If the critics had been invited to Friday night’s “dress rehearsal” at Detroit’s Ford Field, much of the performance by the Bills’ first teamers against the Lions would have been panned.
Oh, Buffalo actually improved to 3-0 this preseason courtesy of a 24-20 victory, but the effort raised more questions than it answered.
And we’ll get to that in a minute.
First, there are two ongoing personnel issues.
LET’S START with center Mitch Morse.
The former Chief signed to a 4-year, $44 million contract, a quarter of it a guaranteed signing bonus, will go the entire exhibition campaign without having appeared in a game.
A concussion suffered before the preseason opener put him in the protocol and even if doctors release him, he won’t play in Thursday’s finale against Minnesota at New Era Field as it’s the rare starter who appears in the fourth exhibition.
In any case, it’s time to be concerned.
Morse has now suffered four concussions in as many seasons, plus the current training period.
Is he wondering about his health enough that one more might cause him to leave the game?
And, if it did, imagine how much the Bills would be paying two centers — Morse and Eric Wood — NOT TO PLAY due to injury.
Coach Sean McDermott has tried to put a happy face on Morse’s recovery but it’s hard to believe that he and general manager Brandon Beane aren’t particularly concerned.
THE SECOND personnel issue is one I’ve already raised twice, much to the annoyance of Ed Oliver fans.
But, for the second time in three games, he was held off the score sheet. In his three starts with Buffalo’s first teamers, the ninth overall draft pick has no tackles, no sacks, no quarterback pressures and one deflected pass.
Not what you’d expect from a high first-round selection. He seems easily handled in one-on-one blocking and can’t seem to disengage blocks. Rarely has he been around the play or creating any havoc.
Is it too early to wonder if the Bills made a mistake with their top draft choice last spring … that this isn’t the player he was touted to be?
OTHER observations from Friday’s game:
— After a so-so performance in the opener against Indianapolis and an improved effort versus Carolina last week, second-year quarterback Josh Allen regressed facing the Lions.
He was an anemic 3-of-6 passing for 49 yards with a 77.8 passer rating over the entire first half against Detroit’s first stringers.
And it could have been worse.
A terrible roughing-the-passer call bailed him out of an ugly interception when he rolled right under pressure, and threw across his body into a gaggle of Lions’ defenders. The resultant embarrassing pick was wiped out by the penalty. Clearly Allen forgot the ancient adage “NEVER throw late over the middle.”
Later he threw squarely into double coverage and was lucky the area was so congested, that the ball wasn’t intercepted.
Both were lessons he should have learned last season.
— Whenever the so-called “experts” assess which wide receivers Buffalo will keep, former CFL star Duke Williams is deemed a longshot for making the 53-man roster. But, last night, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Auburn standout caught another second-half touchdown pass from backup QB Matt Barkley. In back-to-back games Williams has caught 9- and 16-yard passes for scores.
The Bills’ main receiving need is a tall, strong wideout who can be a weapon in the red zone. Williams has made a good case.
— Speaking of Barkley, there’s no way the Bills see quarterback as anything but Allen’s job. But, the way the former Eagle, Cardinal, Bear, 49er and Bengal has performed, including last season’s impressive regular-season victory over the Jets at the Meadowlands, you get the idea that if Buffalo has to play him, it’s much better off than a lot of NFL teams forced to play their No. 2.
— There were several injury scares for Buffalo and several — starting cornerbacks Tre-Davious (knee) and Levi Wallace (wind knocked out) and running back Frank Gore (thigh) — emerged without serious issue. But Quinton Spain, the free agent guard, who started on the left side, left with an ankle injury.
That means, with both Morse’s and Spain’s returns uncertain, the Bills could be plugging subs in at center and left guard come the season opener against the Jets at the Meadowlands.
— Stop me if you’ve seen me write this before, but Buffalo is way too penalty prone.
After totaling 18 flags for 167 yards the first two games, against Detroit, the Bills logged a dozen penalties for 106 yards (6 for 34 yards by the starters in the first half).
That’s 30 penalties for 273 yards in three games … totally unacceptable.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)