“See, overall, I don't think that there's any excuse, I don't want to put the word 'preseason' in the air. We have a standard and, at times it wasn't up to our standard,” Dawkins said after the game. “... We'll use this as a lesson, we won't let it hurt us, we'll learn from it.”
The Bills as a whole had a messy performance, highlighting issues they need to correct. The offensive line, especially at tackle, attracted plenty of attention. While Dawkins made the point that it being preseason isn’t a valid excuse, preseason does give teams opportunities to learn while not getting deep in the playbook and to try out players to see what they can do.
For the Bills, the starters will have an opportunity to finish the preseason on a better note after coach Sean McDermott announced they will play for some of the final preseason game at the Chicago Bears. Which areas are a concern ahead of roster cutdown day on Aug. 29?
Offensive line depth
In the offseason, the Bills addressed the interior of the offensive line in multiple ways. They signed veterans Connor McGovern and David Edwards and invested a second-round pick in O’Cyrus Torrence, who has done well in the competition for the starting right guard spot.
Offensive tackle, however, has been a different story. Last week the Bills lost two backup tackles in a short amount of time: Brandon Shell retired, and Tommy Doyle suffered a season-ending injury, which was described as a left knee injury when he left the game against the Steelers.
That leaves veteran David Quessenberry and 2022 undrafted free agent Ryan Van Demark to compete for the swing tackle role with both potentially earning spots on the 53-man roster. Keeping quarterback Josh Allen healthy is far too important to not have more depth at the position behind Dawkins and right tackle Spencer Brown, who bears watching after he played last year coming off back surgery.
Penalties were also an issue against the Steelers with the offensive line accounting for five of the team’s 13, including three in a row by the starting line. McDermott called the team’s penalty problems “unacceptable” and has started disciplining players at practice for pre-snap penalties.
“I thought we did some good things in the run game, some good things in the pass game. But again, there's areas that we need to get better at,” McDermott said on the line’s performance in the game. “It looked like they got some pressure on us on the edges in particular at times.”
The Bills could add here after teams make cuts -- offensive tackle has arguably become the position with the least amount of depth.
Guard could also be an issue. Starting left guard Connor McGovern suffered a right knee injury during Wednesday’s practice. He was not out on the field on Thursday.
“We'll see how it goes,” McDermott said when asked if McGovern’s injury is a long-term concern. “Right now, it's too early to tell just how he's going to come back from it.”
This appears to be much closer to a decided battle than a week ago. Matt Barkley didn’t have a good day against the Steelers, finishing with three interceptions and a fumble, and then finished the game with a right elbow injury, which caused him to miss the entire week of practice.
So the job is in Kyle Allen’s hands and he should get a big chunk of playing time on Saturday against the Bears after the starters, including Josh Allen, play for a second straight game.
“Just execution at the end of the day. I mean, that's what we need to see from every quarterback -- going out, making good decisions, and executing the offense,” offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey said on what they are looking for in the final preseason game.
But Kyle Allen has not shown that he could step in and be reliable if Josh Allen was to miss time. The fact that the quarterback competition was open throughout the preseason has been reflective of that. In the preseason games, Barkley had a better performance in the first game agaimst the Indianapolis Colts -- Allen completed 8 of 15 passes for 122 yards and an interception -- but Allen played better against the Steelers, completing 12 of 15 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown, albeit against the third-string Steelers defense. Saturday will be a big day for Allen.
Pass-rusher? It depends on Von Miller
Whether Miller starts the season on the physically unable to perform list -- and therefore missing the first four games -- will play a role in how the Bills construct the 53-man roster.
After getting surgery on the ACL in his right knee following an injury suffered on Thanksgiving, Miller has been progressing in his workouts over the course of camp and has been around the team throughout.
“I see him every day. I see Von getting himself ready to play,” assistant head coach and defensive line coach Eric Washington said. “Just going back to the meeting that we just had, he was as active in that meeting as he's ever been in giving feedback, talking about what we were detailing on the film.”
While Miller's goal is to return for Week 1, Miller is coming back from a tricky injury with a nine-month recovery timeline. Rushing the 34-year-old back earlier than he is ready is not the logical step -- getting him fully healthy is far more important.
Despite playing in only 11 games last season, Miller led the Bills in pass rush win rate (23.6%) and pressure percentage (14.5%) and was tied for the team lead in sacks (eight). The Bills added Leonard Floyd this offseason and he will only help the Bills' pass rush. But how effective Miller will be after he returns is unknown.
Keeping Miller on PUP — missing games against the Jets, Las Vegas Raiders, Washington Commanders, and Miami Dolphins — could open up a spot for another pass-rusher who is on the bubble, like veteran Shaq Lawson, while also giving the oldest player on the roster an extended window to get healthy.