Monday, October 17, 2011

Week 6 Recap: Buffalo 24, New York Giants 27

Ill-timed turnovers, weak defense drop Bills in second close loss of season

Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw leaps
over Bills defenders into the endzone.  He scored three
times on Sunday.
   For a team expected to live at the bottom of the AFC East standings this year, entering the bye week with a 4-2 record should be considered a major accompishment. 
   The problem is, the Bills had a very good chance at walking away with another close victory on Sunday.  Instead, the team that thrived on its opponents mistakes for the first 5 weeks of the season, suddenly became sloppy, undisciplined and careless with the ball. 
   Some may be inclined to blame the aggressive offensive playcalling for Sunday's loss.  But the real problem was yet another dreadful performance by the Buffalo defense, along with poor execution by Ryan Fitzpatrick with the team in scoring position.  Bills fans have come to expect these up-and-down performances by their maddeningly-inconsistent quarterback.  Unfortunately, this might be a game that comes back to haunt them in the playoff race.
   The coaching staff now has two weeks to fix an absolutely pathetic defense, while hoping to get some players healthy on the offensive line.

Game Observations:

1)  The never-ending quarterback quandry...
   I want to have confidence in Fitzpatrick.  I really do.
   I want to believe he's the guy who will finally break the playoff drought.  I want to believe he will lead us to our first Super Bowl win in franchise history.  I don't want to "Suck for Luck" or any other rookie quarterback, for that matter.
   But for every amazing play Fitz makes, there will be another that emphasizes his glaring weaknesses as a pro.  His fourth quarter interception was only the nail in the coffin, completing an absosolutely terrible day for the quarterback.  Equally damaging was the second quarter sack - due to Fitz holding the ball way too long - knocking the Bills out of field goal range.
   Fitzpatrick's play has gotten progressively worse as the season has gone along, as teams have generated more pressure, used more bump and run coverage, and forced him to complete the long ball down the sideline.

2)  Cornerback carousel...
   Honestly.  Is there anyone on this roster that can cover? 
   So far, I've had to call out Leodis McKelvin (roasted by rookie receivers in the Oakland and Cincinnati games), rookie Aaron Williams (constantly abused by Tom Brady before getting hurt) and Reggie Corner (torched last week against Philadelphia). 
   Add Drayton Florence to the list.
   Throughout the afternoon, Florence could be seen helplessly chasing Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks (4 catches, 96 yards) around the field, and committing horrible pass interference infractions.

3)  Get that seat warm...
   At this rate, it's only going to be a matter of time before the fans start calling for the head of defensive coordinator George Edwards.
   The Bills have let up over 400 yards in five straight games.  They can't cover anybody.  They can't generate a pass rush.  When the game is on the line, they can't stop the run either. 
   With almost two full draft classes and several veteran free agents at his disposal, Edwards can't cry about a lack of talent.  Players have had over a year to adjust to his scheme.  He's running out of excuses.
   Not to mention, Dave Wannstedt is waiting in the shadows.

4)  It wasn't all bad...
   Running back Fred Jackson continues to make his case for the NFL's most valuable player.  His draw in the first quarter was huge and proved that he's just on another level this season.
   The offensive line will get a lot of criticism, but they also played well against one of the league's toughest defensive lines.  Despite the mounting injuries, most of the day's pressure (and the two sacks) came with Fitzpatrick holding the ball too long.

Looking to Week 8

Monday, October 10, 2011

Week 5 Recap: Buffalo 31, Philadelphia 24

Turnovers key as Bills knock off disappointing Eagles "Dream Team"

The Bills defense had Eagles quarterback Michael
Vick under intense pressure all day long, leading to
four interceptions
   One of the most important lessons for a young team is learning how to shake off a tough loss.
   Mission accomplished.
   The Bills came back from their disappointing Week 4 performance by jumping out to an impressive 28-7 lead against a favored Eagles team, forcing four interceptions out of quarterback Michael Vick, and finally holding off a potential fourth quarter comeback.
   It wasn't the prettiest win.  The defense fell apart again and needed all of their five takeaways to walk away with the victory.
   But it was a victory... and one they almost certainly would have lost in years past.  The offense continued to move the ball very well, and did another outstanding job of putting up points in the red zone. 
   At 4-1, the Bills have already matched the number of wins they had in 2010, and they remain tied for first place in the AFC East.

Game Observations:

1)  Turnover kings...
   I don't think the Bills secondary could cover an old man with a walker.  But where this group lacks in coverage ability, they have made up for in aggression and on-field awareness. 
   The defense can't count on these kinds of bounces every week.  But not all of the turnovers have been luck bounces.  Many have come off batted passes, deflections and from extreme pressure on the quarterback.  That comes from good coaching.

2)  Fred Jackson is an animal...
   What more can be said about Jackson that hasn't been stated over the previous four games?  On Sunday, he racked up almost 200 yards from scrimmage.
   Since the days of Thurman Thomas, the Bills have used first round picks on Antowain Smith, Willis McGahee, Marshawn Lynch and C.J. Spiller.  They have all gotten outplayed by an undrafted free agent from Coe College.

