One thing that the past dozen years has taught Bills fans is that there is always a new way to lose a game. Sunday almost became the most recent as an ill-advised wildcat pass, 61-yard field goal and a subsequent chip shot almost did the Bills in. However, the Bills survived and escaped Arizona with a win, in spite of themselves.
Thus far, the 2012 season has been maddening for most fans. The team has turned in varying performances which haven’t been consistent from week to week. In fact, the most consistent performance turned in this year was by the defense in back-to-back gashings against New England and San Francisco.
However, Sunday was the opposite. The defense was stout in collecting a handful of sacks and limiting the Cardinals offense to a limited array of success on only a few plays. Not only was the run game adequate, but the pass rush was downright dominant. For the first time this season, there wasn’t a soul in Bills Nation who could kick any sand on the defensive line.
The defensive performance was not only refreshing following two-straight losses, but it was necessary on a day in which the offense wasn’t up to the challenge of putting their foot on the collective throats of the Cardinals.
Offensively, Ryan Fitzpatrick continued to dig his grave with the fans and probably has begun to dig one with the coaching staff as well. The fans, who were exasperated after the collapse against the Jets and Patriots, were ready to run him out-of-town after every poorly thrown pass on Sunday. It doesn’t seem as if Chan Gailey is necessarily ready for that just yet as he continued to call pass plays despite the obvious inability of his quarterback to do any damage through the air.
However, the decision to try to milk the clock after a first down sack late in the fourth and the design of many of the late passing plays does point to a more conservative play calling approach which may be trending away from the glaring weakness that is Fitzpatrick’s arm strength.
That playcalling, however, just about sealed the Bills fate on the afternoon. After a baffling decision to throw a deep ball out of the wildcat formation, Gailey continued to force passing plays despite his running game’s obvious dominance on most downs.
Alex Carrington’s fingertip deflection of AJ Feely’s game winning field goal attempt kept the Bills above water and Jarius Byrd’s second interception gave the Bills the win. Without those two big plays and the continued success of the pass rush, the Cardinals probably would have come away with a victory.
When splitting carries wasn’t an issue, the running back tandem of Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller was a problem anyone would have welcomed. Both had proven their worth as effective backs and were dangerous within the Buffalo offense. However, since both have returned to full health, the Bills have struggled to get each involved in the game. As was noted by Paul Hamilton, the backs decided to try to rotate every two series to attempt and create a bit more flow for each other. However, that still doesn’t seem to be ideal.
Spiller had a good day and should have been given more of a chance to build on his impressive average. However, the rotating backfield didn’t really allow for that. Neither did the play calling. Switching to an every two series rotation seems wise and obviously it was something the backs came up with. But maybe they should consider something even deeper. Perhaps a quarterly system where the other can be used in specific sub-packages? Maybe a quarter each is too much, but the Bills have two backs capable of eclipsing 1,000 yards for the season. It just seems like the way the offense is running will prohibit that from happening.
The choice to throw out of the wildcat was obviously the most bizarre choice made by Chan Gailey. However, his playcalling seemed way out of whack for most of the game. Perhaps some of the questionable choices were motivated by Ryan Fitzpatrick’s inability to complete any pass longer than five yards. However, his running game was obviously the strength of the offense and it appeared that he refused to acknowledge that at times. The prime examples being the wildcat throw when ground and pound would have milked the clock and gotten points and the three-straight throws after CJ Spiller broke off a 30-yard scamper in OT. Maybe the quarterback checked out of running plays at the line, but it still seemed as if the primary motivation was to move the ball through the air.
After week one Gailey noted that his run game would become a more significant part of the offense. However, the Fitzpatrick-led passing game continues to disappoint and create scenarios that could prevent wins down the line.
If it wasn’t apparent already, Jarius Byrd is heads and shoulders above the rest of the defensive backfield. Maybe Stephon Gilmore will turn into something in a year or two, but Byrd has become an impressive talent. Perhaps the Bills should find another big play guy to run at strong safety as a complement to their ball hawking free safety.
The Bills big money players dominated an over-matched group on Sunday. But that is exactly what they’re paid to do. Mario Williams was unblockable on a number of plays and the combination of Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams drew the majority of double teams on the day. The play of those three in particular forced the Cards to keep tight ends and backs in to block on a majority of the plays. Kyle Moore and Chris Kelsay benefitted from the mismatch as they were primarily left to run one-on-one for most of the day. Moore looked particularly impressive getting to the quarterback a number of times.
It was over when: Jarius Byrd picked off his second pass of the day and returned it inside the 10-yard line to set up a chip-shot game winning field goal.
MVP: Defensive line. The unit created havoc and were unblockable at times. LVP: Play calling. Gailey didn’t seem to rely enough on the run and almost lost the game with the deep pass out of the wildcat and the ill-advised choice to try to run the clock down after a first down sack late in the fourth.