Well, that’s definitely not the start Bills fans were expecting. Yesterday the Baltimore Ravens edged the Buffalo Bills 13-7 in a fairly sluggish game all-around from both teams, but more specifically sluggish from the Bills perspective.
The Bills mustered only two yards of total offense while surrendering 114 total yards of offense to the Ravens after one quarter of play. Fortunately, the score was only 3-0—thanks to a 50-yard field-goal from Justin Tucker. The Bills were lucky that the Ravens missed significant opportunities to take an early stronghold on the game.
During the first quarter, the Ravens presented a balanced attack. The Ravens utilized a lot of misdirection with running back Justin Forsett, enabling his athleticism via ‘Toss’ running plays and ‘Swing’ passes. Indeed, he forced missed tackles and picked up chunk yardage that extended drives for the Ravens in the early-going.
Play-action bootlegs were also a problem for the Bills defense. Flacco was able to connect with his ‘backs, tight ends, and even receivers—Often creating space for their playmakers while generating one-on-one situations with a slower linebacker or smaller defensive back—Causing, once again, missed tackles and yards-after-catch (YAC).
Speaking of defensive backs, the Ravens capitalized on one-on-one matchups throughout the first-half:
After the Bills failed to capitalize on a fumble recovery in Ravens territory, the Ravens countered with a field goal drive with the ignition of a 35-yard reception to wide receiver Breshad Perriman. In this clip you’ll see Stephon Gilmore is stride-for-stride with Perriman the whole way. It took a perfect pass, but an even better catch, over one of the league’s better corners:
Oh, that was his first career catch, too.
Another play that was critical to the outcome of the game was the 66-yard touchdown-strike from Flacco to receiver Mike Wallace. Here, the original play call was a running play on 3rd-and-short, but Flacco identified man coverage, specifically backup safety Duke Williams covering the speedy Mike Wallace. One audible later, Flacco see’s Wallace blow by Williams, and then the gap becomes 10-0 in the second quarter. Take a look:
After the game, Rex admitted that specific defensive play call was his fault:
Rex Ryan blames himself for Duke Williams getting stuck in single coverage on Mike Wallace.
— Matthew Fairburn (@MatthewFairburn) September 11, 2016
It was a critical mistake that resulted in the difference between the Bills and Ravens.
Offensively, the Bills had very little room to operate. With starting left tackle Cordy Glenn missing most of the game (with what appeared to be his ankle sprain resurfacing from training camp) the Bills were limited in both facets of running and passing. Outside of a few (broken) run plays from LeSean McCoy, the Ravens defensive line constantly caused disruption, and therefore kept the Bills No. 1 ranked rushing attack from 2015, in check.
From a passing perspective, Tyrod Taylor faced pressure from the vaunted Ravens front-seven all game. Often times, Taylor had very little time to hang in the pocket and deliver the ball to his receivers. Rex stated that Taylor had to ‘trust’ his offensive line in order to make plays through the air:
“We’ve been trying to tell Tyrod to believe in your protection, let it hold up and make them pay.”
The majority of the time, Tyrod couldn’t ‘make them pay’ because the Ravens constantly flushed him out of the pocket through breakdowns in pass protection. Ravens nose tackle, Brandon Williams, stated the plan all along was to let Tyrod beat you through the air:
“The game plan was to make him play quarterback. Sometimes he got out of there, but not too many times.”
Yes, however, the one time Tyrod did escape the pocket was after he fled a would-be sack, rolled out to his left, and found a wide open Charles Clay for a 33-yard gain that set up a LeSean McCoy touchdown run.
— Bradley Gelber (@BradleyGelber) September 11, 2016
The Bills troubles running and passing continued into the second-half. With Glenn not being able to return to action, the running game became non-existent as the Bills finished the match with 65 yards on 24 carries—Their lowest total since 2005 against the San Diego Chargers. As a result, too much pressure was put on Tyrod becoming a passer, which was the Ravens game-plan, and it worked. There were some uncharacteristic, high and errant throws from Tyrod—Causing him to miss some opportunities in the passing game—as well.
The Bills also didn’t do themselves no favors with committing untimely penalties. Through eight penalties for 89 yards, the Bills allowed the Ravens to extend drives and run the clock— especially in the later stages of the game. One penalty that stood out was defensive lineman Jerel Worthy’s illegal use of ‘leverage’ on the Ravens field-goal attempt in the fourth-quarter. That penalty resulted in a first down for the Ravens, in which they ran another two minutes off the clock, while still adding three points to the scoreboard.
From there, around four minutes left in the game, the Bills had one more chance to pull off a comeback. On the first play, Tyrod had a rare, clean pocket in which he threw a perfect ball in between two defenders to Sammy Watkins, but unfortunately he couldn’t corral the catch on the way down. Come third down, and hemmed back in their territory, Tyrod Taylor drops back to pass, but he had nowhere to go as Timmy Jernigan and company come and collected their second sack of the game, all while putting the official nail in the coffin for the Bills comeback hopes.
The Bills finished the game with only 160 total yards—Their lowest since 2006—While going 3-for-13 on third down. The Bills did not gain a single first-down in the fourth-quarter, as well.
While watching this game, I was definitely shocked as to how poorly the Bills executed on both sides of the ball. While most of my worries will rest on the offense’s ability to move the ball down the field, there were moments from the defense that didn’t offer inspiring play, either.
