The Buffalo Bills missed an opportunity to enter their bye week 5-1. The Bills were game, but in the end couldn't overcome mistakes to win on Sunday.
Pass Defense. Problems versus the pass started up front earlier in the year, and now they include most of the defense. George Edwards didn't have Shawne Merriman on the field on Sunday; Merriman is one of two capable Bills edge rushers. Arthur Moats is the other. Moats needed to be on the field a lot more than he was, as Buffalo hurried Manning plenty but couldn't track him down. Moats had the team's only quarterback hit. No one is consistently getting to the quarterback, and the cornerbacks are playing worse by the week. Last year, Drayton Florence selected the first Jets game to lay an egg. Yesterday was one of those games. I lost count of his pass interference penalty count. I'll beat this drum again: Buffalo needs an edge rusher and a cornerback with their first two picks next April. Buffalo is solidifying inside the tackle box, but is still weak on the edges, and Eli Manning took advantage of this.
Ryan Fitzpatrick's Fade Route Passes. We'll talk about the other 28 Fitzpatrick passes in the next section. This section will focus on two. It's easy to focus on the interceptions, but they had more meaning than just the picks. The first of the two came on Buffalo's second drive in third quarter. Buffalo squandered the second half opening drive, and the Giants scored on their next drive. Fitzpatrick and the Bills needed to answer, and their ensuing drive gained a first down, with a 2nd-and-4 at the Bills 41. Fitzpatrick under-threw Stevie Johnson, and Corey Webster intercepted the ball. The second pass was a near mirror image of the first. Johnson was open, but Fitzpatrick again under-threw the ball. With defenses looking to compress the Bills' offense, Buffalo has to try these types of passes. If Buffalo's offense is going to continue to find room to operate, Fitzpatrick needs to complete these passes - or, at a minimum, they need to fall long and incomplete.
Compression Of The Buffalo Offense. Chan Gailey seems to have a short list of plays that he goes to: tunnel screen, spread comebacks, receiver bubble screen, Wildcat dive, etc. Buffalo breaks a couple of these plays each game. Buffalo's passing game, however, is becoming less and less explosive as the season wears on. Buffalo had three plays of over 20 yards on Sunday, and one was a run. Fitzpatrick's room for error in the short passing game is small. He's delivered, so far. This compression started to affect Fred Jackson on Sunday. If his 80-yard touchdown run is taken out, Jackson ran 15 times for 41 yards, and a 2.7 yards-per-carry average. Buffalo desperately needs to stretch the field vertically, or risk losing the advantages that they get from spreading it horizontally.
Fitzpatrick And The Passing Game. Fitzpatrick's day minus the two inceptions: 21-of-28, 244 yards and twotouchdowns. Other than Naaman Roosevelt's touchdown and David Nelson's seam route catch on the second-to-last drive, Fitzpatrick cut up the Giants' defense in the shorter zones. Defenses are forcing Fitzpatrick to beat them underneath the coverage, where the passing windows are smaller and there is smaller room for error. Fitzpatrick's accuracy has been good and his decision making solid, keeping Buffalo drives alive. For the most part, the receivers held up to their end of the bargain. Nelson and Johnson played well, and C.J. Spiller's moonlighting as a deep outside receiver paid some dividends as well.
Play Calling. Buffalo couldn't help but give up some plays to the Giants' front four. That group is simply too good not to create havoc. Even with Justin Tuck hurt, Perry Fewell had three talented rushers to throw at Fitzpatrick. The Giants did record three sacks, but that's a low number comparatively. Gailey called a bunch of three-step drop, rhythm pass combinations early, used the screen in just the right amount, and took advantage of relatively weak Giants linebackers. Spiller on the outside added the speed threat Buffalo needed. 24 points against New York, without any turnovers from the defense, is a good day.
Improved Run Defense. The operable word here is "improved." Buffalo certainly didn't do well on Sunday. George Edwards' group gave up 123 yards on the ground when the Giants entered the game averaging 83 rushing yards a game. Coming into Sunday, the Giants averaged 23 called runs and 33 called passes per game. Kevin Gilbride called eight more runs to get to 123 yards, not counting Manning's kneel-downs, for a 3.9 yards-per-carry average. Seems good for the Giants until compared to what Buffalo had been giving up. Buffalo had been giving up 138 yards on the ground per game on 25 carries, for a 5.5 average per rush. While not stellar, Buffalo improved against a concerted ground game by a team that has shown it can run well in the past. Baby steps.
There are no moral victories out of losses. This loss looks a bit different though. Last year, Buffalo was the team that played big and came up just short. Versus Cincinnati, Buffalo seemed to let up. This loss was neither. New York didn't allow Buffalo to stay in the game through its own mistakes. Buffalo didn't play poorly. Buffalo was the team that made enough mistakes to lose.
That may seem too nuanced of a change to take note of, but it's important. Buffalo wasn't the underdog team the favorite allowed into the game. Buffalo traded blows with a ten-win-type of team and gave the game to the opponent. Buffalo is going to have these types of games in the coming weeks against the Jets, Cowboys, and Patriots, at a minimum. The Bills' ability to trade blows and win in the end will punch their ticket to the playoffs.
For now, Buffalo has two weeks off. That time is needed to heal the injured, manufacture a pass rush, and stretch the field vertically on offense. Then it's back to business versus the Redskins as the Bills seek their first regular season win in Toronto on October 30.