Actual football is back in Buffalo. Although the first preseason game looked more like a sloppy scrimmage, for a Bills team that went through a lot of turnover in the offseason it was an important step.
There were many questions coming into Thursday’s game against Minnesota, including who would step up at wide receiver, the battle for the backup quarterback position, and how the team would respond with an entirely new coaching staff.
Some of those seem to have been partially answered now that the game has finished. Here are five takeaways from Thursday night at New Era Field:
Yarbrough lives up to the hype- If you’ve paid attention to the Bills at all this summer, then you’ve undoubtedly heard from people at training camp about the strong play of defensive end Eddie Yarbrough. On Thursday he illustrated just why he had been getting so much attention at camp and probably opened some eyes around the league in the process. Despite only getting the start because of a banged-up Shaq Lawson, Yarbrough was arguably Buffalo’s best defensive player on the field against the Vikings. He was constantly in the backfield during his extended playing time in the first half and wreaked havoc against Minnesota’s starting offensive line. He recorded three tackles, two quarterback hits, and a sack to help Buffalo’s defense keep Sam Bradford and company off the scoreboard during the first quarter. The 24-year-old looked impressive shrugging off blockers and now has firmly cemented himself in the conversation for one of the team’s last spots on the 53-man roster.
J-Will stepped up- Until Jonathan Williams was pulled from the game with a hamstring injury, he looked dangerous and explosive as he ran all over Minnesota’s defense. After a largely unproductive rookie season, the Bills need their former fifth-round pick to step up and perform as LeSean McCoy‘s backup. Williams took the first step on Thursday, taking advantage of some outstanding blocking, and ran for 39 yards on just four carries. He showed a strong burst out of the backfield, along with the ability to make some guys miss and break tackles. He will be key — especially if McCoy goes down with an injury — to sustaining the league’s top rushing offense from a year ago.
Peterman wins round 1 of backup QB battle- McDermott gave all three of his quarterbacks some solid action during the game, but all eyes were on the rookie from Pittsburgh. While veteran T.J. Yates looked somewhat awkward in the pocket and seemingly afraid to throw the ball down the field, Peterman stepped up and took control of the game on several of Buffalo’s drives. His first career touchdown pass on a fade in the red zone to Dez Lewis was a work of art, and he made several other quality passes on the drive leading up to that touchdown.
Peterman wasn’t helped by his wide receivers, as reserves such as Taiwan Jones and Rashad Ross had multiple drops. Peterman also showed an ability to escape from the pocket and scramble for first downs, finishing the game with four rushes for 26 yards. It will be interesting to monitor how much playing time Peterman and Yates each get in the coming weeks, and although Yates’s NFL experience is valuable, he has to be feeling some heat from the rookie.
Bills have to work on discipline- Maybe it wasn’t a Rex Ryan problem, after all. Buffalo pledged to work on cleaning up their play on the field in 2017, starting with taking fewer penalties, but it looked like more of the same on Thursday. The totals were 10 penalties for 106 yards. Everything from holding to roughing the passer was called against the Bills, and it wasn’t just an issue for the younger players on the roster. The fair catch interference call in the first quarter went against Taiwan Jones, a seven-year veteran who was brought to Buffalo mainly for his special teams acumen. Of course, it is the first game of the preseason and many kinks still need to be worked out, but with McDermott’s no-nonsense coaching style, this issue shouldn’t become a theme moving forward.
Watkins shines in limited time- It was impossible to miss Sammy Watkins during his quarter of play. He was targeted five times, catching four passes for 39 yards and looking 100 percent. The minor ankle injury that he suffered during practice last week didn’t seem to be hampering him at all, as Watkins worked to get wide open for Taylor several times. Watkins ran several comeback routes that tested his lower body, but he looked like the Watkins from two years ago. McDermott and the training staff are still going to have to monitor him going forward, but it was an encouraging sign for a team that needs some stability at the wide receiver position.