Although this is Buffalo's fourth preseason game it's still their penultimate contest before the regular season. As such the starters on both sides of the ball are expected to play through the first half and into the early stages of the third quarter. Kickoff Saturday is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.
Wanted: Touchdown drive
It's on the mind of every player on the starting offense, a touchdown drive. Buffalo's starting offense has capably moved the ball. Four of their first five possessions at Pittsburgh last week lasted at least nine plays and covered a total of 183 net yards. The problem is the Bills starting unit is 0-for-5 in the red zone this preseason. That's why they're determined to cap at last one drive with a touchdown against Tampa Bay.
"We've been working on it. We know that's a point of emphasis, we weren't ranked high in the red zone last year," said Mike Williams. "We'll see this week, we'll see if all the work has been paying off. There are no excuses, but last week we didn't even have red zone in the game plan, so that made it kind of difficult, but no excuses, we have to score down there and make the catches we're supposed to. We'll see this week."
"It's very important," said EJ Manuel. "That's what is going to help us win. The more we find the end zone the more we'll win games. I definitely feel it's going to come on Saturday. I think we will get that touchdown before I'm out."
Prep for Tampa
This is the one preseason game that the Bills, and most NFL clubs, form a shell of a game plan. All week the first team offense, first team defense and special teams units have been working against scout team looks of Tampa Bay's schemes in preparation for Saturday's game.
"We're putting a little emphasis on using the (scout team play) cards," said head coach Doug Marrone. "We're still not game planning as much as you would for a normal game, but what we're trying to get the players used to is what the normal week during the season is like."
EJ Manuel was pleased with how the offense performed against the looks of the Tampa Bay defense in practice this week.
"It went great going against a 'scout team,'" said Manuel. "We did a great job. I don't think we had the ball on the ground at all throughout the team period and the 7-on-7's. We had all completions so I'm very excited about that and obviously want to keep that going."
Buffalo's defensive backfield will get good prep for their season opener. Going against the Buccaneers' receiving corps, which features tall wideouts in Vincent Jackson and top draft choice Mike Evans, it will serve as the perfect simulation for their Week 1 matchup with Chicago's tall receivers (Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery).
"It's perfect. We have an opportunity to play against some big receivers," said Graham. "We know that going into the first week of the season it's going to be very similar with the same type of receivers and things like that. We're looking forward to having an opportunity to go out there and play against these guys and see how we match up with these guys and see what we can do."
Kyle, Leodis, Sammy all question marks
Three Bills starters were still not cleared to practice fully on Thursday, just two days before the team's preseason game against Tampa Bay. Kyle Williams (leg) and Leodis McKelvin (groin) did not practice at all Thursday and Sammy Watkins (ribs) was limited for a third straight day. It leaves all three as question marks for Saturday's game.
Williams missed his first practice session of camp on Thursday. McKelvin injured his groin in practice Tuesday. Meanwhile Watkins is still recovering from the shot he took in his ribs from Ryan Shazier's knee at the end of a play that resulted in an incompletion. Head coach Doug Marrone only had one comment for Watkins' and McKelvin's status for Saturday.
"They are not cleared to play," said Marrone. "I can't tell you anything more than that."
Marrone didn't rule the injured players out completely as far as Saturday is concerned, but confirmed they would not have played if the game were Thursday.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a coaching change in the offseason bringing in veteran coach Lovie Smith. The team was also active in free agency with big money signings like OT Anthony Collins, DE Michael Johnson and CB Alterraun Verner. They also signed free agent QB Josh McCown away from Chicago, and he's currently serving as the starter ahead of Mike Glennon.
Smith's Buccaneers squad is 0-2 in the preseason with losses to Jacksonville (16-10) and Miami (20-14). Tampa Bay's head coach confirmed they too are treating their game against the Bills as a regular season contest knowing it will be the final dress rehearsal for the majority of their starters as well.
"Game plan is in. Guys are excited about playing for an extended period of time," said Smith. "Not necessarily final opportunity, but for some of the players, it could be. Of course, cuts coming up next week and that's important."
Not expected to play for the Bucs on Saturday include CB Mike Jenkins, DE Da'Quan Bowers, DE Will Gholston, RB Charles Sims, RB Mike James.
Browse the top 20 photos from the Bills-Buccaneers game in Tampa on Dec. 8, 2013. (Craig Melvin photos)