David Nelson was an undrafted afterthought at training camp last summer. He ended the season with 31 catches, 353 yards and 3 touchdowns. His performance through two games this season has been anything but an afterthought.
Nelson torched Oakland for 83 yards on 10 catches and the game-winning touchdown with just 18 seconds remaining. His biggest catch of the day capped Buffalo’s final comeback drive as the fourth quarter wound down. While it took one final interception on an Oakland hail mary to actually seal the game, it is obvious that the Buffalo offense is running on all cylinders.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, while he struggled through the first half, was deadly in the third and fourth quarters. He led the Bills on touchdown drives on each second half possession (s/t to TBN) and marched Buffalo down the field with ease on the final two scoring drives. Stevie Johnson and Nelson were the recipients of most of Fitzpatrick’s targets as he went off for just under 100 yards and a TD. While Nelson is best suited to run out of the slot, it is obvious that he has become the second target in the Buffalo offense. He is an ideal weapon for the Bills as his size makes him a mismatch for just about anyone, but he is much faster than a tight-end, ruling out the option of covering him with a linebacker in a three or four-wide set.
In addition, Fred Jackson continued to prove he needs to get paid. I have vivid memories of Thurman Thomas’ dominance in the 90s, but Jackson is second to none in terms of setting up his cuts and redirecting to new running lanes. His shiftiness makes his lack of straightaway speed a non factor. Jackson is capable of creating space to run, that is what the best backs do. One extra bright spot was C.J. Spiller, he had a few big runs and managed to add the lightning to Jackson’s thunder. While Spiller saw limited touches today, he manged to be dangerous whenever the ball was in his hands. He only had one catch, which needs to change as the season progresses, but his contributions out of the backfield were stellar.
On the injury front, I feel that Chad Rinehart will be able to fill-in well for Kraig Urbik. It seems as if the line has gelled and is playing well enough for the Bills to win. With Rinehart stepping in there is a chance for regression, although I would feel he may have found himself starting over Urbik at some point this season. As for Roscoe Parrish, he hadn’t yet shown his worth like he had last year before his injury. Of course, his injury last season opened the door for David Nelson, perhaps Nelson’s success will negate the loss of Parrish on offense. I actually think that Torrell Troup needs to get back to full health for the defense. Kellen Heard wasn’t a train wreck out there, but having two capable nose tackles is better than one stud and one guy who can get thrown in only when absolutely necessary.
Defensively the Bills looked average. There was no pass rush, mainly because Shawne Merriman was double teamed or tackled on every play, but there was very little push upfield by the front four. The linebackers looked rather pedestrian as I thought Andra Davis was slightly overused in passing situations, a potential explanation for the poor third down defense. Obviously Ledois McKelvin was bad today. He was torched on numerous occasions and looked lost at times. He is still crafting his skills as a cover corner, his speed and athleticism made him effective at Troy. However, the Bills can’t wait much longer for the light to go on for him. He needs to play big and play big right away.
If the Bills expect to run with New England next week they absolutely need to shape up in the pass game. The Patriots will run screens, crossing patters and underneath routes all day while the Bills chase them around. Now, the pass rush could find some mojo and disrupt Brady, the linebackers could be more active – either by design or just in general – and the secondary could have a bounce-back week. I am confident that the offense will not be mediocre against a New England defense that is going through some change, but it is the Buffalo defense that concerns me in a matchup against the best active QB in the NFL.