To get my defensive concerns out of the way, the inability to stop the run in key moments of the game weren’t ideal. There were stretches in the game where the Ravens were constantly gathering four, five, and six yards on the ground—dictating the pace of the game. This was mostly notable in the fourth-quarter when the Bills needed a stop at the most. Instead, they allowed Devin Hester and Terrance West (from third-and-long) to gain two crucial first-downs that sealed the Bills fate. The Bills only allowed 83 rushing yards, and for the most part contained the run, but when it mattered the most they didn’t pull through.
My other concern on defense is the missed tackles. Time after time, the Ravens running backs racked up an extra five or so yards simply because of a lack of tackling. This is football 101. In order to get where the Bills want to go this season, they can’t afford to gift-wrap opposing team’s any bonus yardage. This separates the good teams from the bad. Other than that, the Bills played pretty sound on defense. I hope Gilmore getting posterized by Perriman was just a fluke, while Darby dropping a sure pick-six was just one of very few plays they’ll surrender this season.
However, one aspect of the game I was thrilled with was the four sacks the Bills racked up. Two of those sacks came from Jerry Hughes, and at the very least the Bills have shown early they can get after the quarterback. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come this season
Offensively is obviously where my main concerns are. Most Bills fans were under the impression that this season the Bills would have to rely on their offense while hoping the defense can rebound from a horrendous 2015. Well, if one game is any indication, it looks like the defense will be relied upon to carry the load this season. From Tyrod’s spotty accuracy, to the lack of targets and involvement of Sammy Watkins, there were some significant questions to pull from this game.
Starting with Tyrod, it was odd seeing him struggle as much as he did against his former team. The lack of an effective downfield passing attack led to safe, but low percentage plays that gained only minimal yardage. From Tyrod’s standpoint, he stated the Ravens ‘took away the deep ball’, but ‘yielded underneath’. He also states that he ‘took what the defense gave him’, which concerns me because it signifies the Bills can be too conservative.
This leads to me next concern as of why the play-calling seemed so dull? It was frustrating seeing such conservative, predictable play-calling. On 3rd-and-long you’re going to opt to gain only five yards and settle on punting? Another example is the Bills calling a quarterback sweep to the left side on 3rd-and-short that got blown up for a loss. Where are the four, five-wide receiver sets? I can acknowledge the Bills are a running offense, but considering the circumstances in this game particularly they needed to pass the ball in order to beat the Ravens. They didn’t.
Another concern of mine was the suspect play of the offensive line. Cordy Glenn left the game with the ankle injury, leaving Cyrus Kouandjio to enter at left tackle. So the overall play of the offensive line was expected to take a dip in production. However, the returning offensive line couldn’t generate any space against the Ravens rugged defensive line in the run game via gathering 65 rushing yards in the process. The pass protection was arguably worse. Tyrod Taylor almost had no time to throw on a good amount of his drop-backs, and he often times had to attempt to scramble. Let’s hope Cordy Glenn is ok, and can participate in Thursday’s game against the New York Jets—Who collected five sacks against the Bengals.
Finally, where was Sammy Watkins? It’s getting annoying witnessing most team’s No. 1 wide receivers put up the prototypical stats a top wide receiver should haul in. What’s frustrating is Watkins is a special talent, yet the Bills are not viewing him like one. Watkins gathered only four receptions for 43 yards on six targets for the day against a rather non-imposing secondary featuring Jimmy Smith and Eric Weddle. Seeing players like A.J. Green reel in more receptions than the amount of targets Watkins gets is embarrassing. If I’m Greg Roman, I’m making him the focal point of my offense week-in, week-out. I didn’t see enough creativity with Watkins. He lined up in the slot I believe maybe once or twice? Where are the screen passes? What about exploiting the middle of the field through dig and post routes? Why not place Watkins in a bunch formation that’ll present mismatches for the defense? I can go on about how Watkins could be properly utilized. Darrelle Revis got torched by A.J. Green. It’s time for the Bills to utilize their week 17 game plan last season and implement it Thursday night against the Jets, and that is making Watkins the focal point of the offense. It’s time for the Bills to stop being so conservative in their offensive approach. Tyrod has to step up and take some more chances along with the coaching staff. The main question now however is it the play-calling or is it the lack of execution?
Overall, I was honestly expecting a win from the Bills on Sunday, but they didn’t step up to the challenge. I didn’t see the intensity or desire to win, either. However, it’s only been one game. I myself have promised not to try and panic like I have done in the past. There’s still time to turn the season around. Although a win today was very winnable against a rather average AFC opponent, you’re going to win some, and you’re going to lose some.
With the Patriots upsetting the Cardinals in Arizona, Thursday’s tilt with the Jets makes the matchup all more important to win. Thankfully the Bills will be at home with a loaded crowd behind their back to throw Fitzpatrick and the Jets off. I labeled this game as one of my key matches of the year, well, it’s now of the utmost importance to secure a crucial AFC East win.
- Sammy Watkins could be sidelined several weeks with severe discomfort in his surgically repaired foot. This would be a big loss especially going up against the Revis and a talent Jets defense. However, a report just came in saying he may still play through the pain.
- Cordy Glenn was seen in a walking boot after the game. What will be his status?
- Rex is scheduled to talk to the media today at 2:40.
Next Game: Thursday September 15 at New Era Field against the New York Jets. 8:25 pm is the kickoff time.
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