Bills-Panthers Tape Review

E.J. Manuel Quarterback of the Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills pulled off an improbable comeback win on the shoulders of their rookie quarterback, E.J. Manuel, and a stellar performance by their defensive unit, including a record-breaking sack performance from Mario Williams. In our weekly tape review series, I dive deeper into the team’s performance using the NFL Game Rewind All-22 Coaches’ tape. See my post from last week for the usual caveats regarding this series of posts.

Offense:

Offensive Line:

Left guard Colin Brown, yet again, stood out to me on tape…in a bad way. He whiffed badly on running plays a few times. Brown is too light on his feet and gets tossed around rather easily by power linemen whereas he is too slow to react to quicker linemen and is often caught leaning with bad position. He is not even a backup level player, let alone a starter. Going against a very talented Jets defensive line, I wouldn’t be surprised if they key their blitzes to the left side of the Bills offensive line this week.

Cordy Glenn did a mostly excellent job at left tackle despite Brown’s failures. He made Greg Hardy a non-factor for much of the day in the pass and the run game. Center Eric Wood also stood out to me in the run game. He made an excellent pull block to spring Fred Jackson for the first Bills touchdown.

Overall, the right side of the line with right guard Kraig Urbik and right tackle Erik Pears were much more sound in run blocking and the Bills would be smart to call more running plays in that direction.

C.J. Spiller

I was very curious as to how Spiller was going to bounce back from a poor performance last week and he did not disappoint. He was far more decisive in his cuts and was patient for the holes to develop on most occasions. He tends to run into issues when he is challenged wide and behind the line of scrimmage. He tries to bounce around too much and makes a bad play worse instead of just finding the nearest crease and taking a short loss. He was also bowled over in pass protection a couple of times but Manuel’s athleticism saved him.

However, his fourth quarter run of 46 yards was vintage Spiller. He took an off-tackle run, found and hit the hole hard and beat his defenders to the edge and up the sideline for a big gain. He looked a lot more like his 2012 self in this game.

Running backs/Tight ends:

Fred Jackson was his usual dependable self. He always seems to fall forward and is very good in pass protection. As a receiver, he was crucial on the final drive making some nice catches over the middle and out running last year’s defensive rookie of the year, linebacker Luke Kuechly. He also kept the drive alive by dropping the ball on purpose on the final drive when Kuechly had him bottled up and thus stopped the clock.

The tight ends didn’t stand out much to me. Scott Chandler looks even slower this year, likely due to his ACL surgery last year. He is a solid receiver but the Bills desperately need a big athletic tight end over the middle to put fear into opposing linebackers and safeties. Lee Smith had a very bone-headed hold on a linebacker which negated a 28 yard run by Spiller to the left side.

Fullback Frank Summers had himself a nice first half, followed by a forgettable second half. He made a couple of nice catches and showed off some nifty moves for intermediate gains in the first half. In the second half, he had a terrible holding penalty on a punt return which gave the Panthers a first down which eventually resulted in a touchdown. Later in the game, he whiffed badly in pass protection which resulted in a sack and fumble.

Wide Receivers:

Stevie Johnson had himself a huge game going over 100 yards receiving along with the game-winning touchdown. He made a couple of nice adjustment catches on throws slightly behind him and showed off his run-after-catch ability on a ten yard pass that he took for an additional 35 yards.

Robert Woods continued his precise route running and he showed off his hands by consistently catching the ball away from his body. He looks like a slightly faster and smoother Stevie Johnson thus far. T.J. Graham was mostly invisible except for a nice block on a corner which sprung Spiller on his long run for the day.

E.J. Manuel:

The Bills started off their first offensive series with more aggressive play calling compared to last week. There were at least two intermediate to deep throws on the first series, however Manuel was inaccurate on both throws including a would-be touchdown to tight end Scott Chandler up the seam.

Most of his first half mistakes were overthrows or out-of-bounds which, as a coach, you’ll take any day from your rookie quarterback. His completions in the first half were mostly short throws mixed in with a couple of nice intermediate throws.

