The Buffalo Bills kick off their preseason action on Saturday night against the Indianapolis Colts, and while many of the starters won’t be playing, there’s still a lot to watch for when it comes to seeing how this potential Super Bowl contender will shape its roster.
How to Watch:
- Date: Saturday, Aug. 13
- Time: 4:00 p.m. ET
- Location: Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, NY
- TV: NFL Network
We know that Josh Allen won’t play a single snap for the Bills on Saturday. It would actually be surprising to see many Bills starters get much playing time against the Colts. Much of what we see on the field will be relatively meaningless when it comes to its impact on the regular season; however, there are still things you can learn about the Bills and their Super Bowl chances if you know what to look for.
Below is our guide to the five keys to watch for on Saturday if you’re looking to sort the news from the noise.
What does Ken Dorsey’s Offense Look Like?
One key will be seeing how the offense looks under new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey. Since Dorsey served as the quarterbacks’ coach under former coordinator Brian Daboll, there aren’t expected to be many changes, but this will be the first time we see Dorsey’s offense in action against another team.
Since Allen and many of the Buffalo Bills’ offensive starters won’t see the field, we can’t judge Dorsey’s offense just by yardage gained or points scored, etc. The primary focus should be on what the offense looks like from a movement standpoint.
The Buffalo Bills’ offense under Brian Daboll used a lot of pre-snap motion to confuse defenses and also to determine the exact type of coverage they were seeing. The way a defense reacted to the motion allowed Josh Allen to determine if he wanted to keep the play or move to audible. It worked for them in the past, so will Dorsey maintain the same level of motion? Will he mix in gadget plays in the same way Daboll did? Those big picture ideas will be a key to watch.
Can Any Young Cornerback Emerge as a Starter?
Earlier in the week, we covered the potential issue the Bills are facing at cornerback if All-Pro Tre’Davious White takes a few weeks to get back on the field following last year’s ACL tear. Saturday night will be the first time we see rookies Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford in game action, which means it will be the first time either young player can prove themselves to Bills fans.
Just like with the Buffalo Bills, the Colts are unlikely to use key starters like Michael Pittman Jr for many snaps, so Elam and Benford aren’t going to go up against the best wide receivers on the Colts’ roster. That means the team will be looking to ensure that the rookies can hang in coverage and read plays enough to know when to come up in run coverage.
Neither player is going to outright win a starting job opposite Dane Jackson with their effort on Saturday, but it could be a good start.
Can Isaiah Hodgins Force His Way Onto the Roster?
The Buffalo Bills seem like a lock to keep at least six wide receivers without even having to see them play in the preseason. Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Jamison Crowder, and rookie Khalil Shakir are all likely going to see meaningful regular-season snaps this year. Jake Kumerow also seems locked into a roster spot given his special teams importance to the team.
With Marquez Stevenson likely needing to be put on the IR, the team is likely now down to veteran Tavon Austin or third-year receiver Isaiah Hodgins. Hodgins was an intriguing talent drafted out of Oregon State in the 6th round of the 2020 draft. He wound up missing the entire 2020 season with a shoulder injury and was unable to crack the regular receiving rotation last year.
In 2021, Hodgins showed flashes in training camp but wasn’t able to deliver when game action began. With him being just 23 years old, the Bills would undoubtedly like him to clearly beat out Austin and force his way onto the roster as the seventh receiver, but a team with Super Bowl aspirations isn’t going to force a player on the roster if they don’t belong. Hodgins has had a solid training camp, but he needs to show well against the Colts to prove to the Buffalo Bills that they not only need to keep seven receivers but that one of them needs to be him.
Is This the End of Cody Ford?
The former second-round pick has been a favorite punching bag for many members of Bills Mafia. When the Bills were able to snag him in the 2nd round of the 2019 NFL Draft, many analysts viewed it as a steal. However, despite those high expectations, Ford proved to be a bit too slow-footed to stick at right tackle in the NFL.
That was fine, many people viewed his future to be inside at guard anyway. However, Ford has shifted inside to guard over the last few seasons and still failed to show the type of consistency that the Bills are looking for. The team signed Rodger Saffold in the offseason and re-signed Ryan Bates, which means the starting guard positions are taken. That hurts Ford since the Buffalo Bills covet versatility from their backup lineman and Ford has proven he can only play guard.
The Bills could instead choose to keep Bobby Hart, who can also play tackle, or Greg Mancz, who can also play center. If Ford can show the potential he has flashed over the years, the Bills may decide to keep him or may even be able to flip him in a trade for a late-round draft pick given his previous draft capital. However, none of that happens if Ford plays poorly against the Colts.
Which Matt Wins the Punter Battle?
Yes, we’re talking about punters here. Matt Haack was disappointing in his first year as the Bills punter last year, which is why the team went out and drafted the “Punt God” Matt Araiza. Araiza has a huge leg, but he has a lot to learn about hang time and accuracy. He also has no collegiate experience as a holder on placekicks, which is crucial if he were to win the punting job.
The Buffalo Bills certainly want the young rookie to win the job, but, like with Isaiah Hodgins above, a team with Super Bowl aspirations won’t keep a punter on the roster who isn’t ready, regardless of his draft price, given how important field position is in the NFL game.
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