot would have given Detroit the ball at Buffalo’s 37 but a late hit on Allen allowed the Bills to keep the ball and drive for a TD. The Bills have lost five fumbles in three games.
The Bills tied for the second most giveaways in the NFL last season with 32, and they were 0-8 when they lost the turnover battle.
2. There is one injury to worry about.
The early indication is Buffalo came out of the game reasonably healthy. Starting guard Quinton Spain limped off late in the first quarter with an injury to his right ankle. He was able to get off the field under his own power but then was carted off. That’s the biggest concern.
Cornerback Tre White suffered an injury to his right leg after making a second-quarter tackle. He had it wrapped on the bench but didn’t look too concerned.
Detroit was less fortunate. The Lions lost their quality starting middle linebacker, former first-round draft pick Jarrad Davis, to a leg injury on the second play from scrimmage. It looked serious. Then center last year’s first-rounder, Frank Ragnow, was carted off with a foot or ankle injury.
3. Shady shows juice.
LeSean McCoy looked pretty good, with six carries for 37 yards. And he had two gains of 10-plus yards that were called back by penalty. McCoy burst upfield on a draw play for 21 yards to set up the Bills’ second TD late in the second quarter.
4. The Bills’ defensive line depth is a strength.
Backup defensive linemen for the Bills made a slew of plays. Shaq Lawson had a sack against a backup tackle and a hit on the QB against a starter. Jordan Phillips helped Trent Murphy flush the QB on a fourth-down incompletion from the Bills’ 3 to force the turnover on downs. Phillips also drew two holding calls. Defensive end Mike Love drew one hold. Rookie Darryl Johnson was in the backfield on a run stuff and had a hurry.
Love and Johnson got a lot of snaps in the first half. Johnson then made a good tackle on a kickoff return at the Lions’ 15 in the third quarter. Those two have to stick as the fourth and fifth defensive ends on the 53-man roster.
5. The Lions’ defense did little to prepare the Bills’ offense for the opener.
The Lions have two good thumpers in the middle of their defensive line in Damon “Snacks” Harrison and A’Shawn Robinson. Harrison is one of the top DTs in the NFL, and he played much of the first half.
But Detroit was without its best edge rusher and biggest free-agent acquisition, Trey Flowers. He had offseason shoulder surgery and just returned to limited practice two weeks ago. Big rookie Da’Shawn Hand from Alabama is out with an arm injury.
On top of that, the Lions play a far different defensive style than that of the New York Jets, the Bills’ first opponent.
The Lions didn’t come after Josh Allen. That’s no surprise. Detroit blitzed — rushed five or more men — the second lowest percentage (14.6) of any team in the NFL last season.
By contrast, Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is Mr. Aggressive when it comes to blitzing.
6. The punting job is up in the air.
Corey Bojorquez didn’t help himself much in his quest to win the punting job. His first two punts were not good strikes – with unofficial hang times of 3.62 and 3.65 seconds. They turned out OK, with nets of 40 and 51 yards (because the short punt was muffed). Bojorquez had two good punts, with hang times of 5.1 and 4.79 seconds (4.5 or better is good). His other punt was an Aussie kick that was fair-caught at the Lions’ 5.
Bojorquez had the punting field to himself since Cory Carter sat out with a sore knee.
7. Duke Williams has done all he could.
The big import from Canada caught his second TD pass in two weeks, a 16-yarder from Matt Barkley. But McKenzie showed his playmaking ability with his end-around TD run. We wouldn’t read much into the fact Zay Jones started but still was in the game late in the third quarter. McKenzie has to be in the lead for the sixth WR spot.
8. It was a preseason game plan.
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was hindered by poor field position and chose to give the offensive line some power running repetitions. Good idea. There were 16 runs and 11 passes called in the first half. The first 10 first-down plays were runs (counting two negated by penalty). The betting is Daboll wouldn’t run into the teeth of Harrison & Co. as much if it was the regular season.
9. Ryan Bates is Mr. Versatile.
Tackle Ty Nsekhe, limited in practice this week due to a sore knee, was held out of the game. That meant that rookie Cody Ford started again at tackle, and Spencer Long filled in at right guard with the starting unit.
What does that mean for the opener? The prediction here is the coaches still will decide Nsekhe is one of their best five linemen, meaning he will get the start at right tackle, and Ford will open at guard.
The Bills were in a bind at tackle Friday. Both of the next two tackles on the roster after Nsekhe, De’Ondre Wesley and Conor McDermott, sat out the game with injuries.
Meanwhile, the coaches continue to show confidence in Ryan Bates, acquired on Aug. 9 in the barely noticed trade with Philadelphia for edge rusher Eli Harold. Bates was the second-team center last week in Carolina. This week he was the second-team left tackle to start the second half. All the offensive line injuries could help Bates land on the roster.
Presumptive starting center Mitch Morse, as previously announced, sat out the game and remains in concussion protocol. Morse has been out 26 days. His status for the opener is a huge question mark, and his injury has allowed Bates to make a strong roster push. Bates was undrafted out of Penn State this April, and he can play center, guard and tackle.
10. Spectator report.
Other Bills players who were held out due to minor injuries were defensive end Jerry Hughes (wrist), running back Senorise Perry, cornerback Cam Lewis and tight end Tyler Kroft. Hughes practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and did not sound too concerned about his injury in the locker room afterward.