Bills-Lions Game Review

Bills – Game Review

 The Buffalo Bills earned an impressive 17-14 come-back win against the Detroit Lions on Sunday that proved to be a fitting way to end the ownership tenure of the Wilson family (Former Bills owner Ralph Wilson was a Detroit native, and the ownership change is set to be voted upon tomorrow). The Bills couldn’t do much on offense for most of the game but their impressive defensive performance kept them within striking distance and Bills were able to take advantage of that late in the game. Buffalo was also aided by three missed field goals by Detroit, and they finished the game with an impressive 58 yard game winning field goal by Dan Carpenter. The refs also made some questionable calls against the Bills: for the second time this year, the Bills have been victims of would-be penalties against the other team that the refs decided to, somehow, pick up the flags on. In the end, the Bills are 3-2 and sit atop the AFC East with a home date against the New England Patriots this Sunday with the division lead on the line.

OFFENSE

The Bills’ generally reliable rushing attack struggled against a stout Lions front seven as the running backs managed just 57 yards rushing on 20 attempts (2.85 YPC). The offensive line committed a litany of penalties, most of them in the first half, as the Bills were constantly trying to pull themselves out of long down and distances. The passing game seemed to click well, however, with Orton under center (except for a pick six in the second quarter). On the whole, the penalties are concerning (11 for 74 yds) and if it wasn’t for the Bills defense or the missed field goals by Detroit, this one probably would’ve resulted in a loss. The offense struggled in the red zone, again, and this is becoming a disturbing trend that will eventually bite them if it’s not improved upon (33% TD rate in the red zone).

Quaterback:

Kyle Orton looked rusty in the first half against the Lions, but eventually settled in and did enough to keep the chains moving and put the Bills in a position to win. This is exactly the type of play I expected Kyle Orton to bring to the table. He wasn’t glamorous, his stats weren’t that great (30/43, 308 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT), but he got the job done when it counted the most. Orton seemed to make more pre-snap reads than Manuel did but that can be a double-edged sword as the receivers have to be on the same page as him or else plays like the second quarter pick-six happen. The pick wasn’t entirely Orton’s fault as rookie WR Sammy Watkins should have recognized the corner squatting on the route and come back to the ball more. Overall, Orton made a couple of very nice throws, including a pretty deep ball to Marquise Goodwin down the sideline after holding the safety with a pump fake. He also made some inaccurate throws, including the big throw to Watkins right before the game winning field goal. The throw was high and behind Watkins that would’ve resulted in an incomplete pass or possibly a turnover if it wasn’t for a circus juggling act by Watkins.

The biggest difference I noticed from the quarterback change was that Orton’s ball location and timing was better than Manuel’s. He generally threw the ball where his receiver can catch and run with the football, and the ball came out quicker than with Manuel. His teammates, reportedly, noticed a difference in their quarterback’s demeanor in the huddle where Orton seemed to take charge of the huddle and act as a calming presence. As he gets in more time with the receivers the timing will improve and extra practices should help them get on the same page so they are seeing the same thing on Sundays. His audible to change the play from a pass to a run that resulted in a successful two-point conversion was an underrated veteran play that won’t show up on the stat sheet. For now, Orton is providing steady play at the quarterback position, which will be enough most weeks the way this defense is playing.

 

Offensive Line:

Who stood out : Eric Wood was probably the best offensive lineman in this game. He was a steady presence and was a big reason why the Lions impressive front four were only able to get to Orton twice for sacks. The whole Bills line struggled to pave many running lanes but Wood graded out higher than his line mates and seemed to get better push throughout the game.

Who needs work: Rookie guard Cyril Richardson was penalized three times (two false starts and a holding) and was being dominated on run plays by the Detroit defensive line. It’s unfair to ask a fifth round rookie to handle JJ Watt and Nick Fairley/Ndamukong Suh in back to back weeks but such is life in the NFL.

 

Running Backs/Tight Ends:

Who stood out: Fred Jackson is the most consistent offensive players on this Bills roster and it is not even close. He finished the day with 49 yards on 10 carries (4.9 YPC) and also hauled in 7 passes for 58 yards (8.25 avg). He makes everyone around him look better as he routinely makes something out of nothing in the run and pass game. He is a great pass blocker and an excellent receiver out of the backfield. He rarely got stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage despite receiving early contact. Plays that should result in a loss or no gain are usually turned into a 2-3 yard gain by Jackson. He doesn’t have the breakaway speed or the open field moves of Spiller but he is always moving the offense forward and that is more valuable to a Bills offense that is struggling to move the ball.

Who needs work: Jackson’s younger, faster, and more dynamic running mate CJ Spiller had, arguably, the worst game of his career. He “contributed” 8 yards on 10 carries (0.8 YPC) and hauled in 3 passes for 25 yards (8.33 avg). Spiller continues to bounce runs out wide far too often, and even when he sticks his head down and tries to go north he simply isn’t strong enough to push the pile or fall forward like Jackson does. Spiller supporters will point to the fact that the coaching staff isn’t using him in space like the previous regime routinely did, and I while I agree with that to a certain extent, Spiller is just flat out bad unless he has the ball in his hands with space. He’s a one dimensional back and he completely failed on a pass block attempt in the first half that ended up in a sack and almost resulted in a safety. At this point, the coaching staff either needs to scheme better to make up for his lack of vision and inside running skills or the front office needs to trade him while he has some semblance of value. Unless we see a massive turnaround this year, I doubt they will re-sign Spiller, who is in a contract year.

