Bills – Chargers Game Review

The Buffalo Bills stumbled at home with a 22-10 loss to the  San Diego Chargers and fell to 2-1 on the young season. Philip Rivers and co., without their starting running back, gave the Bills defense fits by spreading the ball around and simply wore them out. The Bills offense didn’t do the team any favors either, as EJ Manuel struggled with his accuracy, and the team as a whole committed 11 penalties for 110 yards. Let’s dive into the unit-by-unit notes based on my tape review.

 

                                                              OFFENSE

As a unit, the offense was hampered by inaccurate/indecisive play at quarterback, and ill-timed penalties that killed drives. The Bills were able to move the ball relatively ok, but only mustered 10 points. They were actually a respectable 6 for 14 on third downs, but only made it to the opposing red zone twice in the game and converted both for points (one TD, one FG).

 

Quaterback: EJ Manuel was inaccurate for much of the game and it was due to poor footwork. He showed nervous feet and was generally slow in making decisions, which, coupled with off balance positioning, caused several inaccurate throws. He also seemed to throw a lot of touch passes and miss his receivers high towards the sidelines on deep outs and comebacks, whereas he had a couple of darts on crossing routes that were behind receivers. I know it was an extremely windy day at the Ralph but Manuel must learn how to throw in those conditions or else home field advantage won’t mean much for Buffalo. Manuel also made a rookie-type mistake by throwing the ball out of bounds in the end zone and taking an unnecessary safety. This was his worst game of the season, thus far.

1

(This throw by Manuel to Woods on a deep comeback was high and late, which causes an in-completion. Woods had separation and great positioning on this route that should have resulted in chunk yardage)

Manuel was also indecisive in his reads on several occasions and really does not feel the rush well while standing in the pocket. It was a minor miracle that he did not turn the ball over in this game. It would seem that Manuel has made a concerted effort this year to avoid injuries and while I do agree that he needs to be smart with the hits he takes, he is being too conservative in my opinion. Take this 2nd down run on the opening drive – Manuel is flushed out of the pocket with all his receivers covered and as he is heading to the sideline Robert Woods has a solid block on the defender who is about 5 yards from Manuel.

2(Instead of gaining a few more yards to make it an easier 3rd down conversion, Manuel runs out of bounds at the 26-yard line. The end result: Manuel scrambles again on 3rd down but is two yards short of the first down marker and the Bills have to punt on their opening possession)

 

With 14 seconds left in the half, right after a Chargers score, the Bills decided to give Manuel a chance to make a couple of safe throws and see if they could get into field goal range. Manuel was under pressure and lofted an off-balance pass to Fred Jackson in the flat that Jackson adjusted to and secured the ball with Pro-bowl safety Eric Weddle closing in. A play like that could’ve easily ended up in a pick-six.

34

(Manuel had a relatively easy pass to make over/around the defender here with Woods on the sideline and room to gain a couple yards. Instead the pass is lofted and about 5 yards over Woods’ head and out of bounds.)

6(Manuel misses a wide-open Robert Woods in the middle of the field – throw was late and behind Woods. It’s unclear whether Woods was supposed to look at Manuel earlier in the route but he has plenty of room in front of him and Manuel had a clean pocket.)

78

(Notice #19 Mike Williams coming wide open with about 20 yards of open field in front of him if Manuel is able to hit him in stride. Instead, the pass is dangerously lofted into the middle of the field towards Sammy Watkins who has two defenders near him.)

9

(Manuel throws behind Marquise Goodwin on a crossing pattern and gets his receiver clobbered by Chargers safety Eric Weddle. Play resulted in an incomplete pass.)

 

Manuel did have some good plays too. He miraculously escaped a ferocious pass rush by the Chargers and found Chandler just before falling down which resulted in a big gain. I applaud him taking a couple of deep shots in this game to at least get that 8th defender out of the box and even cause a pass-interference call on one occasion. He also made a great pre-snap read on a Chargers strong-side blitz and threw a perfect touch pass to Fred Jackson which resulted in a big gain on 3rd down for the Bills.

Overall, Manuel’s footwork, timing, and ball location left much to be desired in this game. The second year quarterback did avoid turning the ball over, and it was a windy day at the Ralph, but he needs to work on those areas of the game if he wants to take the next step forward.

 

Offensive Line:

Who stood out: The Bills offensive line, for the most part, had a solid day at the office. They opened up a few good running lanes for the backs and generally gave Manuel time to throw. Nobody, in particular, stood out to me on tape.

 

Who needs work: The biggest downgrade was when Chris Williams left the game and Kraig Urbik came in at left guard. Urbik failed to get much push in the run game and was constantly being walked back into Manuel’s lap forcing him to throw on the run. Head Coach Doug Marrone has already stated that rookie Cyril Richardson, and not Urbik, will take over for the injured Williams should he miss any time.

