Bills-Vikings Game Review

The Buffalo Bills pulled out a last-second 17-16 victory on Sunday against the Vikings, despite turning the ball over four times. Rookie WR Sammy Watkins was the standout performer as he finished the day with 9 catches, 122 yards, and both the Bills TDs including the game-winner with one second left on the clock. The defensive unit struggled against the run, missing several tackles, but acquitted themselves nicely against the pass as they harassed Bridgewater all day long. The game never should have been this close as the Bills threw away several chances to pull away, but I give them credit for finding a way to win when the chips were down.

 

OFFENSE

The offense moved the ball well against the Vikings, piling up 401 yards but put up just two TDs and turned the ball over four times! It’s a miracle that they were able to pull out the win despite the turnovers and a whopping six sacks allowed to the Vikings. The offensive-line continues to struggle with protection, and hasn’t showed much better in the run game. Ball security has been an issue lately, as three of the Bills four turnovers were lost fumbles. Red zone efficiency continues to be an issue – they were 1 for 3 on Sunday. The Bills will have their hands full against an active front-7 this week as they take on the Jets in a key divisional game, and you can bet Rex Ryan is licking his chops after watching the tape on the Bills offensive line.

Quaterback: Kyle Orton continues to play above average by throwing receivers open and with great anticipation. Even when he is inaccurate, he usually throws the football where only the receiver can catch it. His biggest weakness, thus far, has been the lack of scrambling ability and ball security while taking a sack (he had another fumble after a sack on Sunday). But Orton is utilizing the entire field and his decision making has been quick and on point on most throws. He finished the day 31 for 43 with 283 yards and 2 TDs to Sammy Watkins and an ill-advised pass resulting in an INT. Luckily for the Bills, above average play is all they will need from their quarterback on most days.

Orton’s best drive, as expected, was the last drive of the game. With 3:07 left in the game, and down six points, Orton led an efficient 80-yard drive down the field and threw the game-winner to Watkins with one second left in the game. He overcame bad protection, a false-start penalty, and an intentional grounding and remained poised and threw darts to his receivers, including an impressive 4th-and-20 yard throw over the middle to Chandler over two line backers, in front of a safety, into a tight window. Later in the drive, after the intentional grounding penalty, Orton threw a back-shoulder pass to Chris Hogan who was stopped at the 2-yard line and then spiked the football with five seconds remaining on the clock. The final throw to Watkins was on time, and in a great spot as only the rookie WR had a shot at the ball and resulted in a relatively easy TD catch.

 

Offensive Line:

Who stood out: The Bills offensive line struggled, yet again, and it’s hard to find a bright spot right now but Sentreal Henderson was probably as close to one out of the starting unit. The right side of the Bills line generally held up well and Henderson was the biggest reason why. That’s not to say that he played great, as he had a few mistakes of his own, but this game was a step in the right direction for Henderson who struggled mightily last week.

Who needs work: Guards Cyril Richardson and Erik Pears both struggled in this one. The Bills interior has trouble with stunting defensive linemen, Richardson especially, and on the whole the unit gave up 6 sacks. Most of them seemed to be of the miscommunication variety as the Bills struggle to find consistency along the front-five.

 

Running Backs/Tight Ends:

Who stood out: Anthony “Boobie” Dixon did his best Fred Jackson impersonation after the Bills top RB-duo went down with long-term injuries (Spiller likely out for the season). He managed to always fall forward and is a no-nonsense north-south runner who is more prone to lowering his shoulder when facing a defender than trying to run around him. He finished the day with 51 yards on 13 carries. It will be interesting to see how the Bills divide the carries this week after their likely activation of Bryce Brown, whom the Bills traded for this off-season. Dixon also showed well in the passing game as he chipped in 3 receptions for 15 yards and

Who needs work: The usual “CJ Spiller” section comes to an unceremonious end this season as the Bills explosive-but-frustrating runner is likely out for the season after breaking his collar-bone on the heels of his best run of the season: an impressive 53-yard jaunt. One week after a breakout performance, Scott Chandler pitched in a quiet 3 for 36 performance and generally failed to gain separation from his defender. It’s also hard to blame Chandler when Orton seemed to be locked onto Watkins more often than not. Chandler had an ugly drop on the final drive of the game that would’ve put the Bills in much better position, instead they were stuck with 3rd and 17, down six points. After an Orton sack, Chandler acquitted himself nicely by gaining 22 yards on 4th-and-20, probably the most important catch of the day, asides from maybe the game-winner by Watkins.

