At the NFL level, a 52-point letdown is typically a systematic, four-quarter dismantling. The New England Patriots only needed a quarter and a half to hang that many on the Bills on Sunday.
Technically it was 45 points in a quarter and a half which still registers on a historic level.
Buffalo’s two best units – their offensive and defensive lines – were neutralized for the entire afternoon. The defensive line’s struggles were the most visible as Tom Brady had more than enough time to pass and the Patriots running backs ran free for the entire game.
Without an answer for the Patriots running game, the Bills were unable to keep the Patriots focused on one aspect of their offense. Not only was Brady able to pick and choose his spots when passing, the combination of Ridley and Bolden were good for at least four yards on every carry. Considering the Bills neutralized the run in all three of their games to this point, that change was particularly disappointing to witness.
The Bills had zero answers for the Patriots playcalling, no matter how vanilla it actually was. Justin Rodgers was unable to match Wes Welker, Bryan Scott and the other linebackers couldn’t run with Rob Gronkowski and the line wasn’t able to create either a pass rush or cause problems at the line in run defense. Outside of a few possessions in the first half – two of which were helped by missed field goals – the defense couldn’t stop the Patriots for the entire game.
On the offensive side of the ball, Ryan Fitzpatrick still managed to roll up four touchdowns but also added a quartet of interceptions over the course of the afternoon. The two late interceptions did little other than to provide the Patriots with a short field to pad their stats, the other two were far more costly. Granted, the first came off a deflection, so it shouldn’t be placed squarely on Fitzpatrick’s shoulders.
While Fitzpatrick showed his ability to make some big throws he also made some poor decisions and did not take care of the ball. By the end of the day, he had proven that he isn’t the answer for the Bills at quarterback. While he is more than capable of running the offense and putting up impressive numbers, he is not capable of winning a game on his own.
Not having the top two running backs on the roster at full health certainly hamstrung the offense. The Bills are successful when their running game is established early and puts the defense on alert. As a one dimensional unit, the Bills are severely hobbled. The quarterback simply isn’t goof enough to carry the offense and the receiving corps isn’t talented enough to erase the shortcomings of the quarterback.
While neither Fred Jackson or CJ Spiller were at 100%, the lack of dominance from the offensive line was a major issue. For a team that found their success in the trenches, they were not capable of creating any success at the line of scrimmage.
One thing that has been considered as a question mark for the Bills since the preseason was the choices made with personnel. Beginning with Vince Young and continuing with a few other cuts, there have been a few other strange choices made by the coaching and football staff.
Sunday’s loss was ripe with either questionable choices or the lack of adjustments. Beginning with Justin Rodgers’ continued struggles keeping up with Wes Welker and including the decision to run CJ Spiller with a goal line carry, Chan Gailey made some interesting decisions with regard to his players.
Goal Line Carry
The specific choice of running CJ Spiller at the goal line seemed strange, to say the least. Spiller has always been best utilized in the open field with space in front of him. Unlike Fred Jackson, Tashard Choice or even Johnny White, Spiller has never been considered an ideal inside runner. With the fumble taking free points off the board, the choice to use Spiller had a truly negative effect in the big picture.
The decision to try and spread the defense and run a draw made plenty of sense from a playcalling angle. Using Spiller as the back instead of Jackson (or anyone else) was the strange decision. Considering Choice got a goal line touchdown in Jackson’s absence in week one makes this that much more of a surprise.
After a below average week one, Stephon Gilmore has begun to round into form for the Bills. Aside from Jarius Byrd, he may have been their best defensive player on Sunday (although thats not saying much). Gilmore is clearly at home playing tight to a receiver on the line and playing the physical style that made him a top-10 pick.
One surprise is that the Bills didn’t consider using him against Welker. Welker is Tom Brady’s favorite target and created some serious issues for Rodgers on Sunday. Why not put your best corner on the team’s best receiver? Sure, Welker plays from the slot more often than not, but if Gilmore is assigned to blanket him, it won’t matter where he lines up. Chan Gailey said he doesn’t think the Bills have had a player here in three years that can match him. Perhaps they just haven’t looked hard enough.
Not Exactly Shutdown
Aaron Williams has created an interesting niche for himself. He is good for one deep ball against per week. The only saving grace against Cleveland was an underthrown nine route that Williams recovered to break up. Otherwise he has been good for an open deep ball at least once a week. Without actual stats on his day, it seemed as if he wasn’t targeted too often, but when he was he got torched. He has been somewhat of a disappointment to this point in his tenure in Buffalo.
The loss of Cordy Glenn may end up being the worst black eye the Bills walk away with. Reports had Byrd, Scott Chandler and Donald Jones being in good health but Glenn and Kraig Urbik on the shelf for some time. Glenn has been more than solid for the Bills this season and is certainly the real deal out at left tackle. Losing Urbik will hurt, but there seems to be a bigger drop-off from Glenn to Hairston than from Urbik to Reinhart.
One up, one down
Week one was certainly a let down for the vaunted defensive line. Sunday was, more or less, an abysmal performance. Mario Williams is the main target of most criticism, mainly due to his salary and reputation. However, all four (six counting Spencer Johnson and Alex Carrington) played poorly on Sunday. Williams only managed to push the pocket on a few occasions and didn’t register a sack. Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus – who were expected to dominate inside without Logan Mankins – were invisible and Mark Anderson rarely got off the line on the right side.
With any luck the defensive line will put in a better effort against another strong running attack on Sunday, they will need to based on some of the new holes the offense will have due to the recent string of injuries.