Bills Bounce Back In Impressive Fashion

By PFC Bills Writer Jay Kommuru

I couldn’t bear to write a column after the devastating MNF loss against the Patriots last week. Enough has been said about it, and truthfully I woke up on most days last week feeling as if someone had punched me square in the stomach. Going into the game I didn’t think that the Bills would pull it out against the returning Brady and the Pats. I thought maybe they would keep it respectable and if they are able to beat the gaudy 11.5 pt line for the Patriots (thank you Vegas), maybe they could gain enough momentum and confidence to carry into the rest of the season. The Bills did more than just hang with the Pats, they had them beat until the ill-advised punt return by McKelvin. The rest, as we say, is history. That game (a 25-24 loss) will go down in Bills history as one of the most heart-breaking – which is saying a lot considering Bills fans would easily vote their beloved team as the quintessential Murphy’s law team in the NFL.

Coming off that wretched loss, I had a feeling that the Bills were not going to be able to bounce back from it against Tampa Bay. As Trent Edwards put it in a post-game interview: “We put all our eggs in one basket.” So coming into week 2, the big question was would the Bills have enough left in the tank to beat the Bucs – a team they should beat. The answer on Sunday was a resounding “yes”. Don’t get me wrong, the Bills made their share of mistakes and miscues. Terrell Owens dropped a beautiful deep pass by Edwards. Jackson had a fumble in the red zone which ended up in a TD for the Bucs. Edwards and Evans had some miscommunication which ended up in an INT – again in the red zone. But the positives outweigh the negatives after two weeks into the NFL season for the Bills.

First off, the offense looks completely different than the stinker produced during pre-season. Maybe it’s the new offensive coordinator (Alex Van Pelt), or maybe its simply because of the fact that teams generally don’t show much in the preseason. Either way, the Bills seem to be moving the ball on offense through a balanced attack (56 passes to 54 rushes thru week 2).  The offensive line, which was a huge question mark going into the season, seems to be clicking well despite the mental mistakes.  Demetrius Bell is showing that he is a capable starting LT in the NFL. Further supporting the O-line development is the excellent play-calling by Alex Van Pelt so far. It is far too early to anoint him, but he is showing a real knack for calling plays that minimize inexperienced mistakes and give our offense the best chance at success. Part of that is also the T.O. factor.  As New England showed, defenses will do their best to blanket Owens and Evans. The best way to counter this is to get the ball to Reed, and our RBs and TEs. Edwards has done just that in the first two weeks. Edwards did get more aggressive against Tampa Bay as he threw 3-4 deep passes (one of those was a perfect deep ball to Owens which he let slip right through his hands). 

The play-calling was near perfect on Offense. Van Pelt is growing into his role, and it seems Jauron is going to give him ample freedom to do what is needed to take the chains off. The Bills are going to need this against the Saints next week. What I look for in offensive coordinators are plays that minimize weaknesses and play towards the strengths of the playmakers.

Furthermore, what is even more important sometimes, is calling the right play given the context or situation. For example, early in the first quarter, the Bills were in a 3rd and 2 situation where conventional wisdom would call for a run and maybe a FG if the conversion was unsuccessful. Instead, Van Pelt called for a deep pass to Evans (who was shown single-coverage as the Bucs stacked the box in anticipation of a run) which resulted in a TD. Later in the game, in the 4th quarter, with a 23-14 lead on a 1st down near midfield, he called for a play-action deep pass to Terrell Owens – which also resulted in a TD. The play-calling wasn’t just unpredictable, it was completely against the general philosophy of Dick Jauron: It was aimed to finish off the opponent instead of just milking the lead. Again, its still early, and now the real test for Van Pelt will be how he will make in-game adjustments to his game-plan as the rest of the league adjusts to his playcalling. But its hard not to get a little excited about the offense so far.

Secondly, the defensive play-calling stayed consistently aggressive throughout the game against Tampa Bay. In Week 1, the Bills had the Pats beat for most of the game by simply bringing more defenders than the Pats O-line could handle and making Brady make pressured  throws. However, in the last 5 minutes of the game after claiming a 24-13 lead, the Bills went into “prevent” mode and Brady carved them up for 2 TDs rallying the Pats to a win. This was, ultimately, what lost them the game – in my humble opinion.

It wasn’t the McKelvin fumble, or his decision to take the kickoff back out of the end zone. It was the predictable Cover-2 shell that allowed a rattled Tom Brady to get comfortable and gain his confidence back. If you don’t believe me just look at how the Jets beat Brady and the Pats in week 2: They pressured Brady constantly, not just for most of the game, but for the entire game. Give the Bills some credit though as they did not make the same mistake against Tampa Bay. Right when Leftwich looked poised to put together a comeback effort, the Bills turned up the heat which resulted in sacks or pressured throws. Now Fewell has to take the next step and call an entire game to perfection with the Saints coming up this Sunday.

A few highlights from the Tampa Bay game:
-  Donte Whitner got his first INT returned for a TD in the NFL.
-  Fred Jackson rushed for a career high 163 yards.
-  The aggressive play-calling was a welcomed change:
Dick Jauron went for it on 4th down
On defense they blitzed on 32 of the 69 offensive plays ran by Tampa Bay.
What’s better is that the Bills defense, as a unit, tackled well on blitz calls.

A preview of the Saints game will be up later this week.