1. Run game a major focus early
The offseason mantra from both GM Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott was they had to run the ball more effectively in 2021. It was clear from the beginning of the game Friday night that the Bills were going to work on that part of their offense. Buffalo's first four plays from scrimmage were run plays, and eight of their first 10 play calls were runs. The Bills gained 36 yards on their first eight carries for a 4.5 yards per carry average.
Devin Singletary was the most effective runner gaining 42 yards on eight carries for a 5.3 yards per carry average. His best run came in the second quarter on a 2nd-and-9 when the line opened up a good hole inside and he picked up 10 yards.
Head coach Sean McDermott was pleased with Singletary's performance after putting in some hard work in the offseason.
"I was impressed by the way he ran," McDermott said. "I thought he was productive. He had some holes at times, credit the offensive line and at times he made some people miss and I think we had 90-something yards rushing at halftime, and I was happy to see that."
"It felt good to get back out there, play against somebody else," said Singletary. "We got started early, got off to a good start. So it felt good. I felt like once we got settled in, was able to start making some things happen."
In addition to his rushing exploits Singletary would finish off the Bills' 83-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown reception as Davis Webb found him wide open off a play-action fake. But Webb felt the guys up front got things rolling.
"I think just setting the tempo with the offensive line and the running backs. We ran the ball pretty good to start the game," said Webb. "I think we were close to six yards a carry and were very efficient in that opening quarter. And then we started to open it up a little bit, some misdirection, some bootlegs, obviously Motor caught that touchdown. I think everybody executed the offense very well."
Although he didn't enjoy as much production Matt Breida ran tough inside and had a quality eight-yard run in the red zone to set up Singletary's touchdown reception.
For a team that threw the ball 61 percent of the time last season and passed more than any other team in the league on first down, the approach was in stark contrast to what the offense leaned on last season.
At halftime the Bills had almost a 2:1 ratio of run to pass plays with 21 runs to 11 passes, though one was a scramble by Davis Webb.
"That's what Daboll wanted to do," said Singletary. "So that's what we did."
2. Pass rush shows flashes
Many Bills fans were eager to see what Buffalo's pass rush had to offer and with veterans Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison getting the night off it was an opportunity for the young edge rushers to make an impact.
Top draft pick Greg Rousseau was the first to make his presence felt as he fired out of his stance on the first third-down play of the game, kept Lions right tackle and top 10 pick, Penei Sewell from getting his hands on him and walked him back. He then shifted his path to shoot his arms at quarterback Jared Goff for the sack.
"I just got off the ball, made sure I worked my hands. I think I did a little stutter bull (rush)," said Rousseau. "I saw Jared Golf and I tried to reach out and get him. I think I got a piece of him. I'm just happy that we got him down. It was really great to be back out there."
Rousseau stiff-armed Goff knocking him to the ground on the play, which forced a punt by Detroit on their first offensive series.
The Bills first-round pick would also get a quarterback hit on a second down play during the Lions third offensive series.
In the second quarter, AJ Epenesa would get in on the act as he came screaming off the edge on a third down, and though Lions QB Tim Boyle would complete a one-yard pass to the left flat just as Epenesa made contact, it led to a 4th-and-1 play that Detroit failed to convert forcing a turnover on downs.
Rousseau was second on the scene on that same play and just missed getting in on the hit.
In the second half, Darryl Johnson got home as he dipped the shoulder around the left edge and reached Boyle from behind as he tried to climb the pocket for a sack. LB Mike Bell also reached the quarterback for a sack on a secondary rush from the edge.
Second-round pick Boogie Basham got to the quarterback to lay a hit on Boyle, but because he landed on the QB with his body weight he was flagged for roughing the passer. He also came close to making a couple of other quarterback pressures late in the game.
Buffalo also had another sack wiped out by an illegal contact penalty away from the quarterback takedown by blitzing safety Jaquan Johnson.
All told they had 3.0 sacks and five quarterback hits in an encouraging performance.
"That's what we want to see," said head coach Sean McDermott. "We wanted to improve our pass rush. We were very intentional about that this offseason and so it's good to see. I'm anxious to look at the film and see who else showed up in terms of rushing the passer."
3. Run defense keeps Lions under wraps
Mario Addison, Jerry Hughes, Star Lotulelei, Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano did not play in the preseason opener, but the success of Buffalo's run front was encouraging nonetheless Friday night against the Lions.
Buffalo's reserves more than held their own as they stymied Detroit's rushing attack, which managed just 58 yards on their first 20 carries.
"It's all about fundamentals as a defense getting off the ball, being fast, physical, using our hands," said Rousseau. "I feel like stopping the run is definitely a mindset."
The Bills clogged up rushing lanes and had four tackles for loss through the course of the game with their only bust coming on a missed tackle on a 4th-and-1 that Dedrick Mills took for a 20-yard gain.
Otherwise, Detroit managed just 38 yards on their other 19 carries (2.0 avg.) through the first three and a half quarters.
Those who made their presence felt in the run front at times were Tyrel Dodson, Joe Giles-Harris, Harrison Phillips, Andre Smith and Josh Thomas.
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