The Buffalo Bills got back on the field Friday night, opening their 2021 preseason with a 16-15 victory over the Detroit Lions. Without most starters playing, Buffalo got to evaluate the progress of their key role players and those on the bubble in live-action. While the final score of these exhibition games really doesn’t matter, much can be learned about how coaches feel about players throughout the roster based on their snaps, how long they’re on the field, and at what point in the game those snaps occur.
With that said, here are the five biggest takeaways from the game.
Greg Rousseau looks the part
Greg Rousseau was widely touted as a developmental prospect after the team drafted him in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft. But on Friday, Rousseau looked like he belonged and made his presence known early – an impressive feat for someone who hasn’t taken the field in a live game since 2019. Rousseau played the entire first half and was disruptive, recording a sack on the first drive of the game. Lined up against No. 7 overall pick, Penei Sewell, Rousseau overpowered the former Oregon Duck before using his length to shove quarterback Jared Goff to the ground.
Gregory Rousseau vs. Penei Sewell 👀 pic.twitter.com/ebAzJrwXHE— Austin Gayle (@austingayle_) August 13, 2021
The 6-foot-6 edge rusher registered another quarterback hit late in the first half. At the two-minute warning, Buffalo trotted out A.J. Epenesa, Efe Obada, Boogie Basham and Rousseau to defend the Lions’ two-minute offense, with great success and ultimately forced a stop. Rousseau and Epenesa sandwiched quarterback Tim Boyle, who just managed to get off a pass that fell incomplete, avoiding the would-be sack. According to Pro Football Focus, Rousseau finished with three pressures and one sack on 11 pass-rushing snaps.
I think the Epenesa - Rousseau combination is going to be fun to watch. pic.twitter.com/xHaj5uKbyH— Erik Turner (@ErikJTurner) August 14, 2021
For a Bills team that believes their lack of pass rush kept them out of the Super Bowl last year, Rousseau’s standout performance throughout training camp and his first preseason game is promising.
Cody Ford stands out in a big way
After two underwhelming seasons marked by poor play and nagging injuries, Cody Ford entered training camp as somewhat of an ‘x-factor’ for the team. Many (myself included) believed that Ike Boettger would be a real threat to his starting job at right guard. However, the team expressed confidence in Ford throughout training camp and on Friday, Ford lived up to the hype.
Throughout the entire first half, Ford flat out dominated Detroit defenders at the line of scrimmage in the run game. He executed pull blocks effectively, maintaining balance through contact to clear a path for his running backs and was strong on zone runs as well.
Bills don’t pick up the first down here but just look at the block by 74-Cody Ford. Excellent job on the pull and you have to love the finishing job by him pic.twitter.com/qXEG2nlo7K— Nate Mendelson (@NateMendelson) August 13, 2021
Ford was solely responsible for multiple big plays, including an eight-yard run by Matt Breida that set up a touchdown pass by Davis Webb to Devin Singletary shortly after. For those concerned about the inconsistent rushing attack from a year ago, Ford’s impressive play – albeit in the preseason opener – is definitely eye-opening and provides a glimmer of hope for the upcoming season.
Levi Wallace shows why he’s CB2
Every year, Levi Wallace has to fend off competition for the starting cornerback job opposite Tre’Davious White, and every year, Wallace comes out on top. This season is no different, as fans have been clamoring for Dane Jackson to unseat the former Alabama walk-on. Throughout the first few weeks of training camp, Wallace has gotten nearly all of the first-team reps and in limited action Friday, he proved why.
With the Lions marching downfield late in the first quarter, Wallace manned up with Tyrell Williams in the slot with a single-high safety behind him. His coverage while defending this post route is impeccable. He’s patient carrying Williams upfield with great leverage to the boundary side of the field. He sticks to his man, gets his head around and breaks up the pass in the endzone to force a field goal.
Don’t count out Devin Singletary
While the Bills’ offense will be using a committee approach on offense, reports from training camp have indicated that second-year back Zack Moss had a leg up on Devin Singletary in the team’s running back competition. With Moss sitting out Friday with a hamstring injury, Singletary made the most of his opportunities, running hard, breaking tackles and showing some wiggle that was reminiscent of his 2019 rookie season in which he averaged 5.1 yards-per-carry.
Singletary finished the night with 42 rushing yards on eight carries, including runs of 15, eight, and seven yards. He also caught a six-yard touchdown pass.
This performance won’t change how Buffalo distributes the touches on offense n 2021, but Singletary looked noticeably faster and broke through a handful of tackles – something he struggled to do at times last season – which is an encouraging sign for a team that’s looking to run the ball more effectively.
No room for separation in WR battle
Despite the highly anticipated preseason debuts of Jake Kumerow, Isaiah Hodgins and Marquez Stevenson, the Bills’ offensive game script simply didn’t allow for many opportunities for Buffalo’s pass-catchers to separate themselves from the pack. Buffalo threw just nine on-target passes in the first half, with six intended for a running back or tight end. Kumerow wasn’t targeted at all, while Hodgins left the game with a knee injury after one catch for 13 yards. Stevenson entered the game late in the second half, catching three passes for 50 yards, including a 42-yard grab late in the fourth quarter from Jake Fromm to put the team in position to kick a field goal to potentially win the game.
Kumerow is clearly in the lead for the final wide receiver job after a productive training camp, but it will be interesting to see how Buffalo utilizes their pass-catchers going forward.