Manuel really started to get into a rhythm in the second half where, it seemed, the game started to slow down for him. He was going through his progressions quicker and was a little more decisive with the football, especially in the third quarter. He made a big boy throw over the deep middle to Robert Woods over the linebackers but in front of the safeties on a crossing route.

But on the same drive, he made a bone-headed decision to throw to Woods on a slant where the corner had jumped the route. Woods had to take a pass interference penalty to avoid an interception which would’ve been returned for a long touchdown. His throw to Woods on the two-point conversion, however, was the right read and decision even though Stevie was also open in the back of the end-zone.

In the fourth quarter, Manuel made a couple of huge mistakes, one of which resulted in an interception. He was late and got caught staring down his receivers on a couple of throws. One such throw to Fred Jackson was behind him and really should have been picked off as well.

His athleticism, however, is very apparent on tape. He made a Cam-Newtonesque play on the final drive to avoid a sack by maintaining his balance after a defender almost had him tackled and rolled out and threw a pass to C.J. Spiller for a short gain. On the penultimate play of the game-winning drive, he made an aggressive but smart decision by scrambling for a nice gain but still making sure he got out-of-bounds at the two yard line to stop the clock.

His go-ahead touchdown throw to Stevie was on the same exact route combination as the earlier two point conversion, but on the opposite side of the field. The Carolina defensive backfield, ravaged with injuries in this game, got caught in a miscommunication and two defenders jumped the slant, leaving Stevie wide open for an easy throw and catch on the corner route from the slot.

Overall, Manuel had another inconsistent game on tape. Bills fans will call this an excellent performance due to the game-winning drive and touchdown pass but he still has some things to keep working on before we can anoint him. As head coach Doug Marrone rightfully said, he has not arrived yet.

Buffalo Bills defense

Defense:

Mario Williams:

Super Mario, as fans like to call him, had himself a dominant day against the mobile Cam Newton and the Panthers. Williams was all over the field in this one and finally looked 100 percent healthy finally. One of the toughest things for an edge defender to do is to know when to play contain against a mobile quarterback and when to go straight at him for the sack. Williams played this as well as anyone could have.

His first sack was more of a coverage sack on which he was initially playing contain on. Williams did a great job of always staying in the play by keeping the offensive lineman’s hands off of him. His second sack showed his relentless motor and an array of moves and he finished on that play.

His third sack was a thing of beauty as he absolutely abused left tackle Jordan Gross with a bull rush and then a swim. He had another sack that he shared with Dareus showing a good motor again. His final sack, like his first, was on a play on which he was playing contain and was able to chase down Cam along the sideline.

After the game, Williams stated that he finally feels free physically and mentally. If that’s the case, then Bills opponents will have to get used to more of this.

Defensive Line:

Other than Williams, Dareus stood out to me on tape as being more active than last week, especially in the run game. I saw him shedding blocks on a more consistent basis and he was being doubled a lot more. He was also the victim of an illegal cut block by the Panthers in the first quarter and didn’t return until halfway through the second quarter.

The Bills defense was put in a very tough position off of a couple of turnovers by the offense in the fourth quarter in their own half of the field. But, both times, the defense was able to hold Carolina to three points. For that to happen, someone on the defense has to make an impact play.

Mario’s last sack was one of them as it was on a third down. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams made another such play as he stuffed the running back for no gain on a second down and the third down run was stopped short resulting in a field goal.

Kyle Williams also changed the passing lane by attempting to swat the ball a couple of times and he was able to successfully deflect one Newton’s passes. He had another great stuff in the running game in the fourth quarter. The rest of the defensive line was solid all around. Alan Branch played well while Dareus was out with the injury, pushing the pocket and changing running lanes more often than not.

Linebackers:

Manny Lawson is turning out to be a very solid run defender. He diagnoses the play quickly and accelerates to the ball carrier and finishes the play. Lawson has also proven adept at setting the edge. He was, however, a liability in coverage as Panthers tight end Greg Olsen slipped past him for their first touchdown. Lawson was also asked to spy Cam Newton a couple of times, no easy task, and he did fairly well sharing a sack with Mario Williams early in the game.

