Bills backups roll up points, yards against Colts backups

If there’s one rule of thumb that football fans need to follow it is to not read too deeply into the results on the scoreboard from preseason games.

While the third game is typically considered the final tune up for a team’s starters, the Bills entered their 2013 slate with the opportunity to see a handful of potential starters in extended auditions during their 44-20 win over Indianapolis.

E.J. Manuel was the greatest beneficiary of the extra playing time as he ran Buffalo’s offense for the entire first half while Kevin Kolb served as the emergency quarterback due to missing time last week with a knee injury and family issue. I wouldn’t necessarily say that Manuel made the most of his opportunity, but the extra playing time certainly won’t hurt his progression.

The shining moment of his day came on a surgically precise two-minute drill to give the Bills the halftime lead. The 92-yard drive likely served as a nice confidence boost for Manuel as the 92-yard trek was really the first evidence of the swagger that was on display during his most impressive games at Florida State.

Assuming he has the upper hand in the quarterback competition, I’d say that Manuel didn’t do anything to hurt his status on the depth chart. He took care of the football and even showed how dangerous he can be outside of the pocket on a pair of runs. His touchdown pass to Dorin Dickerson was perfectly thrown and served as a perfect cap to his preseason debut.

Manuel was somewhat limited to start the day, as the Bills featured a run-heavy look to start their possessions. In addition to the majority of run calls, Manuel was a little cold off the bat when putting the ball in the air. It wasn’t until his final couple of series when he started to heat up. He had his fair share of flaws; double clutching a few throws and getting a little too cute with others. Perhaps it was a case of nerves more than anything else and Friday’s matchup against Minnesota will serve as the link in the chain for Manuel. Continue reading

Extra Point: Same story, different day in loss to Rams

Sunday’s let down was more of a re-run than a new episode in the saga of “The Ways the Bills Lose”. After holding a lead for most of the contest, a late drive and poor offensive execution in the fourth quarter sealed a victory for the visiting St. Louis Rams.Bills Rams

CJ Spiller had eight touches all game and that is really all that needs to be said on the Spiller matter. Chan Gailey has criminally misused Spiller on nearly a weekly basis and hasn’t figured out a way to solve the problem. Spending more than a sentence on Spiller’s misuse on a weekly basis is quite literally the definition of insanity. So, why not focus on the other things the Bills have failed to capitalize on?

The Buffalo defense has been downright angry in the weeks since the bye. Mario Williams is good for at least one big play per game and has become a real issue for opposing lines to handle. In addition, the interior combo of Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams has added to the headaches for opposing offensive lines. Thanks to the play of those three players, someone is typically bursting through the line each play.

Thanks to the improved play of the defensive line, the Bills run defense has been nothing short of dominant and there has been far less pressure on the defensive backs to make huge plays. Just look at Stephon Gilmore who is rounding into a very impressive talent at corner. Between Gilmore and Jarius Byrd, the Bills have the makings for a very impressive defensive backfield. Continue reading

Extra Point: Bills run out Jags during a blackout

Spiller vs Jags

The Bills confirmed much of what the fanbase already knew on Sunday, they’re better than the worst teams in the NFL. The team moved to 5-6, still well outside the playoff and top-five draft pick niche that the team has carved for most of the past 12 years.

What following the Bills has become is little more than a rotation of broken records. You can change the tune and rhythm, but it is always the same song over and over again.

Granted, there are plenty of things to like about this team, especially if both Jarius Byrd and Andy Levitre are given long-term contracts. However, the need for change is well overdue and one day maybe this fan base will see some real progress made. Continue reading

Extra Point: Squishing the Fish

Winning affords teams a number of things. Namely, it absolves them of many of their mistakes made along the way. For one night, at least, the Bills can be absolved from some of their misguided decisions.

Buffalo managed to secure their first division win against Miami thanks to a sound defensive effort and another phenomenal return from Leodis McKelvin. C.J. Spiller had another productive evening on a night when neither offense was capable of building much momentum.

However, the one thing that stood out to many fans were the dubious playcalls made in specific situations by Chan Gailey. His third and short playcalling was particularly questionable on drive ending plays:

–          3rd and 1 from the BUF 33 – Tashard Choice wildcat run, no gain. Punt

–          3rd and 3 from the MIA 14 – Empty set, incomplete pass intended for Donald Jones. Bills FG

–          3rd and 1 from the MIA 16 – Empty set, incomplete pass intended for Scott Chandler. Bills FG

–          3rd and 3 from the MIA 17 – Fitzpatrick sacked. Bills FG

–          1st and goal from the MIA 4 – Three pass attempts, one defensive pass interference penalty and three incompletions. Bills FG from the MIA 1.

–          3rd and 1 from the BUF 44 – C.J. Spiller run for -1 yard.

The final play listed came in the fourth quarter when the Bills were milking the clock. Now, that was probably the right playcall and it just didn’t get the job done. But it is perplexing to think that Gailey would call six pass plays on short yardage situations in the red zone. Maybe the specter of Spiller’s goal-line fumble against New England still haunts the coach. Maybe Fred Jackson’s absence caused Gailey to go in a different direction. However, these are exactly the situations that fans and media have pointed to as shortcomings with Gailey’s attitude towards the run game. Continue reading

Extra Point: Groundhog Pick

Sunday must have felt like Groundhog Day for Ryan Fitzpatrick. Just as he did against Tennessee, Fitzpatrick played a sterling game only to unravel late in the fourth when the Bills were trying to lock up a victory.

Just like against the Titans, Fitzpatrick’s late miscue will receive just as much blame as the defense should for another 35+ point performance. That makes five games in which the defense has allowed 30 or more points. Shocking stat of the week: The Bills have lost all five games in which they surrender more than 30 points.

