TORONTO - Shawne Merriman danced the night away, leading a revitalized defence in the Buffalo Bills’ first pre-season game.
Merriman was back to being Mr. Lights Out. He had two sacks, helped on a third, and generally proved to be a misery for the Chicago Bears’ offensive line. In all, the Bills recorded nine sacks.
The question now is: Are the Bills and Merriman that good, or is the Chicago offensive line that bad?
“Too much pressure on the quarterback,” Chicago coach Lovie Smith said. “We have to tighten that up.”
Merriman ran around J’Marcus Webb like he was a tackling dummy. One play epitomized this game: On third-and-six from the Bears’ 35, Webb was knocked backward by Merriman while Bears’ right guard Lance Louis was out-foxed by rookie defensive tackle Marcell Dareus.
Dareus won the footrace to Jay Cutler, and Webb was flagged for holding Merriman, who left San Diego amidst a swirl of controversy to join the Bills last year. Injuries, however, left the former Pro Bowl defender’s effectiveness a question. Even Merriman himself didn’t quite know what to expect.
“I was excited. I felt like a rookie,” he told reporters after the game. “I heard a bunch of the young guys coming off saying how they were nervous that it was their first game. I was like, ‘Hey, that’s good. You’re supposed to be nervous.’ I was nervous myself a little bit because I haven’t lined up and had a chance to play ball. But it felt good.”
The Bears, though, may not be the greatest test. They have one of the league’s worst offensive lines. It’s so bad that they’re starting Louis, a former tight end at San Diego State. Roberto Garza is only holding down centre until they can find a bigger pylon. Or something. Even last season with the Bills’ lousy run defence and pass rush, they sacked Cutler once and forced him to scramble five times for 39 yards.
Merriman looks like he will make the Bills’ defence better. How much better remains still to be seen.
Oh, and the Bills lost 10-3. No offence. Some things never change.
Browns’ Colt McCoy looked sharp, fitting passes into tight windows during a 9-for-10, 135 yard performance against the Packers ... The Colts better hope Peyton Manning recovers from neck surgery and doesn’t get hurt. Former scout Bucky Brooks tells NFL.com backups Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky can’t play noting: “Painter, in particular, looks unprepared to handle the responsibility of directing the offence as a starter. He is repeatedly late with the delivery of his throws, and his ball placement leaves something to be desired.” ... The Rams scored on seven of nine possessions in a 33-10 win over Indianapolis. The Colts didn’t play many regulars but it’s still a confidence booster for St. Louis which plays in a division with no clear favourites.
Jimmy Clausen may as well pack a bag and get out of Carolina.
There’s no way he can win this duel for the starting quarterback job against No. 1 overall draft pick Cam Newton.
Clausen could be the second-coming of Aaron Rodgers and it wouldn’t matter. Every little mistake, and fans would be clamoring for Newton. Every misstep and coach Ron Rivera would be pressured to anoint Newton the starter.
Nobody is ever as popular as the backup quarterback. It is a football reality. It is also often a misplaced confidence.
Anyway, one week into the pre-season and the debate is heating up. Clausen threw a 31-yard strike over the middle to Brandon LaFell on his first throw and hit former Bears tight end Greg Olsen for an 18-yard score. But he also thew an interception that had fans chanting for Newton who would come in to play seven series completing 8-of-19 passes for 134 yards.
Newton didn’t have any interceptions. He also had no touchdowns, showing a strong but erratic arm, twice over-throwing receivers into the end zone. He was sacked twice. But the fans loved it. “He played with a lot of energy,” said Rivera, who, officially, doesn’t plan to name a starting quarterback soon. Unofficially, he doesn’t really have a choice.
Around the league
Initially the ankle injury looked so bad that if Seattle tackle Russell Okung had been a horse they’d have had to shoot him. But after closer observation coach Pete Carroll now says Okung might be ready for the season opener. “Russell’s not nearly as bad as it looked,” Carroll said. “He’s walking around fine. He’s not in a boot.” ... Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul had two sacks and forced an interception with pass pressure. Even more impressive is that he did against Panthers Pro Bowl tackle Jordan Gross ... Lions’ Matthew Stafford completed 6-of-7 passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns. Stafford led two drives, the first capped by a 26-yard touchdown to Calvin Johnson. He also hit Nate Burleson in the right corner of the end zone from seven yards out. Just a hint of how explosive Detroit’s offence could be if they could just keep Stafford healthy.