I don’t care what the headlines say – the dream team did win last Sunday and no, I didn’t misread the box score. This is the team that everyone in Buffalo has wanted for years, or so it seems.
It’s been a week, I’ve gone back over the game film and thankfully, I haven’t seen a whole lot of negatives. A common one here, one that’s becoming a pain to talk about, is the absence of Shawne Merriman. 56 had one tackle all game, and had a penalty on the very first play. He’s a literal non-factor and I’m really glad I didn’t run out and bust out 100 bones for his jersey after a preseason domination of Jay Cutler and his stellar offensive line. Watching him throughout the first couple of drives, he looked absolutely lost, and it’s concerning for a guy that is at this point in his career. We’ll get to see what life with the lights on (think it out) is like this weekend with him officially being ruled out due to an Achilles injury by the team early enough to not even bother making the trip to New York. It’s not entirely clear who will start in his place, but I’m curious what the plan is to replicate his average less-than-two-tackle per-game total. Past him, really, the defense looked solid. Youngsters Alex Carrington and Kelvin Sheppard made great plays to produce turnovers against Michael Vick, Reggie Corner looked as solid as he has since Jauron was here (that’s a compliment), and safeties Jairus Byrd and George Wilson had another ho-hum day at the office, combining for 19 tackles and two turnovers… nothing serious.
Speaking of them, those two have been phenomenal this year. Byrd has emerged as one of the best tacklers we’ve had in the secondary in years (looking at you, Donte) and it’s astonishing to me that he grew into this so quickly after being drafted as a corner… out of the PAC-10. His defining moment for me so far this season came in the second half of this game, after LeSean McCoy broke a big run into open space. Byrd was the last man standing between him and a 40 yard walk to the endzone, but 31 stood his ground and made a delicious open field tackle to take the shifty McCoy to the turf. Wilson’s transformation has been pivotal in this defense’s ability to look respectable and control a game even when allowing buckets of yards, putting together 47 tackles, 3 interceptions, 5 passes defended, and a forced fumble in just five games. If he keeps on playing like this, a trip to Hawaii may be in his near future.
On the offensive side of things, the wideouts really started to show their worth this week. The blocking by these guys to open up downfield cutback lanes for Jackson has been phenomenal this year, and everyone is finding a way to contribute. The team’s number two receiver, Donald Jones, looks to be out for a good chunk of time, at least another 5 weeks or so, which has talk of a final-hour trade deadline move coming for a compliment to Steve Johnson in the next few days. Johnson, by the way, is quietly kicking his habit for dropping balls and blossoming into a true number one receiver. He’s getting open, beating coverages, and running great routes against good defenders on top of making spectacular catches. His physicality and willingness to go after the ball makes him a favorite target of Ryan Fitzpatrick and a feared opponent for defensive backs. Speaking of the receivers – we saw a good bit of Naaman Roosevelt this week and let me tell you again, if you give this kid a few weeks to settle in and build a rapport with Fitz, he’s going to turn some heads. He makes plays happen – not a speedy kid by any means, but he makes moves with his feet to get free and though he doesn’t quite fit into the second outside role, he could easily come in as a 3rd or 4th receiver in our myriad multiple gun sets and wreak havoc.
Rookie Chris Hairston played very well for his first outing, replacing the injured Demetrius Bell at left tackle. He didn’t allow a sack and kept Jason Babin out of the backfield, the most important part of his duties this past week. He’ll have a much more daunting task this week against the Giants and their number one ranked pass rush, but if this past week was any indication, he’s mentally prepared for the challenge. I have noticed, and there’s not much to be done about it really, that Brad Smith has become incredibly predictable. The team needs to scheme that set up a little differently, maybe have him pass more… something. It seems that in his four or five snaps a game he runs one of two plays now and they seem to be productive less than a third of the time. Still, at this point he’s not much more than a gadget player to achieve first downs and he usually does that job well so it’s not worth losing much breath over. While on the discussion of Smith, while he hasn’t been a phenom in the return game, our special teams units have seriously improved over the past few weeks. The coverage units are converging well and not allowing big returns and they get downfield and to the ballcarrier quickly – and it doesn’t hurt that Brian Moorman has returned to his former self and is killing punts with superb hangtime, distance, and accuracy.
Today they are in Jersey to take on one of the teams that fraudulently identifies their loyalties with the state of New York, and I believe they match up well. Sounds like not just Merriman, but Kelsay will also be out amongst others, and I’d wager that we see Arthur Moats and Danny Batten starting on the outside today in their absence. Terrence McGee will finally be back, which should keep Victor Cruz from having a stellar day against Leodis “I can’t cover guys you’ve never heard of” McKelvin – seeing as 24’s presence will push 21 to the nickel with Florence on the opposite side. The Giants’ defense is banged up and, outside of their pass rush, incredibly weak right now so I’d like to see Fitz and Jackson take advantage. Look for plenty more shovel passes – they called them often under duress in both the Oakland and Philly games this year and while not always successful, they did allow some decent gains. Depending on which Eli shows up today, this could have the makings of a shootout, but with our safeties lurking and picking off actual good quarterbacks handfuls of times a game, there’s a good chance he won’t fare well. It’ll be a fun one to watch and I’ll have more for you after the smoke has cleared.
Until then – go Bills.