There's plenty to be excited about in Buffalo with the Buffalo Bills off to a 4-0 start for the first time since 1992. Yet despite four straight wins to open the 2008 regular season, Bills fans seem increasingly negative about the team's play, specifically in the last two weeks. I'm here to quell some of that pessimism - because what I saw in tape in reviewing the Bills' 31-14 victory over the Rams was quite encouraging. The tape never lies.
Buffalo opened its season with a thrilling performance on special teams in a win over Seattle. The ensuing two games were not as kind to Buffalo, however, as Jacksonville and especially Oakland outplayed the Bills' special teams in nearly every department. That changed on Sunday, when Buffalo's special teams returned to dominance in a victory over St. Louis.
Units dominant once again
The Bills were excellent in all phases of special teams on Sunday. Their performance wasn't highlighted by the big, game-changing plays as it was against Seattle, but it was nonetheless dominant. Buffalo had outstanding field position all day thanks to some lengthy returns by Leodis McKelvin and Fred Jackson and outstanding punt coverage (McKelvin averaged 32 yards on kicks and 12 on punts; Jackson averaged 13 on punts). Brian Moorman placed 5 of his 6 punts inside the 20 yard line.
Blake Costanzo, John Wendling, George Wilson and Justin Jenkins headlined a superb coverage effort against one of the game's quickest return men in Dante Hall. Wendling leapt over the line on a missed 51-yard field goal by St. Louis' Josh Brown. It wasn't the cause of the miss, but it's always fun to watch. Literally nothing went wrong for these units on Sunday. It was, quite literally, utter domination.
Punt return duo works
I miss watching Roscoe Parrish return punts, and it's only been a week. The Bills replaced him with two pretty good athletes in McKelvin and Jackson, and still the drop-off is noticeable. Parrish is simply the best in the business. With that said, I actually loved how the combination of McKelvin and Jackson worked out.
At times, April had both of them back to return. Jackson was more effective on the day - he doesn't have great agility, but if he gets a seam, he's tough to bring down because of his wiggle and just because he's a pretty big dude (bigger than most punt returners, at any rate). McKelvin actually looks better returning kicks than punts; the rookie seems to be adamant about trying to break off a long run straight up the middle. Had he used his superior quickness to turn some returns outside, he might have averaged 20 yards a return. These guys work well in tandem because of their complementary skills, but I'd still like to see McKelvin earn a few more returns in this department.
But I still want Roscoe back. Get well soon.
This guy deserves kudos, because he's pretty quickly replaced the leadership void on these units when guys like Sam Aiken and Mario Haggan departed the team. Wilson's been called the ultimate teammate, and it shows on the field - he's one of the most animated guys on the team. Wilson made the tackle on each of Hall's first three kick returns; he's difficult to block on both kick and punt coverage. His leadership and his abilities have quickly made him Buffalo's best special teams ace. Guess his teammates knew what they were doing when they voted him a team captain.
He'd better relish his role of "best special teams ace", however, because John Wendling, Justin Jenkins and even Blake Costanzo are coming on fast. Costanzo in particular is fun to watch; he plays the role of "wedge-buster", launching himself into the wedge on kick returns, and he blew up a lot of wedges on Sunday. He's the ultimate special teamer: a good athlete with nothing to lose, he lays it all on the line.
That's all she wrote for this week's film sessions. If there's anything else you'd like to see me address in these reviews, please feel free to let me know - I'm open to suggestion.