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Bills-Lions game preview

Posted Aug 31, 2011

Thursday will mark the 10th straight year that the Bills have met up with the Detroit Lions in the preseason. It’s the 31st time that the two clubs have squared off prior to the regular season. Kickoff is set for 6:30 pm.

Playing time
Much like the first preseason game, the starters on offense and defense will not see much action with a couple of series at most for either side of the ball. With the season opener 10 days away Chan Gailey and his coaching staff do not want to risk injury.

“We’ll play them somewhere in that six to 10 play range,” said Gailey. “You don’t want them to go from last Saturday to two weeks plus a day without playing, so you let them play enough to have the feel of the game so to speak.”

“I just want to maintain the rhythm and for everybody to stay healthy I think is the biggest thing,” said Ryan Fitzpatrick. “We have bigger goals in mind than this game. For us starters it is about getting out there, getting a few snaps in for that game-like atmosphere and getting everybody out of the game healthy.”

Buffalo is expected to have their entire starting defense on the field for the first time since the preseason opener Thursday night.

Merriman, Shep in the lineup
Shawne Merriman will see action Thursday night, marking the first time he’s been on the game field since the preseason opener on Aug. 13th. Merriman has been dealing with a sore groin, but is ready for the final tune-up before the season opener according to Gailey.

“He’s going to play,” said Gailey. “He needs to play. He hasn’t played in a couple of years. He wants to play. He seems to be physically fit, if he wasn’t we wouldn’t put him out there. We’re going to let him go try a few plays.”

Meanwhile third-round pick Kelvin Sheppard will see his first ever NFL preseason action Thursday night after missing the first three preseason games with a hamstring injury.

“I’m approaching it like I do every game,” said Sheppard. “I’m a rookie so I don’t know anything about preseason. I just know there’s another team so there’s a game so I’m going to approach as if it’s Week 1 in Kansas City.”

Sheppard is expected to play extensively to give the coaching staff a long look at what he is capable of knowing their exposure to him on the field has been very limited.

Draft classmate Johnny White is also going to play in this game after missing the Jacksonville preseason game with a head/neck injury suffered in the Denver preseason contest the week prior.

The coaching staff is also going to try to get tight end Shawn Nelson on the field after missing almost all of training camp and the first three preseason games. He returned to practice on Monday.

Huggins out, Jones, Parrish unlikely to play
The Bills will again be shorthanded at receiver for this game. Felton Huggins is out after sustaining a concussion in practice Monday. Donald Jones (concussion) and Roscoe Parrish (hamstring) are also not looking good for Thursday night’s game.

“We probably will not play Roscoe or Donald Jones in this game,” said Gailey.

That news did not come as a surprise to Jones at all.

“I definitely wouldn’t be shocked if they did that, especially talking to the doctors and the trainers,” said Jones. “They’re trying to be as careful as they can be with how bad my concussion was, so I wouldn’t be shocked if they said, ‘You’re going to sit this one out too.’”

Naaman Roosevelt is still another receiver not expected to play after suffering an ankle injury 10 days ago against Denver in Week 2 of the preseason. That will leave Buffalo with just six healthy receivers for the game and QB/WR Brad Smith.

Smith is coming off a foot injury and will not line up at quarterback at all Thursday, but he may get some snaps at receiver.

Last chance
Thursday night will also be the last chance for some rookies and other reserve players to make that last effort to earn a spot on the team’s 53-man roster. Some have made the most of their opportunities thus far like undrafted rookie Robert Eddins, an outside linebacker.

“Every game is an evaluation game so I’m just taking every game in stride,” he said. “This game is just like every other game, just trying to give my best effort and show the coaches what I can do. My main focus has been trying to get better and trying to do the best I can do every game.”

To this point the coaching staff has been impressed with what Eddins has shown on the practice field and in the preseason games.

“(He’s been) completely surprising,” said Gailey. “I had no idea really who he was. The scouting staff said, ‘Hey we need to look at this guy, he’s got something to him.’ And they were right. The guy has really done a great job.”

The opponent
The Lions are coming off an impressive 34-10 victory over the New England Patriots in their last preseason outing as they improved to 3-0 in the preseason. Matthew Stafford went 12-14 passing for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Nate Burleson and Tony Scheffler, as he compiled a perfect 158.3 passer rating, just as Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick did last weekend.

Stafford has been extremely sharp this preseason with a 154 passer rating. He’s completed better than 77 percent of his passes (24-31) with five touchdowns and no interceptions.

Detroit’s talented defensive line logged a pair of sacks on Tom Brady and held the Patriots to just a 31% third down conversion rate (5-16).

The Lions are expected to have top tailback Jahvid Best back from a concussion in the preseason finale after he was medically cleared on Aug. 23rd. 

The last time
 Buffalo dropped a 28-23 decision to the Lions in Detroit in the 2010 preseason finale. The Bills led 16-0 in the second quarter getting three field goals from Rian Lindell and a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown from Drayton Florence.

The Lions however, rattled off 28 unanswered points thanks in large part to a pair of touchdown passes by backup quarterback Drew Stanton and a 102-yard interception return for a touchdown by Paul Pratt with six minutes remaining.

Buffalo got a late touchdown from Chad Simpson from a yard out, but it wasn’t enough.