The Buffalo Bills lost their first pre-season game of the 2009 season to the Tennessee Titans. The 21-18 defeat in the Hall of Fame Game didn't leave a lot for Bills fans to chew on as the on-field play relates directly to the team's chances this season, but that doesn't mean there isn't value to looking back at the tape. That's exactly what we'll do here.
We offer some brief views on the offensive line (and much more) after the jump, but we encourage you to check out Ron From NM's O-Line breakdown for a more thorough analysis of the Bills' biggest offensive talking point right now.
The no-huddle offense is the topic du jour, and it's easy to understand why - Buffalo's offense has not been this interesting since Drew Bledsoe was our quarterback. The scheme is perfect for many reasons, the most prominent of which is that it fits the team's offensive personnel like a glove. The benefits are numerous, but the clearest and most prominent advantage present is the easily varied pacing of the offense. The Titans have a very good defense, folks, even without Albert Haynesworth. Buffalo moved the ball with ease against them, mostly because the pace had the defensive line on its heels. It moves quickly. Tempo will be the offensive buzzword in Buffalo this season, and right now, that's the key feature to the no-huddle - the offense can control the tempo of the game, and change the tempo at ease. We saw a very small example of that advantage on Sunday night.
Evans and Owens; Owens and Evans
Faithful Rumbler "MARVelous" wrote a delightful FanPost on this very subject the other day that really hit the nail on the head. I'd recommend you check it out. Yes, it was just the pre-season, and yes, it's hardly an indicator of things to come, but Tennessee's corners weren't lining up anywhere near Buffalo's dynamic receiving duo of Terrell Owens and Lee Evans. That's likely to remain predominant, as teams will be wary of allowing either receiver to get behind them for the big play. If that's the case, Buffalo will methodically pick up yardage underneath. If they press, the Bills have two vertical threats that can make plays. Lost in all of the "is Trent Edwards good enough?" and "can the O-Line gel quickly?" hubbub is the fact that the Bills are a nightmare matchup for opponents at the receiver position. That makes every other problem look a little less important. That, too, was apparent on Buffalo's one drive, and Evans was only targeted once.
As mentioned at the top, we recommend Ron's post for a more complete analysis of the first two drives of the game on the offensive line. What I wanted to touch on briefly was the fact that some of Buffalo's young linemen - Demetrius Bell, Andy Levitre and Eric Wood in particular - are still struggling with letting defenders get into their body. The two guards (as well as C Geoff Hangartner) were each bull-rushed with ease on at least one play, and it's because the defenders got into them and therefore gained all the leverage. Sean Kugler has some work to do with these guys to polish up their technique. There's no question that this group is a little rough around the edges. But there is also undeniable talent here. We, as Bills fans, need to remain patient. For a completely re-worked line in their first game as a collective unit, the fact that there were positive signs - and the fact that it could have been exponentially worse - is something to hang our hats on for the time being. With a little patience, I think there's a chance this line will surprise some folks.
I mentioned this last night, but it's worth repeating - Edwards looked completely comfortable getting his team into the right play while operating the no-huddle. His throws were accurate, with the minor exception of his interception. On first review yesterday, I pinned that pick on Levitre getting bull-rushed into the pocket. I'm changing my mind a bit; Edwards still stepped into the throw. It was just a bad ball, and the play was run at the end of the play clock. It's the pre-season, Trent. Call the timeout, don't rush, and don't try to be perfect. These are experiences that Edwards will learn from. This was a good start to the season for Mr. Edwards. The pick was ugly, but the offense clicked on the drive. We'll get to see if Edwards can build on what he started this coming Saturday.
While y'all talk about your nerves as you watch Ryan Fitzpatrick, Gibran Hamdan and even Matt Baker run this offense, I think it's worth noting that all three had their moments, even though all three were running the same no-huddle offense as Edwards for the first time. The Bills had very few mistakes offensively; that's a testament to how comfortable all four of Buffalo's quarterbacks are in the offense. Even Baker was in command of his troops, even though his throws left much to be desired. These guys may not be talented, but in the extremely unwanted event that Fitzpatrick or Hamdan is forced into action this season (start doing your Edwards Health Dances, people), at least we know these guys are smart enough to get their teams into the right situations. But yeah, please stay healthy, Trent.
Here are just a few non-prominent guys that I thought had good nights and are worth watching a bit more closely next week.
RB Xavier Omon: Not astonishing, but far better than anticipated production. With three proven, veteran backs on the roster, Omon should get a lot of carries this pre-season. If he does good things with those carries, don't be shocked if he sticks longer than expected.
TE Shawn Nelson: His blocking was generally poor, and he was largely invisible on the stat sheet, but I spent most of the second half watching him run routes. He's deceptively fast. He doesn't look fast when he runs, but he can move. I'd like to see more of him in the red zone, and a little less of Josh Reed. He's a matchup nightmare in that area for linebackers.
TE Jonathan Stupar: We knew he was a solid blocker, but he showed a bit of athleticism and receiving skill as well. He's cut from the same cloth as Derek Schouman and Derek Fine. He's going to be hard to get rid of once roster cut-downs begin.
OT Demetrius Bell: For a player so inexperienced, he really acquitted himself well. Let's not forget that he was blocking Jevon Kearse for a series, folks. Kearse is no slouch. Bell can play; he just needs reps.
OT Jonathan Scott: The Titans have a deep, talented (and young) defensive line. Bell played most of the game at right tackle, leaving Scott to man the second-team left tackle spot. He looked solid, yet largely unspectacular. Still, he was steady; he made some mistakes, but played tough. This guy has a lot of talent, but has dealt with the Texas stigma his entire career. The Bills might give him longer looks to see if he's worth keeping as a ninth lineman.