3)  No longer worried...
   As usual, all of the media attention is going to Jackson and Ryan Fitzpatrick.  But the real story of the Bills season has to be the offensive line.
   Even replacing starting left tackle Demetrius Bell with rookie Chris Hairston, the unit didn't miss a beat.  On the season, they have allowed only four sacks (best in the NFL) and helped the team average 5 yards rushing per carry (#4 in the NFL).  But the group is most impressive when flexing their speed and agility when blocking downfield on screen passes.

4)  Blown coverages galore...
   It's hard to imagine the Bills getting better pressure on the quarterback.  Vick was crushed several times and forced into rushing most of his throws. 
   So how in the world were receivers getting open so deep, right in the middle of the field? 
   In past weeks, Leodis McKelvin and rookie Aaron Williams were the primary victims.  This week's biggest culprits were Reggie Corner and the normally solid Drayton Florence.  With so many coverage breakdowns, at some point we have to start wondering if the root problem lies in the defensive scheme and not the talent. 

Looking to next week:

   After falling to the Seahawks, the 3-2 Giants will be very eager to get back in the win column.
   New York has struggled badly with turning the ball over, which (on paper) could fall right into the hands of an opportunistic Bills defense.  Coach Tom Coughlin will be preaching "protecting the ball" all week long.
   The Giants are no longer a top running team, but they do have several dangerous weapons in the passing game, starting with an exceptional set of receivers (Hakeem Nix, Mario Manningham and the emerging Victor Cruz).  Like many of the runners the Bills have already faced this year, Ahmad Bradshaw can also make big plays out of the backfield. 
   New York probably has the best group of pass rushers in the league, but are expected to be without Justin Tuck (and possibly Osi Umenyiora).  The Bills should again find success running the ball, which in turn will set up the short passing game.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Injury Report: Week 5

Buffalo Bills   >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

---  Demetrius Bell, OT:   (shoulder)
---  Chris Kelsay, LB:   (calf)
---  Torrell Troup, DT:   (back)
---  Chris White, LB:   (hamstring)
---  Aaron Williams, CB:    (chest)
---  none
---  none
---  Ruvell Martin, WR:   (knee)
---  Nick Barnett, LB:   (ankle)
---  Kraig Urbik, OG:   (knee)
---  Terrence McGee, CB:   (hamstring)
---  Shawne Merriman, LB:   (shoulder)
---  C.J. Spiller, RB:   (knee)
---  Eric Wood, C:   (ankle)

Philadelphia Eagles  >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

---   Brent Celek, TE:   (illness)
---   Trent Cole, DE:   (calf)
---   Jason Peters, OT:   (hamstring)
---   none
---   Juqua Parker, DE:   (ankle)
---   Nate Allen, S:   (knee)
---   Jason Avant, WR:   (shoulder)
---   Riley Cooper, WR:   (hamstring)
---   Moise Fokue, LB:   (neck)
---   Brandon Hughes, CB:   (hamstring)
---   Cullen Jenkins, DT:   (tricep)
---   Winston Justice, OT:   (knee)
---   Mike Patterson, DT:   (knee)
---   Steve Smith, WR:   (knee)
---   Darryl Tapp, DE:   (pectoral)
---   Michael Vick, QB:   (finger)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Week 4 Recap: Cincinnati 23, Buffalo 20

Surging Bills fall back to earth with second-half defensive collapse

Bengals running back Cedric
Benson busts through the Bills
defense in the fourth quarter
   The winning streak had to stop at some point.  Buffalo wasn't going to go 16-0 this year.  Still, having that first loss come against the lowly Bengals can't help but leave a bad taste.
   It's doubtful that the Bills will play against another this year offense with less experience, or enter another game so highly favored.  Yet the league's "highest scoring" offense was flat and struggled to put up points all day long.  The defense was extremely sloppy and even seemed overconfident entering the second half.
   The Bills haven't managed a "full" game since Week 1.  Thus far, they have been surviving streaky play by taking advantage of their opponents mistakes and turnovers.  It looked like more of the same on Sunday, before the Bengals refocused at halftime and punched the Bills defense right in the mouth.
   Along with this depressing loss, Cincinnati laid out a decent blueprint for other teams to slow down Buffalo's offense (taking away the short passing lanes).  Coordinators will continue to attack a struggling secondary until the Bills give them a reason not to.
   It was a bad day for the Bills.  But just like the 3-0 start, it's important not to overreact to one loss.  The big test will be whether the Bills can adjust to what their opponents will now be able to see on the gamefilm.

Weekly Observations:

1)  The other team in stripes...
   I am certainly not the type of person that likes to blame the refs for a loss.  And no doubt, the Bills hold plenty of responsiblity for their poor showing on Sunday.  However, the officiating on Sunday was absolutely terrible, and bad enough to have cost Buffalo the game.
   The biggest blunder was the ridiculous "non-catch" by Steve Johnson, taking away what would have been an important Bills first down.  Instead of continuing their drive, draining more of the clock and possibly going up by two scores - the Bills had to punt and give the Bengals another shot. 
   Only a few plays later, Cincinnati tight end Jermaine Gresham hauled in a 25 yard pass on the sidelines.  Replay showed him bobble the ball and step out of bounds before getting two feet down, but nobody (the refs, the Bills or the t.v. crew) seemed to notice.

