The Philadelphia Eagles entered Ralph Wilson Stadium with one win for the 2011 season. That count remained the same as they left Buffalo. Philadelphia had more talent, but the Buffalo Bills were the better team. Fred Jackson, an opportunistic defense, and a big first half put Buffalo ahead - then a little luck, some pluck, and Ryan Fitzpatrick's vocal chords sealed the win.
10-yard Offense. I didn't think the loss of Lee Evans mattered. Nor did I think Donald Jones was a legitimate deep threat. I'm having second thoughts. All of Fitzpatrick's long passes were catch-and-run types. Maybe some of that is passing against a defense that can get after the quarterback and cover with three starting cornerbacks. This has been a trend for two weeks now, however. Defenses are going Cover 2, taking away the deep shots, and Fitzpatrick is left to dink-and-dunk in the short zones. Buffalo was effective, but eight completions came on Jackson screens or shovel passes - and Fitzpatrick isn't the most accurate passer in the strike zone. Chan Gailey needs to take a look at how to add a more vertical element to the offense.
Athleticism. Philadelphia is arguably the most athletic team in the league. It was a good challenge for the Bills. Buffalo handled Philadelphia's pass rush well. They couldn't get deep against their secondary. DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant were a nightmare to cover for Buffalo defenders in the slot. Anything Philadelphia did on the edge of the Buffalo defense worked. As mentioned last week, Buddy Nix built this team from the football out. It will do well in the poor weather conditions in December and (gulp) January. Nix needs to add some athletes next.
Edge Defense. This seems a bit redundant, but it's worth noting. Buffalo's cupboard is not bare here. Arthur Moats caused a Michael Vick interception by rag-dolling Todd Herremans, who weighs 60 pounds more than Moats. Shawne Merriman had one sack and would have had several more if not for Vick's ridiculous athletic skills. Alex Carrington was in Vick's face a few times. In general, though, the outside linebackers and cornerbacks had a shaky day. LeSean McCoy got outside on the defense at will in the second half. Bubble screens to Eagles receivers were hard for Bills defenders to reach. If draft day were tomorrow, outside linebacker and cornerback should be the team's first two selections.
Gailey's Game Plan. For a self-described pass-first team, Buffalo ran to set up the pass on Sunday. The first drive was telling of how the afternoon would progress, as Jackson ran a lot and Fitzpatrick threw only one pass. In total, Gailey called 32 runs and 27 passes, Fitzpatrick's three kneel-downs notwithstanding. Gailey is not an ideologue. The Eagles' defense puts both defensive ends into "wide nine" positioning, meaning both ends play outside the last blocker and keep contain on their way to the quarterback. The two defensive tackles play one gap, and each linebacker is responsible for a gap. That's seven players for seven gaps, with the defensive line in penetration mode. It's a lot like the Tampa 2 in that regard, and it also means only one defender has to be moved out of a gap for a run to work. Gailey knew this, and went after it.
Safety Production. For the second straight week, Buffalo's safeties played well. George Wilson was shot out of a cannon, registering 11 solo tackles, one interception, one tackle for loss, two passes defended, one quarterback hit, and one tone-setting hit on Vick where Vick's momentum stopped like a car hitting a wall. Many of Wilson's tackles were in space against great athletes. The dependable Jairus Byrd had eight solo tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass defended. He also forced a fumble on Jason Avant and recovered it himself. Bryan Scott chipped in with five tackles, four of which were solo. What Buffalo isn't getting on the edge, they are getting up the middle.
Young Player Production. Sometimes average teams get really good seemingly overnight. This almost never comes through free agency; instead, it happens when a bunch of young players develop and make plays roughly about the same time. Moats needs to play more. He's a difference-maker, regardless of how tall he isn't. Carrington played well and looked disruptive, and almost ready to be the team's starting right end. Kelvin Sheppard looked fast. He was generally in the right spot. Marcell Dareus continues to be a man. He only registered one pressure and hit, but it was a big play. He's also attracting a lot of blockers. Eric Wood and Andy Levitre played well, but fans knew they would. Chris Hairston played well considering it was his first game. He might force Gailey to make some choices at left tackle, seeing that Demetrius Bell was playing well before he was injured. That's a nice problem to have. Even C.J. Spiller ran well the two times he touched the ball. Building through the draft takes time, but the fruits of the labor are far better.
The Eagles started to gain traction in the second half, and if the game went five minutes longer, the Eagles probably would have won. Buffalo was having issues stopping the array of Eagle athletes, and Buffalo's offense bogged down as Philadelphia packed the short zones with defenders.
The game wasn't 65 minutes long, and Buffalo won. Despite Philadelphia's 1-3 record entering the game, the Eagles are part of the NFL elite. They were, and still are, a team far too talented to not be in the playoffs. Keeping that in mind, Buffalo has now beaten two elite teams and a tough Raiders team. Even the loss to the Bengals doesn't look so bad now.
Gailey and the coaching staff have the team believing in itself. They beat the Patriots, beat a power running team, can execute difficult comebacks, and now held on to a win in the second half. Buffalo's next goal is to keep the best pass rush in the league at bay next Sunday in New Jersey against the New York Giants.