Preseason Game 4 is here, which means it’s time for the annual game against the Buffalo Bills. There is an old history between the Lions and Bills, going back to the years when Ralph Wilson was a minority owner in the Detroit Lions before he split for the upstart American Football League. The question becomes how that translates into just a preseason game, but this is the NFL and it’s always wise. We talked with Jeff Hunter from Buffalo Rumblings to help us break through what’s going on with the Bills so far in 2017.
1. I don't think I've seen anything quite like what happened to the Bills during the preseason. They've traded Sammy Watkins and Reggie Ragland and Anquan Boldin just quit after a week and change in camp. What's the mood among the Bills Mafia at all these developments? Is there anger being directed in regards to these trades of young players?
I'll start with the second part first. The current regime of head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane (hereforth referred to as "McBeane") are clearly trying to put their mark on the team moving forward. The Boldin thing just came out of nowhere as far as the fan base was concerned (he's referenced activism in his decision), but the Watkins/Ronald Darby trades were pretty shocking. To that end, there are a couple different camps right now: some fans are convinced that the Bills are tanking and are just counting down the days to the 2018 NFL Draft, a draft in which the Bills now have two picks in each of the first three rounds. Some fans still think this team can be competitive, given the fact that they acquired a couple good players in wideout Jordan Matthews and cornerback E.J. Gaines as well as the presence of LeSean McCoy and an encouraging preseason from the defense. The former group is bracing for a rough year, and the latter group will probably get there by the end of the season.
2. TJ Yates and Tyrod Taylor are in concussion protocol. What's the plan in the interim for the Bills?
Rookie fifth-rounder Nathan Peterman played the bulk of the game against the Ravens, and he'll presumably play most of the game against the Lions as well. They just signed practice squad journeyman Keith Wenning to back Peterman up for that game, which is probably the only time he'll be suiting up for the team. Where they go from there depends on the progression of Taylor and Yates. Peterman is an intriguing prospect, but he's not ready to be a starter for a competitive team right now. The Bills open the year against the Jets, so they should have an extra week to sort things out regardless.
3. What's life like after the Ryan brothers? What can we expect to see that will be different on offense or defense vs. previous years?
McBeane is a complete 180 from the Ryan/Whaley regime. McDermott touts his "process" while Beane takes offense to any suggestion that the Bills are playing for the future rather than the present. They're both much quieter than Ryan ever was. As far as the product on the field, the offense (under former Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison) will at least try to pass a lot more than the offenses of Greg Roman and Anthony Lynn over the last couple years, but they'll still lean heavily on McCoy and the run game more than most teams. The defense, with McDermott and former Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier in charge, is moving from a base 3-4 to a base 4-3 (hence the trade of Ragland, who isn't really suited for the 4-3 as a middle linebacker) and will move towards more zone coverage than they did under Ryan.
4. Who are some of the early cuts from this team that we could potentially see picked up before or during the season? Alternatively, who do you expect to see just on the outside of the roster bubble?
There aren't a ton of talented players that the Bills are letting go at the end of the week. The numbers game is going to play out mostly at wide receiver and defensive end: receiver Brandon Reilly and defensive end Marquavius Lewis are some guys who will probably be priority practice squad signings. There's also plenty of talk about the Bills releasing a slew of their free agent signings from this offseason to acquire extra compensatory picks: releasing guard Vlad Ducasse (who has been awful this year), defensive end Ryan Davis, and wideout Andre Holmes would net the Bills a third third-round pick this year (fullback Patrick DiMarco and kicker Steven Hauschka would also factor in, but those three are the most likely cuts).
5. Are you a fan of the Lions-Bills "We Both Go Up to Canada for Beer at 19" Bowl rivalry?
Oh God, I remember crossing when I was 19. Why did we ever think those bars were worth it? I live in North Carolina now anyway, so... have fun with that. Be sure to pour one out for Jim Schwartz for me.