CAPACCIO: Allen, Edmunds, tight end and wide receiver battles among things to watch closely Sunday

August 26, 2018

As the Buffalo Bills get set to take on the Cincinnati Bengals in each team’s third preseason game Sunday at New Era Field, which should be the final chance we get to see the majority of starters on both sides of the ball before the regular season begins, here are seven things I’ll be watching for closely:

1.) Josh Allen with the starters

There is no doubt Josh Allen is the biggest story of this game. After Nathan Peterman, then A.J. McCarron both got opportunities with the starting offense over the first two exhibition games, Allen will get his shot. He’s looked good so far in his limited time in both contests, but now it gets much more real, and more difficult. All week, I’ve been wondering if Allen will have the chance to win the job Sunday, or if he can lose something he already has a hold on. I’ve leaned toward the latter over the past several days. It’s clear he’s shown an ability to make plays the other two simply can’t, but now he has to prove he can do it for a more sustainable period, against a starting defense. If he can move the team and help put points on the board the way he did in Cleveland last week, it will be hard for head coach Sean McDermott to keep him out of the starting lineup Week 1. However, if he regresses and shows inconsistencies throwing the ball, putting the offense in poor situations, it’s probably Nathan Peterman’s job against the Ravens on September 9.

2.) Improved run defense

The way the Browns were able to move the ball on the ground last Friday night was not a good sign, and something the Bills will certainly want to address and have shored up by the end of Sunday’s game. Cleveland rushed for 164 yards and 5.1 yards per-carry. A week earlier, they held the Panthers to just 53 yards and 2.0 yards pe- run. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will definitely want to see more of that first week performance than last week’s.

3.) A better Tremaine Edmunds

The rookie linebacker was out of position too much last week and has not flashed through two games the way many (myself included) expected him to. Of course, those expectations may be too lofty, too quickly, but he’s a very big part of Sean McDermott’s defense this year and needs to show a better diagnosis of run plays than he has for the aforementioned run defense to be where it’s expected to be come the regular season.

4.) Can Marcus Murphy continue to impress?

Murphy has been outstanding through two preseason weeks, leading the team in rushing in both contests, totaling 74 yards on 11 carries for a 6.7 yards per-carry average. He’s been in a fight with Travaris Cadet for the third running back spot behind LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory, and he might be able to sew that up with another strong performance Sunday.

5.) The tight end battle

The tight end position is a tough one to handicap right now. Charles Clay is the starter, but beyond that there is a case to be made for four others on the roster. Logan Thomas might be the best match-up the team has against smaller defenders and has had a nice camp, but so has Jason Croom, who has been extremely impressive from Day 1. Nick O’Leary, who many felt was on the outside looking in as of late, had a really strong performance against the Browns, catching four passes for 70 yards and a touchdown. Even Khari Lee has looked good as both a blocker and pass-catcher. This will be a tough decision for the coaches to make. Sunday could loom large for all of them.

6.) What wideouts will step up on offense and special teams?

The top of the depth chart at wide receiver seems to have shaken out. Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Jeremy Kerley, Andre Holmes, and Rod Streater all seem to be on the field more than any others with the first unit. After that, where does Corey Coleman fit in? Has he learned the offense enough to allow the coaches to trust him with a valuable roster spot? They invested a sixth round pick in Ray-Ray McLeod and it’s clear when he has the ball in his hands he has an ability to make things happen, so it’s hard not seeing him make the final 53. Brandon Reilly has not had nearly the production this preseason as he did last season and missing a week with an injury definitely hurt his chances. But they kept him on the practice squad for a year for a reason. Cam Phillips, Robert Foster, Malachi Dupre, Austin any of them offer enough special-teams value to grab a roster spot? They’ll have to show they do there and maybe make a play or two an offense to stick around.

7.) Better pass protection

Last week was not a good one for the offensive line protecting their quarterbacks. The Browns came up with three sacks and numerous pressures. McCarron was injured on one of those plays. They’ve done a nice job run blocking through camp in preseason so far, but now they have to prove they can keep their quarterbacks clean and upright long enough and consistently enough for the passing game to be effective.

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