The Buffalo Bills have been combustible this week.
Yet some insist their contents aren’t under pressure for this afternoon’s preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Tempers boiled over during this week’s final days of training camp at St. John Fisher College. The Bills opened camp before any other NFL team and stayed a week longer than normal because The Ralph was undergoing renovations.
All those practices away from home, three straight road games to start the season, and various frustrations had teammates throwing punches and talking smack to each other. Bills coach Doug Marrone fumed at their incivility.
Players and coaches claimed their frustrations aren’t getting the better of them.
“They’re going to wipe everything out anyway,” Bills running back C.J. Spiller said of Buffalo’s preseason offensive woes.
“We know we can put up points. We had seven straight weeks where we put up 20 points a game. We understand we can score points. So we’re not walking on glass yet.”
A team’s second-to-last exhibition traditionally provides the best indication of how it will look when the regular season begins. Coaches want their starters to experience game-like situations as much as possible and keep them on the field into the third quarter.
And with teams usually most interested in escaping their final exhibition without injuries, tonight will be the Bills’ last quality opportunity to prove – to themselves and their fans – what they can do.
The Bills’ starting offense got extra chances to score last week and managed only a couple field goals against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger cleaved the Bills’ pass defense.
“We have a prideful group,” Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “They want to bounce back with a better performance.”
Although the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game gave the Bills an extra exhibition this summer, the starting offense still hasn’t gotten into the end zone.
“You guys got to have something to write about,” Spiller said. “So when you don’t see our first team score in the red zone, that’s a great story to have.
“But we understand the importance of that, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that we give ourselves the best position to score.”
On 10 possessions, the starters have kicked four field goals, thrown an interception, punted twice and failed three times on fourth-and-short.
“It’s very important because that’s going to help us win, period,” Bills quarterback EJ Manuel said of scoring a touchdown today. “The more we find the end zone, the more we’ll win games.”
The last time the Bills’ starters failed to get into the end zone was 2009. They fired offensive coordinator Turk Schonert a few days before the season opener.
Marrone said it will be critical to “make sure that the plays we’re running we can execute and see our ability rise up in situations like third downs and red zones and try to see a little change of focus, a change of demeanor and then somebody making a play.”
Overall, only seven teams have scored fewer than Buffalo’s four touchdowns entering Friday night’s preseason schedule. The Bills ranked 25th in red-zone percentage with touchdowns 33.4 percent of the time and 23rd in third-down efficiency at 35.7 percent.
Buffalo’s offensive line remains a work in progress. Left tackle Cordy Glenn recently returned from his undisclosed illness and took first-team snaps this week at camp. Impressive rookie Seantrel Henderson was switched to right tackle. The guards have been rearranged.
Marrone revealed he’s leaning toward leaving at least his starting O-line on the field longer than normal in Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Detroit Lions.
On defense, Schwartz wants to see his first-teamers record some sacks. The Bills have only six so far. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams is the only starter with one.
The Buccaneers have allowed eight sacks, fourth most in the NFL.
“We can improve up front,” Schwartz said. “We haven’t played our very best up front yet. I’d like to see those guys in this game really affect the passer and do the things that we know we can.
“We’ve been pretty vanilla so far, but there’s still room for improvement.”
Teams must trim their rosters to 75 players by Tuesday afternoon and then down to 53 players by next Saturday afternoon.
“It’s coming time to roster cuts,” Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “Everybody knows what time it is. Everybody’s got to do their very best to find a way to get onto this team. The competition is fierce.”
Keep an eye out for Buccaneers defensive end Steven Means this afternoon. The second-year pro from Grover Cleveland High and the University at Buffalo is second on the depth chart on the right side.