Watching Sunday’s game really felt like we were watching a game from early 2010 – miscues were abundant, confusion and frustration seemed to run through the team’s strongest minds, and the defense was laughable. There wasn’t much, as a Bills fan, that you could hang your hat on in this one. Just about everyone who had eyes on this game, neutral or not, had something to say about the officiating – which I can admit was awful – but the team did way more to secure a loss than the refs did.
Before I go any further, don’t give yourself the idea that I am throwing a fit about this team and preparing to break my ankles with this huge leap off the overflowing bandwagon – it was a bad game against a really good defense, and bad games happen from time to time. Plus, where would the bandwagon go without their driver?
It’s hard for me to name individual defensive players as having good performances when the defense, as a whole, looked like absolute garbage. My target with that statement shines a positive light on Bryan Scott, George Wilson, Jairus Byrd, and Nick Barnett while turning the lights out on Leodis McKelvin and, to a much lesser extent, Shawne Merriman. Scott had – and you can fight me on this, but you’ll never win – two defensive touchdowns in this game. Only one counted because the officials like to adjust the rules as they see fit sometimes, but for a backup safety, the guy has really found his groove in this defense. He’s been playing a lot of coverage ILB this year and coming in as a blitzing third safety in 4-1-6 packages that we ran almost exclusively against New England. Wilson has had his dark spots but seems to have picked things up in the past two games – he’s starting to get involved more, making tackles and big plays, and that’s what he was missing before. For Byrd and Barnett, it’s business as usual, but they both keep the defense looking respectable more often than not so it’s worth noting. Another plus from this game before I head for the whipping post is that rookie end Marcell Dareus recorded his first career sack in this one – hopefully the first of many.
Now, on to the bad. I could go on and on for days about the bad play on this defensive unit, I really could, but I’ll keep it short and sweet. Shawne Merriman (who technically recorded a sack, but I wouldn’t call an open-hand shoulder slap as a guy steps out-of-bounds a sack so.. no) isn’t nearly as effective as many of us had imagined, recording only 8 tackles in four games this season. I understand that he has only played about 70% of the snaps, but he’s been awful. Not any sort of threat, not even so much as a backfield presence, and Chris “I high-fived the quarterback for the touchdown he was about to throw” Kelsay can at least say that. Now, a lot of his struggles – a lot of most of the defense’s struggles, really – can be attributed to George Edwards and Dave Wannstedt. The schemes they run and plays they call simply don’t give great opportunities, rarely rushing more than four and focusing more on keeping defenses out of the endzone than forcing them to punt. Still, if the secondary can make the most of the chances given (Buffalo leads the NFL in interceptions at this point with eight), why not everyone else? My other doghouse tenant is a repeat from just about every game he’s been featured in – cornerback Leodis McKelvin. McKelvin was roasted again by a rookie wideout, allowing AJ Green 118 yards. I just don’t get it with him – he almost always has great positioning – looks like a regular (if you can even call him regular) Darrelle Revis in coverage until the ball is about ten yards out, then he seems to out-think himself and slip up. He’s so worried about getting burned deep that he forgets to actually cover the incoming throw, so while he’s focusing his attention on the receiver’s hips, the guy can easily just look up and pluck the ball out of the air like he wasn’t being covered at all. Having McGee back will greatly benefit him, as he needs to play more alongside him and Florence to really grasp the little things that would elevate his game to the next level such as playing the ball from time to time and sticking with your man, you know, minor details.
The offense had their fall from grace this week, partially because they faced one of the best and most underrated defenses in the league, partially because their stars were off. When you live and die by a player or two, you can expect to lose a few games as not everyone can be rock solid for a full sixteen game slate. Unfortunately for the team, both Jackson and Fitzpatrick weren’t at their best in this one, which hurt the production and effectiveness of everyone around them. The line had one hell of a time holding back Cincinnati’s defensive front seven, which I had expected, and though they only allowed one sack, 14 rarely had time to get through his full dropback much less let a play unfold. When pressured, Fitzpatrick looked terrible, sailing wide-open passes and bouncing others – and let’s not forget something I’ve mentioned for weeks – ignoring his progressions just to get the ball out.
Speaking of that pressure, the Philadelphia Eagles roll into town this week. You know, the league-leading sack artists? Yeah, those Eagles. Though they’ll be without their defensive voice and starting end Trent Cole which should help us a lot, we’re also without starting left tackle Demetrius Bell and are throwing in fourth round rookie Chris Hairston, which should help them much more. We’ve already seen what strong pressure can do to our offense, and when you add in the threat of an All-Star cast in the secondary it just makes you hope like hell that there’s a plan in place to get Fitz and Jackson rolling early. I don’t have the greatest outlook for this game when considering the massive levels of speed that Philly has on offense and the freedom it gives them. They have three players that you hold your breath whenever they touch the ball simply because they often have a chance of going for six from anywhere on the field. Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, and DeSean Jackson will not be easy to contain for this team unless they have some magic tricks up their sleeves that I’ve yet to see. One thing that will hold that offense back, and not by a lot, is the fact that they’ll be without their starting left tackle in Jason Peters – someone very familiar to us. Their line has been bad this year, but Peters has been playing great so losing him should expose them a bit – it’s all up to the Bills to capitalize on that.
Anyways, like I said last week, try to hold your true judgement and evaluation of this team until the bye week as playing these two NFC East clubs will be a great litmus test for seeing how well we can adapt and whether or not this current team makeup can overcome the sting of a loss. I can’t even begin to make a prediction on this one due to the injuries and catalysts involved so, for now, I’m just going to look forward to the game and enjoy watching it. Hope you can all do the same – I look forward to bringing back some praises and complaints from Orchard Park for you all on Monday morning – see you then.