Kiko Alonso had himself another very nice game to add to his young career. Alonso diagnoses plays so quickly and runs with such authority that every now and then he does get caught out of position. On one such occasion, immediately after Frank Summers’ boneheaded special teams penalty which gave the Panthers a first down on a fourth down,

Alonso misdiagnosed the play and got caught completely out of position which allowed DeAngelo Williams to sprint down the middle of the field for a 20 yard gain.

I like Alonso’s aggressive nature but he must play a little more disciplined to avoid giving up chunk yardage like that. Alonso and Arthur Moats teamed up for an almost sack in the fourth quarter that was a clutch play as it held the Panthers to three points on that drive as well.

I was impressed by his quick diagnoses of screen plays and he has been great in coverage thus far. On his first quarter interception, he was playing zone but he read Newton’s eyes and kept shading to one side of the field and jumped a deep curl route for an easy pick.

Arthur Moats was solid against the run and had a couple of nice pressures himself but he was a liability in pass coverage letting tight end Greg Olsen slip out for big gains a couple of times. Moats is a decent athlete but he does not have the speed to play sideline to sideline. I’m also surprised the Bills are asking Jerry Hughes to cover running backs, tight ends and even wide receivers in the passing game.

Hughes has an elite first step as a pass rusher but he is not a cover linebacker. He lost the coverage battle almost every time. His role needs to be limited to situational pass rusher or as a fourth linemen in the run game. He does okay when asked to cover the flats in zone coverage, but asking him to cover man-to-man is a recipe for disaster.

Secondary:

Aaron Williams, again, stood out on tape to me. He was always around the football and was flying all over the field. He provides sound support in the run game and he reacts quickly and drives on the ball in the passing game. He did have a boneheaded late hit penalty on a third down pass play which gave the Panthers new life.

Leodis McKelvin was very impressive on tape. He was step for step on almost every pass play with all-pro receiver Steve Smith. He held Smith to 52 yards on five catches, and almost all of them were of the comeback variety. McKelvin was, rightfully, guarded against the deep ball knowing Smith is a speedster and that the Panthers wanted to get their deep passing going.

On the other side of the field, Justin Rogers was consistently beaten deep by Ted Ginn, Jr., Newton found Ginn on one of those plays for a long touchdown. Rogers had a nice pass breakup on the Panthers’ first possession, but other than that he was burned consistently by Panther receivers. I said it last week and I’ll say it again, Stephon Gilmore cannot return soon enough.

Searcy and Leonhard’s  play was solid. Leonhard got more snaps last week, likely because Searcy got injured against New England. They rotated at free safety in this game with about 60-70 percent snaps going to Searcy. Both held their own in this game. Nickell Robey had a nice jump on a pass that he had no business touching, and almost came away with a diving interception.

Special Teams:

The special teams unit had a pretty bad performance against the Panthers. Dan Carpenter missed a 42 yard field goal. Moats, Easley, and rookie safety Duke Williams lost contain on a punt coverage giving up big yardage. On a kickoff, Brandon Burton lost contain giving up huge yardage. Lawson was flagged for a neutral zone infraction on a punt return, luckily it was a fourth and nine to begin with.

The biggest mistake, as outlined earlier, was Frank Summers holding on a punt return and giving the Panthers new life instead of E.J. Manuel and the offense trotting out there. Later in the game, Marcus Easley did have a nice special teams tackle on a kickoff return giving the Panthers terrible starting field position inside their own ten yard line.

Buffalo Bills C.J. Spiller

Miscellaneous:

Penalties, once again, really plagued this team. The Bills have been consistently shooting themselves in the foot with undisciplined penalties. They cleaned it up in the fourth quarter and if it wasn’t for a miraculous game-winning drive by Manuel, we’d be sitting here talking about how the penalties cost the Bills this game.

They must clean this part of their game up. Finally, the Bills actually lost the turnover battle 2-1, but still managed to pull off the win on the backs of their defense along with Manuel’s game-winning drive. Overall, this team found a way to win, which is a welcomed change.