Bills-Chiefs Game Review

The Buffalo Bills fumbled away a golden opportunity towards a postseason berth against the Chiefs this week. The Bills lost 17-13 in a game that probably should have been a double-digit win for the home team, dropping to 5-4 on the season. While it will be easy for fans to blame Bryce Brown or Leodis McKelvin for their respective fumbles at key moments, the real culprit has been the play calling and the execution in the red zone: In four trips to the red zone, the Bills mustered two field goals, and two turnovers (one on downs). The defense turned in yet another valiant performance, and offense was inconsistent and passive at times. Things don’t get any easier going forward as the Bills face one of the toughest second-half schedules in the league starting with the 5-4 division rival Miami Dolphins on Thursday night.

OFFENSE

There are times when this offense looks to be in rhythm and control, but more often than not they play on their heels. For a supposedly power run team, they have a hard time dictating the line of scrimmage in the run game when they want to. They have their share of chunk runs in the game, but in key situations when the defense knows it’s going to be a running play, they are not able to impose their will anyways. The Bills came out with their quick passing game in the second half and that seemed to be very effective, however the red zone area might as well be quicksand for this team as they continue their struggles there. The biggest question mark for me was the play-calling late in the game: Down by 4 pts, and over 2:30 left in the 4th quarter, at the Kansas City 15 yard line, Nathaniel Hackett called four straight pass plays, nearly all of them were thrown into the end zone and all of them resulted in in-completions.  Three of the four passes probably should have been picked off, and two of the four plays involved no running back in the back field. Essentially, the Bills weren’t even going to try to run the ball and instead opted for a quick score with that much time left on the clock – this was mind-boggling to say the least.

Quaterback:

Kyle Orton turned in another above-average performance: he was decisive with the football and rarely put his offensive line in a tenuous position by holding on to the ball too long (something he has been guilty of recently). His touchdown throw to Hogan was a great example of a pass that we simply don’t see from EJ Manuel – right decision, good throw, on time, in stride for the receiver to catch and run. Orton missed an open Scott Chandler in the end zone in the second quarter, but he made the conservative throw that sailed over his head. He also missed Robert Woods on a slant in the end zone later in the third quarter, but again he opted to play it conservative and avoid risking a turnover. All in all, he put the offense in a position to win the game, but the play calling and the decision making on the key fourth quarter drive was puzzling, to say the least.  We can’t be sure without being on the Bills coaching staff, but it sure seemed like Orton threw to his first read on those four passes into the end zone, and all of them but one was well-covered and under-throws that probably should have resulted in an interception.

Offensive Line:

Who stood out: For the most part, the offensive line played well as a unit. They got more push in the run game than in previous games before the bye week, and pass protection generally held up well. They only gave up one sack to the Chiefs on Sunday. I was most impressed by Cordy Glenn as he held up Tamba Hali one-on-one on several occasions on Orton’s blindside. Dare I say, this was Glenn’s best performance this year.

Who needs work: Usually a stand-out on the offensive line, center Eric Wood struggled against the Chiefs interior for much of the day. He was beaten badly by Dontari Poe giving up a sack in the red zone on a first down play in the second quarter. He failed to make much of a mark in the run game as well – this was probably his worst game of the season but he’s easily the Bills most consistent lineman.

 

Running Backs/Tight Ends:

Who stood out: Nobody in particular stood out of this group as they all had a few splash plays mixed in with down ones. Anthony Dixon was the Bills’ most consistent running back as Fred Jackson was used sparingly coming back from injury. Bryce Brown flashed but made several mistakes – more on him later. Chris Gragg had a nice block in the run game one-on-one with Justin Houston but also had a key drop. Scott Chandler made a couple of nice catches but usually fails to separate.

Who needs work: Thrust into the CJ Spiller role, Bryce Brown has lived up to his billing of a talented but inconsistent player. His natural ability is evident, but as are his mental mistakes. He fumbled away a probable touchdown run at the Chiefs five-yard line and he simply doesn’t protect the ball well. His inside running has improved, but I noticed him carrying the football away from his body on most of the times he was handling it. Until he cleans up his mental mistakes, he will never be more than a change-of-pace back.

