Coaches always say they want to win in the preseason, but they also want to gauge where certain parts of their team's game stands. Bills head coach Chan Gailey had to be very pleased with what his pass rush offered his defense Saturday night in a 10-3 loss to the Bears at Soldier Field.
"I felt like our first defense played strong," said Gailey. "We let a draw and a quarterback scramble get out and that was about it. Merriman was pretty impressive coming back in his debut. He only played nine snaps. We're going to take it slow. I've always said with him it's September 11th not now. So we'll work him in a little bit more next week and let him keep getting better. He hasn't played in a couple of years so we need to be smart in how we handle him, but he was very impressive rushing the passer."
Merriman had two of Buffalo's four first-half sacks, all of which came against Chicago's starting offensive line, which played the first two quarters of the game. Merriman's came on back-to-back plays to thwart a prime scoring opportunity for the Bears after a 70-yard kick return set Chicago up 1st-and-10 at the Buffalo 29-yard line.
"It felt good," said Merriman. "I haven't been on the field in a long time, so getting out there on the field was a good start for me. I have a long way to go."
After Chester Taylor was dropped for a loss of one by Jairus Byrd, Merriman took over. On 2nd-and-11 he overpowered Bears left tackle J'Marcus Webb and dropped backup quarterback Caleb Hanie for a two-yard loss. On the very next play Hanie met Merriman again as he buried him on his back for a five-yard loss on sack number two.
"I just went out there and mixed it up a little bit," he said. "I came off the ball fast and saw an opening to get to the quarterback. That's why I am here and that's what I do."
The second sack took the Bears out of field goal range forcing them to punt.
On the Bears' opening drive Merriman drew a holding penalty on a play where Marcell Dareus got great penetration and dropped Jay Cutler for a six-yard loss on a 3rd-and-6 that also forced Chicago to punt.
"We looked good and played well together," said Dareus. "We stayed tight for the most part. I think we played well as a whole. We kept pressure on the quarterback. He didn't get a chance to set his feet and his passes were off. That's the type of play we want to see consistently. We want to them off their rhythm."
While Merriman was happy he was able to produce in his Bills debut he's trying to keep his success in perspective.
"It's preseason," he said. "Guys on both teams are still trying to get their feet under them. This is just one small step going in the right direction and that's all I can ask for right now."
Later in the half Spencer Johnson, who is serving in a subpackage rush role also sacked Hanie to give Buffalo a total of four in the first half.
Come the second half the Bills second teamers also factored into the sack total. Danny Batten swooped in for a sack on the fourth play of the second half on a 2nd-and-5 play dropping Bears third-stringer Nathan Enderle for an 11-yard loss. He later had a sack right at the line of scrimmage as he prevented Enderle from escaping with good Buffalo's secondary providing good coverage downfield.
Alex Carrington, serving in a nickel rush role also had a sack on a 3rd-and-20 play dropping Enderle for a seven-yard loss to end a Bears drive at the Bills 43 in the third quarter.
The Bills had nine sacks in all. Rookie LB Brad Jefferson and DL Kellen Heard had the last two of the game, with Heard's sack on 3rd-and-goal forcing the Bears to attempt a field goal which was missed wide right.
Offense efficientBuffalo's starting offense got a pair of possessions before their night was over. It was clear early that the quick passing game would be the approach.
"We wanted to get the ball out of my hands and into our playmakers' hands and see what they can do with the ball," said Ryan Fitzpatrick.
On their opening possession Fitzpatrick converted a first down on a quick slant to Stevie Johnson for an eight-yard gain on a 3rd-and-5 play at their own 32-yard line.
On their second drive the offense was given a good drive start at their own 40. Fred Jackson opened things up with an 11-yard run into Chicago territory. Carries by Jackson and Spiller on the next two plays netted eight yards, at which point Brad Smith came in for 3rd-and-2 and converted the first down on a two-yard Wildcat carry.
"Offensively I thought Fitz was sharp," said Gailey. "He was 7-for-9 and had a drop so he did some good things out there. And we wanted to work on the Wildcat tonight. That was one of the things going in. We wanted to see that from both guys. We wanted to see that from Brad and Josh so we were able to get that on film and see what it's going to add for us."
Spiller converted a 2nd-and-5 at the Bears 41 with a 10-yard reception as he was lined up in the slot. After an offensive pass interference call backed them up to the Bears' 45, Scott Chandler made a pair of back-to-back receptions of nine and four yards to get Buffalo in a 3rd-and-7 situation. Spiller followed with a six-yard reception, leaving Rian Lindell a 44-yard field goal to give Buffalo an early 3-0 lead.
"We wanted C.J. to get some touches, but unfortunately the footing wasn't great out there," said Fitzpatrick. "So he slipped a few times, but he did a good job overall. We wanted to get Scott involved early too. He did a good job for us. We're expecting big things from him as well."
Fitzpatrick finished the game 7-9 passing for 44 yards with three of those completions going to Stevie Johnson, whose three catches went for 15 yards.
The first team offense was by no means explosive, but they moved the ball and overcame a penalty to get points on their second and final drive of the game.
Other notablesNaaman Roosevelt was a factor in the pass game with the second unit with a three receptions for 26 yards.
Johnny White was busy with nine carries, but didn't find many holes behind the second offensive line gaining 13 yards.
Rookie quarterback Josh Nesbitt did his best Brad Smith rushing for 30 yards on three quarterback keepers. Nesbitt was one of the most prolific rushing quarterbacks in ACC history at Georgia Tech.
Aaron Williams had an interception to thwart a scoring threat late in the third quarter.
DL Lionel Dotson was the leading tackler with four in the game.
Next camp practiceThe Bills have Sunday off, but return to St. John Fisher for Monday night practice.