2)  Stop Fred Jackson, stop the Bills...
   During the first four games, Chan Gailey's strategy has been to lineup Ryan Fitzpatrick in shotgun with four and five receiver sets, then go after the defense with a short passing attack.  But all of their success has started by making opponents respect the running game.
   Jackson was able to make a few nice runs on Sunday.  But as a whole, the offensive line was unable to consistently open holes on the Bengals defense, forcing Buffalo into several 3rd-and-long situations.  Fitzpatrick has struggled when pushed into making throws more than 9-10 yards downfield when defenses are expecting it.
   With their lack of talent, the Bills can't afford to be one-dimensional.  Hopefully, Gailey will make some adjustments and come up with more ways to get Jackson some running room.

3)  Our starting cornerback is becoming a huge liability...
   There was a lot of hope that Leodis McKelvin would finally "get it" this year.  Instead, the former first-round pick has allowed a rookie receiver to put up over a hundred yards on him twice in only four games.
   McKelvin is constantly caught trailing his man, giving up too much room underneath and getting completely turned around on routes.  When he does manage to be in position, he fails to get his eyes to the ball or make a breakup on the pass.  If it wasn't for a bad drop by Chad Ochocinco in Week 3 and overthrow by Andy Dalton on Sunday, his numbers could look even worse on the season.

4)  He hasn't been the only problem...
   Most of the big passing plays in the second half were courtesy of Gresham, who was easily beating coverage by safeties George Wilson and Bryan Scott.  It shouldn't have been a surprise.
   Despite making some big turnovers, both players have struggled all year long at covering tight ends - no matter who they are matching up against.  And this was an area that was supposed to get better after the team let Donte Whitner walk in free agency.

5)  Oh well, let's just call out the whole defense...
   On the offensive side of the ball, Chan Gailey has turned a bunch of late-round picks and undrafted free agents into one of the NFL's most explosive offenses.  Meanwhile, the defensive front seven (which has gotten most of the attention in the last two offseasons) has been extremely underperforming. 
   Tackling was dreadful against the Bengals.  The run defense is better than last year, but still lets up too many big plays.  There is little to no pass rush.  When are youngsters Torrell Troup, Alex Carrington, Arthur Moats, Danny Batton, etc. going to get on the field?  Has Shawne Merriman even played since the pre-season?
   If the Bills want to be a real contender, they better shore up the defense before weather gets bad.

6)  Misfires from the man under center...
   And just when we thought the quarterback controversy was over.
   The Bengals focused on taking away the run and keeping their coverage closer to the line of scrimmage.  Instead of burning the defense over the top, Ryan Fitzpatrick was unable to connect with his receivers on deep throws. 
   Gailey has done a great job of hiding the weak points in Fitzpatrick's game (accuracy, decision-making under pressure).  The league's better defensive coordinators will continue to try exposing those areas.

7)  The worst rule in professional sports...
   Almost ten years ago, the "Tuck Rule" was instrumental in launching the career of Tom Brady and jump-starting the New England Patriots dynasty.  That's the only reason I can figure that the NFL hasn't changed the dumbest rule of all time.
   Any sane person could see that Andy Dalton was not throwing the ball when it was knocked from his hand.  Maybe the refs made the right call based on the rule book.  But they made the wrong call based on pure common sense.

Looking to next week:

   Few teams have been as disappointing in 2011 as the 1-3 Eagles, who loaded up during the offseason with big name free agents.  They might already be looking at this contest as a "must win" to keep in the playoff race.
   Philadelphia has been unable to keep pressure off quarterback Michael Vick, who has already gotten banged up pretty bad (concussion, broken wrist).  With left tackle Jason Peters likely to miss Week 5, this would be a great week for the Bills pass rush to finally get off the ground.
   The Eagles have tons of weapons in the passing game.  Running back LeSean McCoy figures to have a big game catching passes out of the backfield, while receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin will pose troubles against a struggling Bills secondary.
   Buffalo's offense matches up really well against Philadelphia's weak linebackers.  There should be plenty of room for Jackson and the short passing game to get rolling.  Defensive end Trent Cole is also supposed to miss the game, taking a big hit on the pass rush.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Injury Report: Week 4

Buffalo Bills

    Terrence McGee, CB:   (hamstring)
    Chris White, LB:   (hamstring)
    Aaron Williams, CB:   (chest)
    Kraig Urbik, OG:   (knee)
    Steve Johnson, WR:   (groin)
    Kirk Morrison, LB:   (hamstring)
    Torrell Troup, DT:   (back)
    Johnny White, RB:   (ankle)

Cincinnati Bengals

    Dontay Moch, LB:   (foot)
    Pat Sims, DT:   (elbow)
    Chris Crocker, S:   (not injury related)
    Jonathan Fanene, DE:   (knee)
    Robert Geathers, DE:   (shoulder)
    Otis Hudson, OG:   (knee)
    Jeromy Miles, S:   (groin)
    Gibril Wilson, S:   (knee)