 

Wide Receivers:

Who stood out: Chris Hogan was the most consistent wide receiver for the Bills on Sunday. He was sure handed, made some nice catches, and usually made the right read with the ball in his hands.

Who needs work: Nobody in particular. Woods and Watkins both had a couple of nice catches but also a drop each. If I had to pick one, Woods had a drop on an easier catch, while Watkins’ drop in the second quarter was on a throw that was behind him and would’ve been a difficult catch.

 

DEFENSE

 The defense carried this team in this game and gave the offense several chances to put it away. The defensive line continues to be the toast of this unit as they dominated the Chiefs offensive line en route to six sacks and double-digit pressures on Alex Smith. Jim Shwartz had a great defensive game plan against the Chiefs as he mixed in blitzes at the right times and from the right areas of the field. The coverage in the defensive backfield held up fairly well as they limited the Kansas City passing game to 177 yards on the day. The run defense had a couple of key breakdowns giving up long runs to all-pro Jamal Charles, but overall had a very good day stopping the run.

Defensive Line:

Who stood out: The defensive line, as a unit, was once again dominant. The Bills only helped their pass rush with a blitz a handful of times, but it was very effective. The Jerry Hughes/Marcell Dareus tandem continues to wreak havoc in the offensive backfield. They combined for five of the six sacks and made several key stops in the run game as well. The Bills front office will have their hands full this off-season trying to find a way to re-sign Hughes and extend Dareus, but keeping them for the long haul is a must at this point.

The Williams duo also played well but were overshadowed by the performances of their line-mates. Kyle Williams had several key stops and he looks to be finally healthy and back to his disrupting ways. Even the Bills backups chipped in, as Jarius Wynn had a key fumble recovery, and Manny Lawson flashed with a couple of nice pressures on Alex Smith.

Who needs work: It’s hard to nitpick against this group, but Lawson had a couple of breakdowns in the run game – most notably the 4th & 1 play where he failed to secure the edge giving up a 39 yard touchdown run to Jamal Charles.

 

Line Backers:

Who stood out: Rookie Preston Brown was solid and was usually in the right place at the right time but Nigel Bradham was flat out dominant on a few plays. His stat line doesn’t do his play justice as he finished the day with 7 tackles and a forced fumble but he caused a couple of those sacks collected by the defensive line with well-timed blitzes and he was in the backfield causing disruptions on nearly every run play. His hit on Knile Davis in the backfield causing the forced fumble reminded me of Luke Kuechly – I’m not at all comparing Bradham to an all-pro linebacker but he plays downhill and with plus instincts like Kuechly and it was evident on that particular play.

Who needs work: Again, nobody in particular needs work. Brandon Spikes continues to prove that he’s a two-down linebacker excelling in the run game and creating liabilities in the pass game. I would be surprised to see him re-signed for anything more than an average contract, especially with Kiko Alonso returning and Bradham and Brown deserving starting spots.

 

Defensive Backs:

Who stood out: I was generally happy with the play of both starting corners – Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin. Both had a couple of nice pass breakups and fared well on the rare occasion they were asked to cover a deep receiver one-on-one.

Who needs work: I didn’t notice too many breakdowns in the defensive backfield. If I had to pick one, Aaron Williams took a poor angle on Dwayne Bowe and if it wasn’t for a fumble by Bowe the missed tackle likely would’ve resulted in a long play or maybe even a touchdown.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Who stood out: Some fans will admonish Doug Marrone’s decision to punt the football halfway into the 4th quarter from the Bills 41 yard line on 4th and 1 down 17-13,  but it was a good decision as there was plenty of time left in the game and the punt pinned Kansas City at their own three yard line. I thought Corey Graham was the best special teams player on Sunday as he made several key tackles on punt coverage holding the Chiefs to two yards on three returns.

Who needs work: Leodis McKelvin gave me flashbacks to the Monday Night game against Dallas a few years ago where he fumbled away a probable win late in the 4th quarter on a kickoff return. On Sunday, McKelvin fumbled the ball away on a punt return, again trying to do too much on his own and not securing the football as he was trying to break a tackle for more yards. He did make it up, somewhat, with a nice 23 yard return on the next punt setting up the Bills offense at the Chiefs 25 yard-line with over 4 minutes left in the game.