Danny Woodhead’s touchdown scamper was another astounding lack of run support from any of the 11 players on the field. But the rest of the performance wasn’t nearly as bad as the travesty that made up back-to-back losses to the Patriots and 49ers earlier in the year.

Buffalo outgained the mighty Patriots by nearly 140 yards. Yet they lost the game due in part to ugly penalty yardage and an early fumble that gave the Patriots a short field.

Chan Gailey still underutilized his most prolific weapon, CJ Spiller. But that won’t be the case on Thursday, as Fred Jackson will not be available for the Bills. Spiller finished with an average of 10 yards per play (9 carries, 70 yards and 6 catches, 61 yards). Once again, Spiller averaged a first down every time he touched the ball. Continue reading

Extra Point: Bills run away from winning combination

Before the final drive of the game for the Bills, CJ Spiller only had nine total touches. He picked up a pair of receptions on that drive to bring his overall number of touches to 11 on the day. Fred Jackson also had 11 touches. Of the 54 plays the Bills ran, Jackson or Spiller had the ball on 40 percent of them.

Nine of the 22 touches the backs had come in the passing game, leaving only 12 total rushes between the two. That is 22% of the offense that went through the running game (excluding runs by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brad Smith). Yes, less than a quarter of the offense went through a running attack ranked in the top five of the NFL.

That isn’t to say that CJ Spiller didn’t produce. Outside of getting stuffed on a few runs, he still averaged 6.5 yards per carry and has 102 all-purpose yards. That is a whopping 9.2 average per touch. So, while the rest of the offense sputtered, Spiller was capable of nearing first down yardage every time he touched the ball (on average). Continue reading

Extra Point: Playcalling bites Bills late

Poking the bear one too many times led to the Bills getting bit. The bear in this case was questionable play calling.

For the second-straight week, Chan Gailey was rolling the dice late in a game the Bills held a lead in. Unlike last week against Arizona, the opponent came away with a victory after the Bills failed to milk the clock and secure their lead.

This week wasn’t nearly as blasphemous as last week in Arizona, but it showed the same stubborn attitude that almost cost the game out west. Credit Gailey for this much, he didn’t try to have Brad Smith throw deep this time around. However, he still abandoned a running game that had dictated Buffalo’s success for the entire afternoon. Continue reading

Extra Point: Bills escape with win in spite of playcalling

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.

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Extra Point: Bills rebound for win in opener

You might say that Bills fans still have no clue what their team is capable of. Seven days after a no-show, blowout loss to the Jets, the Bills rolled up a number of big plays and trounced Kansas City 35-17. Which team will show up for the rest of the season remains to be seen.

Buffalo hitched their wagon to C.J. Spiller and let him carry the load and he did a fine job. Spiller scored two of Buffalo’s first half touchdowns and was a major player on the drive that led to the third. In all, Spiller accounted for 170 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, the Bills defense looked more like the unit most were expecting to see this season.

Yesterday’s win was very much a mirror image from week one for the Bills. The pass rush was effective, they were successful with blitz packages, the secondary was stout and their quarterback took care of the football. However, the constants through two weeks might be more noteworthy; the offensive line continues to play impressive football and Spiller is proving to be capable of carrying the offense.

In fact, this victory could quite possibly turn into one of the most well-rounded games the Bills play all season. Defensively, they didn’t give up anything big until very late in the game and they nearly had wire-to-wire control offensively.

Even the special teams looked solid as John Potter continued to bomb kicks through the end zone and even had a solid directional kick to the corner of the goal line on another occasion. I’m still a little iffy on the punt coverage after a few more kicks that the coverage team seemed to struggle with. What is difficult to ascertain is if this is a kicker issue (Moorman kicking punts that are difficult to cover) or a coverage issue (cover teams that aren’t filling lanes). Reagrdless, they prevented big plays on their end and produced one of their own.

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Bills have options despite shortage at receiver

Food for thought: the Bills have four specialists, four wide receivers and four quarterbacks. You might say three quarterbacks and five wide outs depending on your point of view.

Regardless, the Bills enter week one with a very interesting set up in terms of their 53-man roster. Tavaris Jackson, Tyler Thigpen and Brad Smith are all filling a role behind Ryan Fitzpatrick as Buffalo’s signal caller. Meanwhile, only Stevie Johnson, David Nelson, T.J Graham and Donald Jones are the wide outs for Buffalo’s typically spread open attack.

Dorin Dickerson’s versatility may fill the Bills need for receiving depth.

The choice to retain Thigpen was obvious. Jackson, while a fine option to fill the backup role behind Fitzpartick, hasn’t learned the offense yet and would leave the Bills crippled if Fitzpatrick was injured early in the year. In addition, Brad Smith has a wonky groin and seems better suited as a receiver than quarterback.Smith’s groin could potentially keep him out of, or limited, against the Jets. There is still five days until kickoff which allows for plenty of healing time. Regardless if Smith plays or not, there is a better chance he will be contributing as a receiver rather than at QB (outside of wildcat plays).

What might be the best option would be to cut ties with Smith. He hasn’t proven to be worth the investment they made, particularly with so few spots available for gimmick tools (see: kickoff specialist). It might just be in the best interest of the team to retain Thigpen as a third string passer, cut ties with Smith and fill the vacant spot with a proper receiver from a practice squad, waiver wire or free agency.

It seems safe to assume that the Bills will not attempt to go through the season with just four receivers while carrying an equal number of quarterbacks. At some point they will cut ties with a signal caller to free up a roster spot for either a playmaker or some other position of need. In the short term, however, they do have some options. Continue reading