The Buffalo Bills improved to 2-2 under interim head coach Perry Fewell and 5-8 on the season in defeating the Kansas City Chiefs, 16-10, in Week 14. The win featured the Bills' best rushing effort of the season (200 yards on the ground) and another four turnovers forced by the defense, all on interceptions.
As usual, we've got some quick thoughts and observations after reviewing the film from the win.
Aaron Maybin needs more playing time. Unfortunately, he's not going to get it. The Chiefs officially ran 69 offensive plays on the day, but Maybin was only lined up defensively on 12 of those plays.
There were two issues to getting Maybin onto the field more in this particular game. First and foremost, the Chiefs put a wrinkle into their offensive game plan in which they went no-huddle on nearly every third down opportunity they had. That decision likely took 3-6 snaps away from Maybin. The second issue appears to be that Fewell isn't comfortable allowing Maybin to do anything other than play right end, where Aaron Schobel takes the lion's share of reps.
People are still up in arms about Maybin's lack of production this season, but they should be more worried about the fact that the coaches aren't comfortable enough with him to give him reps at left end. (In fairness, Ryan Denney isn't seeing a lot of reps these days, either, as both Schobel and Chris Kelsay are having very solid seasons.) My opinion on Maybin hasn't changed - it's still way too early to write him off. His potential remains elite, and nothing he's done (or hasn't done) this season leads me to believe he won't reach said potential. But I'd feel more comfortable in that proclamation if Maybin got more snaps the rest of the way.
Paul Posluszny needs to move outside. He also needs to come off the field on obvious passing downs. Clearly, that's not going to happen on the season - Poz is the only NFL-caliber linebacker on the roster, after all - but it's something to bear in mind going forward. Posluszny is another defender who takes either way too much abuse or way too much praise, which is indicative of what he ideally brings to a football team - he's not an every-down defender or the cornerstone player for a defense, but he's not exactly a guy you just kick to the curb, either, because he can play.
I'm going to get a bit more into this once the season has closed and things (i.e. the coaching search and front office re-organization) have settled, but I firmly believe that the Bills are one major piece away from fielding a pretty excellent defense. That piece is a middle linebacker. No offense to Posluszny, who I think definitely has and deserves a place on this team, but he doesn't possess the block-shedding ability to be elite at his current position. Moving Posluszny outside, getting a healthy Kawika Mitchell back and inserting a talented middle linebacker that can shed blocks would do wonders for this defense. (Yes, I'm aware that a little depth at all positions wouldn't hurt, either. I said "major" piece.)
Expect more big runs allowed. That's not exactly rocket science, I realize, but there's actually a good reason that the Bills will likely give up more big runs this season beyond the "they stink at stopping the run" obviousness. Fewell spent a lot of time plunging 7 or 8 guys into the line of scrimmage at the snap in an effort to shut down underrated Chiefs back Jamaal Charles. On 19 of Charles' carries, that method worked, and Charles gained only 67 yards (3.5 yards per carry) on those runs. That's not exactly superb run defense, but it's better than awful.
But on just one play, Fewell got caught in a blitz, and Charles took the run 76 yards to the house. Donte Whitner had Charles dead to rights in the secondary, but Charles caught him flat-footed - and when Jamaal Charles catches you flat-footed, you're flat-out screwed. Charles ran by Whitner as if the Chiefs had installed a No. 20 statue in the middle of their Arrowhead Stadium field. Those big runs will continue to be a problem because the Bills, for obvious reasons, will need to keep plunging guys into the line to try to contain the run as best as possible.
Pound the rock. We talked about this at length yesterday, but I just thought I'd put in this friendly reminder.
Fitzpatrick's pocket poise is deteriorating. It's not difficult to fathom why, but obviously, that's bad news. Fitzpatrick became the starting quarterback full-time when Fewell was promoted to his current role, and the Harvard product got the nod because of his superior pocket presence and field vision when compared to backup quarterback Trent Edwards.
For a time - and by "for a time," I mean back-to-back performances against Jacksonville and Miami in which Fitzpatrick threw for 543 yards and put the ball in the end zone, via arm or legs, three times - Fitzpatrick played well. But in consecutive weeks, Fitzpatrick has looked much more wary in the pocket, and has not done as stellar a job at buying time and finding receivers as he did in previous weeks. (To his credit, he did exhibit excellent patience and pocket awareness on his first-quarter touchdown strike to Terrell Owens.)
Buffalo actually has a chance to pick up another win or two before the season ends. It won't happen unless Fitzpatrick plays with the swagger he exhibited in the win over Miami, and only that will give the coaching staff the confidence to re-open the playbook a little bit.
On Nic Harris. Many have asked me via e-mail about rookie linebacker Nic Harris, who made the start at strong-side linebacker in place of veteran Chris Draft. My answer: Harris looks like a fringe NFL player. He's instinctive, active and can run, but he's only physically able to play linebacker in this specific system, and he doesn't have the athletic prowess to play safety in any defensive scheme. I thought he was OK against the Chiefs, but that's not exactly difficult to do. Don't marry yourself to the idea of this guy turning into much more than a Keith Ellison-type reserve, particularly since a regime change might mean a scheme change, which would dramatically decrease Harris' chances of making the team next season.