The final preseason game is typically the last opportunity for bubble players to make a case that they deserve a spot on the 53-man roster. A good number of Buffalo's starters however, are expected to take the field Thursday night against the Detroit Lions. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Tightening things up
The starters who are likely to see the most action will be on the offensive side of the ball. Head coach Doug Marrone wants to see better execution from his first unit on offense leading up to the season opener at Chicago.
"I'm looking for them to play some," said Marrone. "I'm looking to play those guys. How much will depend upon what I want to see and what I want to accomplish. On offense I want to play guys who haven't played together for a while."
That could include the right side of Buffalo's offensive line to give new right guard Erik Pears and right tackle Seantrel Henderson more live snaps together. Sammy Watkins could also be a part of that mix having missed almost all of the last two preseason games with bruised ribs.
"Whatever starters, whoever he picks whether it's me, EJ it doesn't matter I'm going to perform," said Watkins of coach Marrone's playing time decisions. "Whether I'm in there with the second string quarterback, third string I've still got to go out there and do my job and make as many plays that are presented to me. I'm looking forward to playing. If I don't play that's okay, but it's up to the coach."
Time for Manuel?
EJ Manuel's first half performance against Tampa Bay wasn't especially effective (9-18, 67 yards, 1 Int), but in the third quarter he was 10-10 passing for 131 yards and a touchdown on a pair of scoring drives. After reviewing the Buccaneers game film he did admit that he caught himself aiming passes instead of just making the read and throwing it.
"I feel like I pressed after we had those first two series, trying to make plays. You can't do that," he said. "As a quarterback, you truly have to let that fall off your shoulder and just keep playing. When I did go back and watch the film, statistically I had a pretty good game, but nonetheless, the way it went, the drives early in the first half and right before halftime were very rough. The biggest thing I took from it is that you can't let three series, however many series, that aren't going well or going your way, affect your game. You can't try to make plays that aren't there. You still have to go and play the game."
Manuel is expecting to see some playing time at the outset of the game. He's just not sure how long he'll be out there.
"Being that it's the last preseason game, I wouldn't expect to play a lot. I really want to start focusing on Chicago, being that that's our first regular season game. That's the game we really need to come out where we don't need to have any hiccups or anything like that."
Defending third and long
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has done a heck of a job improving Buffalo's run defense. The Bills stand third in the league in run defense allowing just 81 yards on the ground per game. Only Tampa Bay (75.3) and Denver (80.7) have allowed fewer rushing yards per game, and Buffalo has played an extra game than 30 of the other NFL clubs. That's why their 2.75 yards per carry average allowed is best in the NFL.
Where the Bills are looking to improve defensively is with their third down defense. Buffalo stands just 24th in the league in third down conversion percentage allowed at 46.4 percent.
"We worked on it (this week), some of the third and longer distances, making sure of some of our underneath coverages we're not chasing routes, that we can keep everything in front of us and rally up through (the tackle)," said Marrone. "We're much further ahead on that side of the ball, and we have a lot of good players on that side of the ball."
Still, third down will be a point of emphasis Thursday night.
"We definitely made corrections for third downs and a different way that we can call calls or just tackling," said Nickell Robey. "Whatever that third down situation is we've got to make sure we're tackling and we've got to make sure we have enough football ability to be smart and make good decisions back there on the back end."
Nip and tuck at receiver
Among the most competitive positions on the team, the wide receiver battle for the last couple of roster spots will be fierce. With no way of knowing whether the coaching staff will keep five, six or possibly even seven receivers, players like Marcus Easley, Marquise Goodwin and T.J. Graham will not be resting on their laurels Thursday night.
"It's tight. It's tight," said Marrone of the competition at wide receiver. "Doug (Whaley) and I have had conversations that it becomes how many do we want to keep, and that's a big thing. Who deserves to make it? How many? Those are the conversations we've had."
Last year the coaching staff kept six wide receivers on their 53-man roster.
The Lions come into the preseason finale with a 2-1 record thanks to one-point victories over both Cleveland (13-12) and Jacksonville (13-12). Their only defeat was a one-point loss to Oakland (27-26).
Detroit has a new head coach in Jim Caldwell and their big splash in free agency came with the signing of WR Golden Tate. Tate is the team's second-leading receiver in the preseason with seven catches for 91 yards and a touchdown.
Starters for the Lions are expected to get a short stint in the game on Thursday night according to head coach Jim Caldwell.
"We haven't made a declaration in terms of who's playing," Caldwell told Detroit reporters Tuesday. "In this case, it's not going to be across the board with any particular position or individual. It'll be depending upon who we want to see and need to see and who we don't need to see at this particular time if that indeed happens. The great majority of the guys will probably get some playing time."
The Lions added a couple of new players earlier in the week signing TE Michael Egnew and FB Emil Igwenagu. They're expected to be without LB Kyle Van Noy (abdominal) Thursday. S Don Carey and DE Jason Jones are considered question marks for the game.