 

Wide Receivers:

Who stood out: Sammy Watkins made some mental errors early on in this game, including failing to come back and fight for the ball on a short comeback route that resulted in an easy INT returned for a touchdown by the Lions defense. But, like Orton, he settled down and made some impressive catches down the stretch to keep the chains moving and put the offense in position to win the game. Watkins displayed his huge catch radius several times as Orton’s throws ended up behind him but he was able to make ridiculous adjustments to them each time. His biggest catch was on the final drive as he tipped a poorly thrown ball that was behind him, in stride, and made the catch to put the Bills in field goal range for the win. Clearly he’ll have to work on his chemistry with Orton, but when the chips were down Watkins rose to the occasion.

Who needs work: No receiver in particular stood out to me as a disappointment in this game. Mike Williams was being rotated in and out with Marquise Goodwin and even Chris Hogan at times, which is something to keep an eye on. Williams is more of an outside receiver and doesn’t offer the speed that Goodwin brings to the table. With Robert Woods playing well across from Watkins, Williams might see his snaps reduced as the Bills try to work Goodwin into the game-plan.

 

DEFENSE

The defense had an incredible game on Sunday, holding the explosive Lions offense to just 263 yards and 7 points. While they were aided by injuries to Joique Bell and in-game injuries to All-pro wideout Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, in addition to the three missed field goals by Alex Henery, that should not take away from their performance. The unit played sound all game and rarely gave up back-to-back big plays – something that has haunted this defense in years past. They held the Lions to just one conversion on 11 attempts on third down and sacked Matthew Stafford six times. The Bills overcame injuries of their own on as they were without Nigel Bradham (their best all-around linebacker thus far) and Kyle Williams (arguably their best player thus far) and were without safety DaNorris Searcy and nickel corner Ron Brooks for much of the game.

 

Defensive Line:

Who stood out: I had a hard time picking between Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes, but given the fact that Dareus played almost every defensive snap and without the impressive Kyle Williams next to him, he had the more impressive performance. Both players probably had their best games of the season. Hughes was relentless in this game and played with a tenacity that I haven’t seen from him in the last couple of games. Maybe being rotated in and out with Jarius Wynn the last couple of weeks lit a fire under him. Hughes was constantly beating his blocker with a wide variety of moves and finished the day with 4 tackles, 2 sacks, and a forced fumble.

Dareus’ stat sheet doesn’t do him justice as he finished the day with 5 tackles, 3 sacks, and a forced fumble of his own. The most impressive thing, upon reviewing the tape, was that he rarely took plays off despite logging in 57 plays and fought double-teams for most of the game. If he can become a more consistent player inside, the Bills will rarely have to blitz to create pressure. This week he has the opportunity to be a game changer by applying pressure on Brady who doesn’t do well when facing pressure right up the middle.

Who needs work: It’s hard to nitpick at this defensive line’s performance. Mario Williams didn’t have the flashiest game but he was solid. He did contribute with a sack and generally did well setting the edge against the run. Stefan Charles and Corbin Bryant played well in relief of the injured Kyle Williams. Jarius Wynn and Manny Lawson were also solid in relief of Hughes and Williams.

 

Line Backers:

Who stood out: Rookie Preston Brown played every defensive snap in this game and acquitted himself well. He didn’t make any splashy plays and his stat sheet was rather mediocre with just two tackles, but he played much better in coverage and was his usual self against the run. Despite the lack of huge plays, he has provided the Bills with nice value at his draft position and continues to be the only other linebacker on the active roster, besides Nigel Bradham, that can play all three downs. Brandon Spikes saw more snaps in this game with Bradham out and was exactly who we thought he was: very good run defender, usually a liability in pass coverage. Spikes did better in coverage when he was asked to help another defender out in zone rather than cover a running back or tight end one-on-one.

Who needs work: Nobody in particular. Keith Rivers only logged 17 plays in the contest and was generally solid.

 

Defensive Backs:

Who stood out: Leodis McKelvin won’t show up much on the stat sheet as he had five tackles and one pass defended but he had his side of the field locked down. He played physical and attacked the runner more often than not. He made the physical tackle on Calvin Johnson that ended up keeping him on the sidelines for the rest of the game. Stephon Gilmore was also solid in coverage and had a tipped pass fall into his laps for an interception but McKelvin looked more confident upon re-watch.

Who needs work: Nickell Robey had an up and down game as he drew the toughest assignment having to cover Golden Tate when he lined up in the slot. He played aggressive and gambled a little too much which resulted in a couple of long gains after the catch for Tate, including a near game-winner in the 4th quarter. Robey did have a couple of passes defended and one of his four tackles went for a loss. Despite the big gains given up to Tate, this was a slight improvement for Robey from his previous games.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Who stood out: Dan Carpenter. When you hit a 58 yarder on the road to win the game, you are likely to have a lot of fans come Monday. Carpenter has been great thus far and his only miss on Sunday was at least partially due to idiot fans pointing lasers on the field. Carpenter has plenty of leg to kick in the swirling winds at Ralph Wilson Stadium and he’s been the consistent point scorer providing some relief to a struggling Bills offense. Colton Schmidt also had a very good day punting as he averaged 43.1 yards on his 8 punts, including a 61 yarder, and the coverage team was able to down 3 of those punts inside the opposing 20 yard line.

Who needs work: Punt Coverage Unit got caught out of position a couple of times and gave up two big returns to the Lions of 20 and 28 yards respectively. In a game as tight as this one, that could have been the difference had the Lions kicking game not be in shambles.