Bills-Patriots Tape Review

 

Steve Gostkowski kicks the game winning Field Goal

 

 

Using the NFL Game Rewind All-22 Coaches’ Tape, I re-watched every snap of last Sunday’s Buffalo Bills’ loss to the New England Patriots. I hope to have game notes every week, but before we move forward a few caveats on tape review notes.

1. These posts will be focused exclusively on player execution. Without having a Bills playbook along with knowledge of what play was called, judging performance becomes educated guesswork. So don’t be surprised if you read other articles like this one and you see different reviews of a player’s performance.

2. These posts will never evaluate the coaches’ performance, play-calling, in-game decision-making. They might cover in-game adjustments every now and then.

3. I won’t be able to cover every single player, or even single starter even. I will focus on players that caught my eye, and since quarterback play is so important to team success, his evaluation will always be included.

4. I will lump the offensive and defensive line into their own units, instead of player by player analysis, unless someone stands out to me.

That being said, let’s begin. I will break up my notes by the offensive and defensive unit, but separate them by players who stand out.

Offense:

E.J. Manuel:

E.J. Manuel started off the game much better than his first preseason game but then was late on a deep throw to rookie wide receiver Robert Woods that ended up in an interception but was negated by a penalty. He also seemed to hang that ball in the air on that throw. That was a rookie mistake that should correct itself with more experience.

Manuel had a couple of intermediate throws that I’d like to see more of in future games, some in tight windows. If he polishes that part of his game, he could have a pretty decent year. In the second quarter, Manuel made a nice throw over a linebacker and in front of a safety to Chandler that was in the perfect position over the tight end’s shoulder that he flat-out dropped.

Later in the game, in the red zone, he made another nice intermediate pass over the linebackers, in front of the safeties, to Chandler over the middle. He purposely threw that ball behind him where only Chandler would’ve caught it – and there were three defenders converging where Chandler was headed.

The second quarter touchdown pass to Woods was  thing of beauty. Manuel froze the safeties with his eyes and then threw a strike to Woods in the right corner of the end zone, wide open. Veteran play by Manuel.

His third quarter touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson was even better. The corner covering Stevie was in trail technique (trailing slightly behind the receiver to make a play on a potential under throw, and usually a safety covering over the top), while the safety covered the top. Manuel froze the safety in his spot for a second, quickly made a decision and threw a perfect fade to the back of the end zone that Stevie came down with in stride.

Manuel’s running ability and athleticism will get him out of trouble a lot this year. He made a couple of nice runs when the play broke down while still protecting his body. He also had a Madden-esque spin move on defensive end Chandler Jones of the Patriots that resulted in an eight yard completion to Stevie Johnson instead of a sack.

His deep passes left much to be desired, but it seemed like the general theme with him was to play it safe. His deep throws were either all too far down the field, or out-of-bounds, likely in an effort to avoid any turnovers. I don’t mind that at this stage of his development.

C.J. Spiller:

Spiller looked hesitant to start the game. On both his runs on the first drive, he showed his rookie year lack of vision. There were better lanes to run through both times within his immediate field of vision but he seemed to have decided where he was going to go before the ball was snapped. He also showed no patience on those runs, often hitting the hole instead of waiting for it to develop.

His fumble on his second carry was very undisciplined. It wasn’t a particularly big hit and he did not have two hands on the football in traffic like he should have. Furthermore, in the passing game, Spiller showed the tendency to try to outrun his defender towards the sideline instead of heading north-south.

In the second half, Spiller continued this trend of trying to bounce the runs to the outside too much. The offensive line did struggle some in run blocking, especially Colin Brown. But I believe it was more Spiller’s lack of patience than the mediocre play of the offensive line that kept getting him in trouble. Fred Jackson seemed to be finding holes behind the same offensive line.

