The Buffalo Bills are coming off a 23-19 home win over the Indianapolis Colts to open up the preseason last Saturday. Now they hit the road for the first time as they visit the Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday at 6:30.
With just two preseason games left and the opener against the Jets in New Jersey fast approaching, there are still several key positional battles to shake out before the final 53-man roster is released. Without further ado, here are the six storylines I’ll be watching for in Buffalo’s second preseason game.
Pray, light candles, put on your special socks, don’t be a little-stitious, be superstitious! Bills’ head coach Sean McDermott said that he expects the starters, including franchise quarterback Josh Allen, to play “a quarter and a half” in their second preseason game, this after sitting all of Week 1. Allen wasn’t the only superstar to ride the pine last Saturday; wide receiver Stefon Diggs was also absent from the active roster. Like Allen, Diggs will be on the field in Pittsburgh. Why? “Simply put, it’s to get them ready for the season,” added McDermott.
Hamlin Hometown Hero
The return of Damar Hamlin to the field in Buffalo was amazing. Seeing him back in pads and making plays was soothing for the soul. The script writers couldn’t have drawn up a better second game for the Steel City native as he returns to The Burgh for his second game after suffering cardiac arrest in Cincinnati last season. I believe Steeler Nation will be almost as loud as Bills Mafia in welcoming Hamlin onto the field. It will be another special moment for the Bills’ safety.
Entering training camp, the backup QB spot appeared to be Kyle Allen’s with Matt Barkley once again destined to be hidden behind glass with a “break in case of an emergency” sign over his head on the practice squad.
(Insert Stone Cold Steve Austin’s glass-shattering entrance music here)
In Week 1 against the Colts, Barkley had a darn near-perfect game. He completed 14 of 15 passes for 172 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He had a passer rating of 154.0 which is almost perfect. Meanwhile, Kyle Allen went eight-of-15 for 122 yards and an interception. I still think if McDermott had to pick today, he would go with Kyle Allen as the backup, but with struggles in the preseason and scrimmage, I’m not sure that doesn’t flip as we get closer to the regular season.
Wide Receiver Depth
The Bills have a good problem at the bottom of their roster… there is a wealth of depth at the wide receiver position. Could we see a trade to grab a day-three pick instead of moving on from a guy for free? Of course! Until then, we have to try and figure out who Beane and McDermott will want to keep. As we start today, we know that Diggs and Gabe Davis are on the roster. It feels safe to say that Deonte Harty, Trent Sherfield, and Khalil Shakir are also making the 53-man. Beane just used a fifth-round pick on Justin Shorter, so I don’t think they’d want to move off him already. That leaves a herd of dudes battling for one of two roster spots. In the win versus the Colts, seven WRs had at least two receptions, and none of their names were Diggs, Davis, Harty, or Sherfield. I hate to say some million-dollar salaries are on the line in a pair of preseason games, but some million-dollar salaries are on the line in a pair of preseason games.
Defensive End Rotation
Just like wide receiver, the Bills have some nice options at the end of the defensive end rotation. They played eight DEs against the Colts, and we know none of them were Von Miller. Again, barring trades, it feels like Greg Rousseau, Leonard Floyd, and AJ Epenesa are stone-cold, lead pipe locks for the 53-man roster. That leaves Shaq Lawson, Boogie Basham, Kingsley Jonathan, Shane Ray, Kameron Cline, and Kendal Vickers all fighting for two spots with the assumption Buffalo only rosters five ends.
Will Everyone Play Again?
When and how much guys play can be a solid indicator of where they are on the depth chart heading into cuts from 90 down to 53. If players running with the ones (see Dane Jackson) are in a battle and only see a few snaps before they give way to the reserves, it’s a pretty good sign they are safe. If there are dudes we thought were safe and all of a sudden are playing with the twos/threes and get close to 50% of snaps, we know that means Beane and McDermott wanted a closer look (or we speculate they are showcasing them for a trade). In Week 1, Buffalo played 78 men and 47 of them received at least 25% of snaps. I’m interested to see how that fluctuates in Week 2.