 

Running Backs/Tight Ends:

Who stood out: Fred Jackson was a constant security blanket for the inaccurate Manuel and made several adjustments to bad throws while keeping the Bills within striking distance. He also scored the lone Bills touchdown on the day on a well-executed screen pass. Jackson is, quite possibly, the best pass protecting running back in the NFL and he had several key blocks in that department.

Who needs work: The tight ends, as a group, were again nonexistent in this game except for a busted play in which Manuel somehow found a wide open Chandler with nobody within 40 yards of him.

 

Wide Receivers:

Who stood out: Nobody in the receiving corps stood out to me. Woods had a couple of nice catches but he was a victim of lack of targets. Sammy Watkins looked out of sync despite Manuel forcing throws to him. Goodwin drew a defensive holding penalty on a deep ball and also took a big blindside hit while dropping a poorly thrown ball. Mike Williams was mostly a security blanket for Manuel when the Bills were in comeback mode.

Who needs work: Everyone. But if I had to highlight one player, it would be Sammy Watkins. The rookie admitted to taking a play off late in the game and was generally out of sync with Manuel and looked nothing like the guy who was burning the Miami secondary the previous week.

 

                                                          DEFENSE
On defense, the Buffalo Bills knew they would have their hands full with an offense that gave the world champion Seahawks fits last week. While the Bills defense managed just one sack on Rivers and zero turnovers, they were usually applying pressure on him. However, that proved to be not enough as Rivers carved them up for 251 yards on just 25 attempts, good for 9.7 yards per attempt. The defense actually held them to a respectable 5 for 13 on third downs but an inept offense coupled with some big plays given up on defense and crushing penalties did them in for the day, ultimately.

Defensive Line:

Who stood out: Kyle Williams was constantly in the backfield causing disruptions and making the running back change his target. Even on plays where Williams was on the backside of the run, he was regularly able to shed the block and close the cutback lanes for the running back. He was a big reason why the Bills run defense held the Chargers running backs to 2.11 yards per carry.

Who needs work: As a whole, the Bills defensive line played pretty well in this game. The Bills rarely blitzed because Philip Rivers is deadly in those situations and asked the front-four to create pressure on their own, which they generally did.

 

Line Backers:

Who stood out: Nobody in particular. Bradham and Spikes both had an up-and-down day. Bradham dropped coverage a couple of times resulting in medium gains but played well against the run. Spikes was strictly a run defender playing only 18 snaps. He was flagged for a personal foul when the Chargers were in the red zone that handed over valuable yardage. Otherwise, he was solid in the run game.

Who needs work: The Chargers picked on Preston Brown in pass coverage as he is still adjusting to the speed and subtleties of playing coverage in the NFL. The rookie linebacker was late to pick up a crossing Eddie Royal on a third down that resulted in a long gain. He was also tagged for a costly pass-interference call in the end zone on tight-end Ladarius Green which gave the Chargers a 1st and goal at the one yard line (Luckily, the defense was able to hold them to a field goal). On the same possession he got caught in traffic, which left running back Donald Brown (who leaked out into the front of the end zone) wide open. If it weren’t for a great pass rush by Marcell Dareus, Rivers would’ve easily hit Brown for a touchdown.

 

Defensive Backs:

Who stood out: Bills safety, Aaron Williams, played on almost every defensive snap and had his best game of the young season. He made multiple key stops in the run game and he was very good in coverage for most of the day. On one particular play, he ran stride for stride with Malcolm Floyd with no safety help (Floyd burned the Bills secondary for two other 49 yard catches). He led the Bills with 14 tackles.

Who needs work:

 The Secondary: Asides from Aaron Williams and Corey Graham, the entire Bills secondary had an absolutely atrocious game. Their biggest weakness seemed to be pick plays by the Chargers that routinely left a receiver wide open. Supposed stud corner Stephon Gilmore was allowing catches in his area all day and looked slow to react on a couple of run plays. On one particular 3rd down play, the coverage held up pretty well and the pass rush flushed Rivers out of the pocket and he decided to tuck and run it; Gilmore had his front to the line of scrimmage and was positioned right at the first down marker and Rivers had 9 yards to cover against the defensive back. Gilmore waited till Rivers was about 5 yards past the line of scrimmage to give chase, which proved to be too late and an easy first down for Rivers.

Rivers constantly picked on Nickell Robey in this game and he, like the previous game, seems a step late to react. He might be better suited to play nickel when the defense is blitzing because he knows he only has to cover for two-three seconds at most. Robey and Duke Williams had, what looked like, a miscommunication in the second quarter that left speedy tight-end Ladarius Green wide open on a corner route that a veteran quarterback like Rivers will hit every time.

 

Special Teams:

The Bills special teams unit had a pretty good day at the office. They failed to create any turnovers but also protected the ball well on returns. Safety Duke Williams had a nice tackle on their first punt holding the returner to a minimal gain. The punt coverage also had another well-covered punt in the second half that actually forced the Chargers back. Punter Colton Schmidt had another good day at the office with two punts inside the opposing 20 yard line.