Fred Jackson:

Speaking of Jackson, he had a nice game for himself. He was patient and let the holes develop and then he was decisive with his cuts. He was also a load to bring down and showcased his trademark balance and subtle wiggle to make defenders take bad angles in phone booth situations.

What Jackson lacks in speed and athleticism, he makes up for it with his vision and patience. He reminded me of the 2011 Fred Jackson, moving the chains consistently and always falling forward. He made a very nice shoestring reception on a flare route that would’ve gained 19 yards and converted a third down if not for a Kraig Urbik penalty.

Stevie Johnson:

Stevie looked comfortable in his new position running out of the slot. He is the type of receiver you want there – quick, good size and hands, but more importantly can create large chunks of separation despite lack of ideal speed. Stevie will eat up linebackers and safeties in the pass game and he’s bigger than most nickel corners which gives the Bills an edge in the run game. However, his lack of concentration will always be an issue.

Stevie giveth, and then Stevie taketh away. He did a good job hanging onto the ball in the end zone for a touchdown despite having two defenders right on him and the back of the end zone quickly approaching. But then, he dropped a critical third down pass late in the fourth quarter that would’ve extended the drive and possibly would’ve added to the one point lead the Bills were hanging on to.

Scott Chandler:

Chandler had a couple of solid catches and one big drop, but he really stood out in his blocking. He was singled up on Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones on more than one occasion and he handled him well. He also had a nice cut block coming across the formation on Jones that sprung Fred Jackson for a nice gain on the ground.

Offensive Line:

As a whole, the line struggled on running plays for most of the game, especially against Vince Wilfork. Colin Brown, especially, got a first hand lesson in facing the talented Patriots defensive line. He got thrown around like a rag doll by Wilfork on more than one occasion.

Glenn played well securing the edge for most of the game. He didn’t have too many missed blocks except for the occasional whiff in the second level. He was also beaten by Chandler Jones on a outside-in move but, as noted above, Manuel spun out of a would-be sack and completed the pass.

Mostly this unit showed a lack of chemistry and consistency in the run game. They were much better against the pass rush, however they were helped by a quick tempo and a short passing game. On the few plays the Bills did take a deep shot, the protection seemed to hold up well.

Defense:

Defensive Line:

Marcell Dareus continued his inconsistent play. He flashed a couple of excellent plays but then was also out of position on a few of them that resulted in big yardage in the run game. He had a nice pass deflection when he dropped back into spot coverage in the middle of the field on a third down. But just on the next series, he looked soft and was pushed around easily by the Patriots interior linemen.

Dareus is very athletic for his size but, unfortunately, he doesn’t have the motor that Kyle Williams has. He was a victim of some mild holding and some questionable cut blocking by the Patriots but that can’t be an excuse during the game.

Dareus was mostly out of position due to New England’s many different motions and shifts. It seemed on almost every running play, a skill player would go in motion – usually a tight end – but the Bills defensive line were a step behind to shift. Brady would then quickly snap the ball and that half a second would often give Ridley or Vereen the crease to run through for a big gain.

With a power running team like the Panthers coming into town, you know they will look to exploit this. The Bills must address this or else they’ll be putting their back seven in a very bad position and big runs will continue from last year onto this.

Kyle Williams made a few nice penetrations, and he had a huge sack late in the game on third down. The Bills need Dareus to develop so that teams can pick their poison between he and Williams.

Linebackers:

Kiko Alonso is exactly the type of all-around linebacker this defense needed in the middle of the field. He had a couple of bad plays. One in particular where he was beat badly by Vereen on an arrow route resulting in a big gain. But overall, the rookie linebacker had a very nice first game.

Alonso was quick to diagnose plays and he brought a level of physicality to the defense that has been missing in Buffalo for a few seasons. He also made a heads up play with the Patriots knocking on the door at the Bills’ goal line on a fourth down by recovering a muffed snap and essentially taking away seven points from the Pats.