 

Wide Receivers:

Who stood out: Speaking of Sammy Watkins, he ran an absolute clinic on route-running and displaying his catch-radius all day long as Orton threw a few inaccurate passes his way that Sammy, nonetheless, adjusted well to. The rookie WR was a human highlight-reel and hauled in 9 passes for 122 yards and 2 TDs, including the game-winner with 1 second left in the game. His second-quarter TD was a simple fly route that Orton made a great anticipation throw on. With Watkins making considerable progress in his game after the first few weeks, I would expect opponents to give more help to his side which will give others in the receiver room to make plays.

Who needs work: Robert Woods and Chris Hogan both had key fumbles in this game. Hogan’s came near the red zone, which probably took away at least three points from the Bills. Later in the game, however, Hogan atoned for his mistake by making an impressive in-the-air adjustment to a back shoulder pass to put the Bills at the 2-yard line and set up the game-winner to Watkins.


DEFENSE

 The defense struggled against the run on Sunday, allowing a season-high 5.4 yards per carry to Viking runners, including 2.85 yards after contact (another season-high). The Bills also allowed their first 100-yard rusher of the season – rookie Jerick McKinnon. Upon tape review of the game, the Bills struggled with covering up cutback lanes against the Vikings and also had an uncharacteristically high number of missed tackles (9, by my count). With the Jets power rushing attack coming into town, spearheaded by battering-ram Chris Ivory, look for the Bills to make this a point of emphasis in the film room this week. The front-four did manage five sacks and made Teddy Bridgewater uncomfortable for most of the game. They also picked him off twice and held him to just 157 yards through the air.

 

Defensive Line:

Who stood out: It was the Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes show again, but Dareus is the winner this week as he was more consistent in the run game and usually was double-teamed but still managed 2 sacks. Hughes was a terror in his own right but was caught out of position in the run game a couple of times as the Bills, uncharacteristically,  were gashed on the ground by the Vikings.

Who needs work: Kyle Williams and Mario Williams failed to make much of an impact in this game. Kyle played his usual amount of snaps but really struggled to get a push on the Vikings interior – he might still not be 100% healthy after the early-season knee injury. Mario, on the other hand, had a few flash plays including a sack but he only played 58% of the snaps. There was no injury reported so I’m not sure if this was a conditioning issue or the Bills simply wanted to get Jarius Wynn more involved, but it is notable nonetheless.

 

Line Backers:

Who stood out: It wasn’t particularly flashy, but rookie Preston Brown continues to be solid on all three downs. He has cleaned up angles on passing plays, but still needs some work against the run. Nigel Bradham was solid, yet unspectacular, as well. He had a few missed tackles but also chipped in with a few flash plays in the game.

Who needs work:  Brandon Spikes had his worst game of the season, one week after a disappointing performance against the Patriots in an expected-revenge game. Spikes is slow to react in the passing game and prefers to play downhill attacking the runner in the hole. He did have a tipped pass that resulted in an INT, but he rarely got a jump on the runner and failed to shed blocks consistently – usually, his strongest part of the game.

 

Defensive Backs:

Who stood out: It’s hard to argue with Leodis McKelvin’s 2 INTs and his solid game overall, but I was also impressed with how well Stephon Gilmore showed in run support. He has been aggressive in attacking the ball carrier lately, and it has helped patch up any leaks in the Bills runs defense.

Who needs work: Corey Graham was caught out of position a few times in this one, including the WR screen pass to Cordarelle Patterson inside the 5 yard line that resulted in a touchdown. It’s impossible to know where Graham was supposed to line-up but this is the second time this year that the Bills have been victims of a WR screen pass inside their own 5-yard line (The first time it was against the Chargers and Philip Rivers hit Eddie Royal for an easy TD). With the Bills run defense being so stout, more teams will be calling these screens and quick patterns which operate as an extended hand-off to the wide receivers and the Bills haven’t been ready for them. (Ironically, WR Sammy Watkins excelled at this at Clemson and the Bills have failed to get him involved in that manner on offense). Nickell Robey was also a usual culprit when the Bills allowed key catches in the game. Robey has had a regression to the mean after a stellar rookie campaign as an undrafted free agent last year for the Bills.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Who stood out: Punter Colton Schmidt was the lone bright spot on special teams as he finished the day with a 40 yard average on five punts.

Who needs work: The rest of the special teams unit had a sub-par day. Kickoff specialist Jordan Gay managed zero touchbacks on his four tries. The Bills made a curious decision to squib a kickoff with 9:21 left in the second quarter that gave the Vikings the football at midfield after a penalty tacked-on.