Takeaways from Buffalo Bills’ Preseason Opener vs. Indianapolis Colts

Kiko Alonso’s pass breakup vs. Coby Fleener was his highlight of his NFL preseason debut Sunday. (Photo: Brian Spurlock — USA Today Sports)

Hybrid Pass-Rushers Impressive

The Buffalo Bills have one star pass-rusher in defensive end Mario Williams, who started his preseason off well today by beating Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo for a 10-yard sack. Opposite him, however, the Bills are relying on a number of new additions to step up and be an upgrade following the team’s release of Mark Anderson prior to training camp.

While no one should draw conclusions off of one week of preseason actions, the hybrid pass-rushing trio of Manny Lawson, Jerry Hughes and Jamie Blatnick made a strong first impression today.

The Bills used all three players primarily in the defensive end/strongside linebacker position that is a staple of the team’s multiple defensive fronts under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Lawson took the majority of snaps in that role with the first-team defense, while Hughes did with the second-team unit.

Lawson did a good job of generating pressure off the edge, both against the pass and to penetrate on run defense. He finished the game with three combined tackles, but his big play of the game came when he was able to get a free rush around the right tackle. He exploded into the backfield and leaped up as the quarterback threw his pass to tip it up into the air. The result of Lawson’s tip was an interception by Bills cornerback Crezdon Butler.

Playing against the team who traded him this offseason, Hughes seemed to play with a vengeance. Working mostly against Colts backup left tackle Joe Reitz, Hughes mostly had his way with his opponent.

He used his speed well to bring pressure around the edge, which forced Colts third-string quarterback Chandler Harnish to speed up his throw or roll out of the pocket on numerous occasions. On one play where he came in with speed as a free rusher, he was able to swat down Harnish’s pass in the backfield. On another play, he beat his opponent with an inside move to bring pressure, forcing a bad throw that went off the hands of Bills safety Jonathan Meeks for what should have been an interception.

Blatnick also had a good showing. He was able to generate pressure off the edge on numerous occasions, including one play where he drilled Harnish in the middle of his throw to force an incompletion. He also showed his versatility, however, by lining up everywhere from defensive end to middle linebacker. Among the highlights of his day was a downfield tackle in space on Harnish from the middle linebacker spot.

Defensive Back Quick Hits

Ron Brooks: Starting in place of Leodis McKelvin at cornerback, Brooks made one of the biggest plays of the day for the Bills’ first takeaway when he made a big hit on Colts tight end Coby Fleener 24 yards downfield to pop the ball out for a forced fumble recovered by free safety Da’Norris Searcy.

Brooks also gave up one of the biggest plays of the day, however, when he was burned deep up the left sideline by wide receiver T.Y. Hilton for a 45-yard touchdown.

Brooks has big-play ability, but his game needs consistency.

Da’Norris Searcy: He may technically receive credit for a takeaway on that fumble recovery, but that was play was actually a bad repetition for him. Fleener wouldn’t have made it 24 yards downfield if not for a whiffed tackle in space by Searcy. Searcy did make two tackles for the day, but every play counts as Searcy battles Aaron Williams for a starting job.

Aaron Williams: Like Brooks, Aaron Williams made a big play with a big hit from the secondary, breaking up a third-down short pass intended for Colts running back Donald Brown by coming in and striking him to pop the ball out. Williams’ hit stalled the Colts’ drive and forced them to settle for a field goal.

Crezdon Butler: In a game where the Bills had a whopping 14 pass defenses, Butler led the charge with three of them. His interception came as a result of being in the right place at the right time. That said, he also stalled another drive with terrific third-down coverage on Colts wide receiver Griff Whalen to force an incompletion, which made the Colts settle for a field goal attempt.

Butler received some first-team repetitions in the slot with McKelvin and Justin Rogers out of the lineup Sunday, and he made a strong case for earning a spot on the back end of the roster.

Jumal Rolle: On a two-play drive for the Colts in the fourth quarter, Jumal Rolle lined up against Lanear Sampson in the slot two plays in a row and had two pass defenses in a row.

Rolle made a great break on both passes.

On the second play, Rolle was able to make an impressive interception through a collision with Sampson. Surprisingly not ruled down by contact, Rolle was able to return the interception 17 yards for a defensive touchdown, and the call was upheld on review. Regardless of whether the right call was made, Rolle made a terrific interception and made his case for a roster spot with a strong series.

Worst of the Day

On one day of practice last week, Thomas Welch lined up as the left tackle with the Bills first-team offense while Cordy Glenn worked inside at left guard, according to WGR’s Joe Buscaglia. Any notion that Welch could be a viable option at left tackle looked laughable on Sunday, however, when Welch had the worst day of any Buffalo Bills player.

Welch was responsible for a defensive touchdown for the Indianapolis Colts when Colts defensive end Caesar Rayford bullied him with the dip-and-rip technique around the edge on a speed rush to get to the quarterback. Rayford hit Tuel to force a fumble, which was recovered by Colts cornerback Dax Swanson and returned 74 yards for a touchdown.

Welch was also called for two holding penalties during the second half. He eventually left the game early due to injury.

More Observations

- Expectations should remain high for Bills running back C.J. Spiller after Sunday’s game. He only carried the ball four times, but immediately showed his outstanding speed and moves as he gained a total of 36 yards. The Bills will limit his workload in the preseason, but they aren’t expected to do so in the regular season; Hackett told WGR’s The Howard Simon Show last week that the Bills plan to run Spiller “until he throws up” this season.

- Rookie middle linebacker Kiko Alonso had a solid showing in his preseason debut Sunday. He made a key defensive play when he broke up a pass in the end zone; Coby Fleener had gotten a half-step on him to the end zone, but Alonso was able to recover and get his hand in to knock the pass away from Fleener from behind.

Alonso’s biggest mistake of the day came in coverage versus Donald Brown. Brown beat Alonso on an out to the left sideline and was able to turn upfield versus Alonso, gaining 22 yards before Alonso finally recovered for the tackle. The Bills will need Alonso to improve in this area, as their linebackers’ inability to cover short-to-intermediate passes was one of the team’s biggest weaknesses last season.

- Dustin Hopkins and Shawn Powell were the Bills’ placekicker and punter tandem in the first half, while Rian Lindell and Brian Stahovich took over in the second half. As expected, the first-half work indicates that Hopkins and Powell are in the leads to winning those jobs. There was nothing about Sunday’s game to indicate that would change, although Hopkins did make one costly error with a kickoff out of bounds.

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Tags: C.J. Spiller, Chris Hogan, Crezdon Butler, EJ Manuel, Game Reviews, Indianapolis Colts, Jamie Blatnick, Jeff Tuel, Jerry Hughes, Jumal Rolle, Kiko Alonso, Manny Lawson, Marcus Easley, Marquise Goodwin, Preseason, Preseason Takeaways, Ron Brooks, Thomas Welch

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