What impressed me most about Alonso was how quickly he was diagnosing plays and his closing speed. He looked like a ten-year veteran in the body of a third year player out there. The sky is the limit with him and the Bills may have just made their best second round pick since Jairus Byrd.

Other than Alonso, Moats had a couple of nice run stuffs. Manny Lawson displayed a nose for the football, both in the run and the pass game. He always seems to be at the right place and when presented with a tackle he was rarely shaken off. I continue to believe that he will be the best free agent signing for the Bills this year.

Jerry Hughes also surprised me with his ability to set the edge against the run a few times. He also showcased his dynamic acceleration off the edge and was half a second away from a couple of sacks. If the coverage in the back-end improves, he might be a dark horse candidate for double-digit sacks.

Mario Williams was solid all around, but didn’t stand out to me on tape. He was close to a sack a couple of times and put some nice pressure on Brady causing incompletion’s but was fairly quiet otherwise.

Secondary:

Without Stephon Gilmore or Jairus Byrd, the story of the week was how the Bills secondary would hold up against a future hall of fame quarterback. To my surprise, the coverage was actually fairly good on most plays. Brady was just that much better, especially on the last drive where he was surgically carving blanket coverage by the Bills.

McKelvin had a few nice plays in this game and didn’t give up any big plays. He had a touchdown saving shove on rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins in the back of the end zone. Late in the game he had a couple of nice pass breakups and was milliseconds away from an interception on the Patriots’ game winning drive.

His achilles heel was the deep comeback which he gave up intermediate gains on twice to Thompkins. Both him and Justin Rogers were also badly burned on X routes from Pats receivers in a bunch formation. Speaking of Rogers, he had an up and down game.

Rogers usually held his own on early downs, however, he was the usual victim when the Patriots needed a third down conversion. He was caught on his heels on a few occasions and he gave up a long pass to Edelman and then commits the ultimate sin – misses the tackle. He did have a nice interception off a deflected pass earlier in the game.

Bills missed Stephon Gilmore in this game. He likely would’ve been on Amendola for most of the game, pushing McKelvin on Thompkins and leaving Rogers to man Edelman. It was interesting to note that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine stuck with his aggressive blitz-happy ways while keeping his defensive backfield in man coverage with some safety help over the top despite the lack of depth at corner.

Aaron Williams might have a career year in this defense at his new safety position. He can flat-out lower the boom and offers better coverage ability than Searcy, especially given his experience at corner the last two years. Once Byrd gets back to the lineup, this will be a very fun defense to watch. He had a couple of great hits and held his own in coverage at free safety. He’ll play in the box more once Byrd returns to the lineup.

Da’Norris Searcy got beat badly on a stop-n-go route by Shane Vareen. If it wasn’t for an uncharacteristic Brady overthrow, that would’ve been at least 30 yards, maybe even a touchdown. Of course, a few plays later, Searcy made a heads up play by picking up a questionable Ridley fumble and returning it 74 yards for a touchdown.

Jim Leonhard played pretty well considering he was signed just earlier last week. He showed his familiarity with Pettine’s scheme and was usually in the right place.

Special Teams:

There weren’t a lot of plays that stood out to me on special teams. However T.J. Graham muffed a kickoff late in the game and almost downed the ball, accidentally, at the one yard line but realized his would-be mistake and ran it out past the ten yard before being tackled.

On punt coverage, Marcus Easley made a nice tackle when Edelman should have called for a fair catch. Easley had a chance at a big hit but was a tad hesitant – my guess is he didn’t want to get called for interfering with the returner’s ability to catch the football. In the future, I’d like to see a big hit but I’ll take a two yard gain on a punt return.

Miscellaneous:

Other than the notes above, penalties really hampered the Bills. Mistakes cost the Bills at least three first downs on offense and gave up at least one first down on defense along with several more yards to Tom Brady. That is a recipe for disaster.

The Bills managed to win the turnover battle but a conservative game plan along with penalties really hurt them in the end.