By Tim Graham
MINNEAPOLIS -- We're wading a little deeper into the preseason waters.
Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey said he'll give his starters about 20 snaps and Vince Young will quarterback the second unit tonight, when the Bills play the Minnesota Vikings here in the Metrodome.
A few things to be mindful of:
Buffalo's run defense will face a physical Minnesota run offense. A majority of the attention given to the Bills' refurbished defensive line has been how fiercely it can chase down quarterbacks. But the Bills must emphasize stronger play against the run, a gigantic weakness in recent years. The Vikings present a challenge even without hobbled superstar Adrian Peterson. In the four games Peterson missed last year, the Vikings rushed for 541 yards and averaged 4.7 yards a carry.
How will the Bills' offensive line respond to last week's debacle? Granted, three-fifths of the Bills' O-line played out of position because center Eric Wood and right tackle Erik Pears were held out of Thursday's 7-6 loss to the Washington Redskins. But the Bills still needed better play up front on all the units. The biggest indignity was having first-and-goal from the 3 and failing to score on six tries in the second quarter. Buffalo O-linemen committed seven penalties; five were accepted. One particular matchup to watch is rookie left tackle Cordy Glenn against sackmaster Jared Allen.
Running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller will get more touches. The Bills might have a fearsome backfield, but we have little idea how Gailey plans to use Jackson and Spiller this season. Neither ran the ball in 16 first-team snaps against Washington. They were targeted a combined three times, with Spiller recording one reception for 2 yards. You can bet the house payment we'll see more of them tonight.
Young has a glorious chance to separate himself in the backup quarterback competition. Gailey will let Young run the second unit tonight. Young clearly was the better quarterback while working with the third-and fourth-stringers last week. He completed only five of his 12 passes, but he didn't throw an interception and ran well, including a 21-yard scramble on a third-and-20 play. Young also had a 9-yard run (and an 11-yarder that was erased by a penalty). Tyler Thigpen was ragged. He was the quarterback on that unsuccessful first-and-goal sequence mentioned above and threw a bad interception.
Flipping field position looks like an emerging strong suit for Buffalo. The coaching staff has expressed a desire to improve this area by drafting kickoff specialist John Potter and bringing in powerful punter Shawn Powell for competition. Gailey said he still must warm up to the idea of using a precious roster spot on a kickoff specialist, but Potter did his part last week with three touchbacks on three kicks. Incumbent punter Brian Moorman was even more impressive. He averaged 43.2 yards on five punts. They landed at the Redskins' 12-, 4-, 13-, 24- and 1-yard lines.
The Bills need to be sharper and disciplined. The preseason opener was unacceptable on so many levels: 14 penalties (three more declined) for 134 yards, a missed 22-yard field goal, red-zone shame, 182 offensive yards that weren't Young scrambles. As Gailey said afterward, "It looked ugly. It felt ugly. It was ugly." Tonight doesn't need to be a work of art, but something more refined than preschool finger painting would be an improvement.