Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey promised that his first-team offense would see significant playing time on Thursday night against Indianapolis, and he delivered on that promise, as the ones ran a total of 20 plays through a quarter and a half of work.
In five possessions, the Bills' starters scored two touchdowns, picked up five more first downs, and despite a couple of three-and-outs looked much better than they have in recent pre-season memory. The team also featured the entirety of its intended starting offensive line for the first time since Week 2 of the 2009 regular season, which was a step in the right direction before even registering how the line played.
All 20 reps came against the majority of Indianapolis' starting defense. Here's everything I noted from this game:
* 31-yard run by C.J. Spiller: The rookie jukes Robert Mathis in the backfield, slips past corner Jacob Lacey at the second level, gets to the outside, then crosses up Antoine Bethea to get into the end zone. Mostly an individual effort, though the receivers blocked efficiently downfield. Spiller can stop and start at full speed with the best of them.
* 70-yard pass from Trent Edwards to Lee Evans: This was a max protection, as the Bills kept eight players in to block what was ultimately four Colts pass-rushers. Advantage: Bills. Evans and Steve Johnson run routes to the right side of the field; Evans hesitates as Johnson cuts, the corner and safety both bite on Johnson's route, and Evans goes deep. Busted coverage? Yes. Impeccable route by Evans? You betcha. Edwards makes the easy throw (on a good read) in stride for a beautiful-looking score.
Of the team's 20 snaps, 15 came out of three-receiver, one-back sets. That means that Roscoe Parrish saw a ton of playing time, getting in on 18 of the 20 plays (the Bills ran out of four-receiver sets three times). Of those 15 three-receiver sets, nine came with a fullback (Corey McIntyre) on the field, while the other six came with a tight end on the field (either Jonathan Stupar or Derek Schouman).
The other five plays: three four-wide, one-back sets (featuring Chad Jackson as the fourth receiver) and two "pro sets" (two receivers, one tailback, one fullback, one tight end).
The Bills put a player in motion on six of their 20 plays. Five of those six times, they were in a three-receiver set; the sixth time, they were in a four-receiver set. Johnson motioned from a flanker position into the slot three times. Jackson did it once, switching sides of the alignment (and ultimately chipping Dwight Freeney as a blocker) in the process. Spiller motioned to receiver out of the backfield on the first offensive play of the game, and Stupar motioned from the slot to the strong side of the alignment as well.
All of the motions were very basic, and didn't do much to cloak a particular play's intentions. Saving the fancy stuff for the regular season.
Demetrius Bell saw his first action of the pre-season at left tackle, but only played 10 of the 20 snaps. He was efficient, and looks to have improved his upper body strength from a year ago. No mistakes from No. 77. He was replaced by Jamon Meredith for the second half of the first-team offense's run, who was beaten soundly by Freeney on the pass rush that eventually rolled up Schouman's right knee, forcing the tight end out of the game. Meredith also missed an assignment on a safety blitz, allowing Bethea a clean look at Edwards on the last play by the unit.
Right guard Eric Wood also got into the lineup for the first time, and went all 20 plays. He started off a little rusty, as Daniel Muir beat him cleanly with a spin move to get a hit on Edwards. Wood got into a groove later on, however, pancaking Freeney on a counter play and blocking players several yards downfield through the whistle. He looked better the longer he played. Running mate Andy Levitre was not as crisp; he whiffed on an assignment to block Gary Brackett, leading to a loss on a run, and then missed a kick-out on Mathis that led to a six-yard loss on a Spiller carry. When he was on assignment, he was fine; he just needs to sharpen up. Geoff Hangartner was passable, making no mistakes and looking especially adept at getting to the second level.
Finally, Cornell Green made his Bills debut at right tackle, and also went all 20 plays. He looked good getting to the second level on runs, and is very technically sound as a run blocker. He was beaten pretty badly by Mathis on a spin move, but otherwise held his own in pass protection. He's not phenomenal, but if he stays penalty-free, he'll get the job done on the right side.
On McIntyre: he had a few nice pops as a lead blocker, but struggles to sustain blocks on occasion. He had Philip Wheeler dead to rights, but allowed Wheeler to shed the block and bring down Spiller on what could have been a huge, huge gain. McIntyre was visibly frustrated on that play. McIntyre's also not very quick, and was beaten into the hole on one occasion by Brackett. He's at his best blocking ends and outside 'backers on toss sweeps, where he can pop and doesn't need to move much to get there. When he gets a hat on you, he can really lay the lumber.
Stupar and Schouman split reps evenly; Schouman may have gotten more, but left with the aforementioned right knee injury (it was nice to see him walk off the field on his own power). Schouman was a bit cleaner as a blocker; Stupar looked lost on a counter play that could have gone for bigger yardage had Stupar not gotten lost with his assignment.
Briefly on the skill position players: Edwards was good simply because he took what the defense gave him. He felt pressure particularly well on one play, escaping a sack and picking up a few yards. It'd be nice to see him change things up for the offense to get them out of disadvantageous plays. Spiller can stop and start, and then accelerate to top speed, with the best of them - I watched his TD run about 47 times yesterday, but his juke on an unblocked Freeney for a 12-yard gain might have been his best cut. Parrish did a nice job in this one, and looks wholly comfortable as a major player in Gailey's offense. I liked what I saw out of Evans as a downfield blocker; he gave really nice effort.
With such a limited number of formations (the Bills really concentrated on getting in and out of the huddle quickly, and with only one healthy top-notch tailback, there wasn't a lot of substituting), there weren't a ton of players that got onto the field. Here's the rep breakdown regardless:
There were encouraging signs here. The line, backs and tight ends need to be more efficient in picking up their assignments, but in one-on-one matchups, they won more than they lost against Indy. When they lost, Edwards was able to keep them out of bad plays the majority of the time, though he could still stand to audible into better looks from time to time (I don't know if Gailey has given him that option). Screws were tightened from Washington to Indy, however, and if the unit gets healthier and more consistent, there are plenty of plays to be made this year.