The Bills came into this contest with a preseason game already under their belts, but both teams have plenty to look at as the preseason gets into full swing. The Panthers had to rebuild their offensive line and receiving corps in the offseason while the Bills welcome a new defensive coordinator and hope to see improvement from their young quarterback now that he’s got a year of NFL experience.
This game featured some unexpected performances and some that were not so surprising, and we got the first look at a number of key rookies that are in each team’s plans.
Buffalo – Three Performances of Note
Watkins Gets on the Sheet
After going catch-less on two targets in the Hall of Fame game last week, Buffalo’s top pick, Sammy Watkins, hauled in three of the four passes he saw in his second outing. Flashing soft hands and crisp work along the shorter branches of the route tree, what he didn’t get to show off yet is the after-the-catch work that is such a huge part of his game. All three of his grabs – on a slant, a short out, and a short post – were capped by immediate tackles and the fourth play, a WR screen early in the second quarter, was sniffed out and broken up by Josh Norman.
Marcell Dareus was his usual destructive self during the short set of snaps he played – on just six run plays he managed a team-high +2.8 run defense grade. Reminding everyone of his quickness, Dareus swam past Panthers center Ryan Kalil to stuff a Mike Tolbert run at the 9:30 mark of the first quarter before an almost comical thrashing of Nate Chandler a few minutes later. On that second play (1Q 3:55), Dareus sent Chandler – lined up at right tackle on the play – sailing into the Carolina backfield and continued on his way toward taking down Kenjon Barner for a TFL.
Somehow managing to find job after job despite a track record that suggests he may be best suited for other pursuits, guard Chris Williams did himself no favors if trying to impress his newest employers. Signed to a four-year deal and presumably penciled in as the starter, Williams posted his second red grade in as many preseason games (-2.6); something he did seven times as a starter for St. Louis last year and many times in the seasons before. While his grade was weighed down by his play as a pass blocker this week, it was his run-blocking work that did him in last time out. Though the job may be his to lose, it’s hard to imagine his hold on it being a tight one.
Carolina – Three Performances of Note
Dusting Him Off
Derek Anderson has seen 38 snaps in three seasons as a Panther QB and odds are he’ll not see many this season, either. He’s been shelved for so long since his last active duty with Arizona in 2010 – a season painted red on his PFF grades page – that it’s understandable to forget what he might look like at his best. He took the first 16 snaps with Carolina’s first unit in Cam Newton’s absence on Friday night and looked well in command of the action. Going 4-of-5 for 57 yards, a touchdown (a great catch by rookie Kelvin Benjamin) and a +1.7 passing grade when not pressured (and a perfect passer rating), Anderson showed that he could move the offense. We all know better than to frame anyone on such a small sample, but it’s good to see some positives, even if just in an exhibition.
There are times in these early preseason games where players get extended looks despite clearly falling short of the task at hand. It’s all about evaluation and “seeing what you’ve got” in the youngsters at that end of the roster, but every now and then there’s a performance that’s particularly tough to watch. Carolina’s rookie free agent offensive tackle, David Foucault, who was also the fifth overall pick in the CFL draft this year, had one of those games. Giving up a total of eight hits and hurries and earning a -5.8 pass-blocking grade, he was beaten inside and out by a pass rush that held little concern for the run late in the game. To Foucault’s credit, though, he came away with a +1.1 grade as a run blocker.
Factoring In for the future
Logging the highest snap total of the Panthers’ defensive ends, second-rounder Kony Ealy notched a +2.2 run defense grade in his first night wearing Carolina Blue. Seeing time across all four quarter, Ealy matched up against a variety of Bills blockers, getting the better of fellow rookies Cyrus Kouandjio and Cyril Richardson along the way. With Greg Hardy playing on the franchise tag, thoughts rightfully turn to the future of the position for the Panthers there’s no doubt the team hopes Ealy proves himself worthy of a spot in the rotation sooner than later. If his initial performance is an indication, carving out a role as an early-down option shouldn’t be too much to ask.
– With as much change as the Carolina secondary saw in 2013, it’ll be interesting to see if it settles early this season. The expected first trio of cornerbacks, Antoine Cason, Melvin White and Charles Godfrey allowed completions on all five passes they saw this week while Josh Norman and Josh Thomas gave up five of nine.
– Buffalo’s defensive end, Ikponmwosa Igbinosum, was the primary benefactor of Foucault’s aforementioned woes, turning those repeated encounters into six total pressures.
– Tight end Brandon Williams led the Panthers with 58 offensive snaps and his +2.9 run-blocking grade contributed to an impressive +4.1 overall.
PFF Game Ball
His big impact in a short window of play earned Marcell Dareus the game ball here.
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