CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 02: Marcell Dareus #99 of the Buffalo Bills celebrates during the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on October 2, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
The Buffalo Bills fell into the trap. Coming into Sunday, Chan Gailey's team shared the title of NFL darling with Detroit. Boasting one of the best offenses in the league and an opportunistic defense, Buffalo ended a near decade of torture the previous weekend versus New England. Media attention, combined with Philadelphia coming to town on October 9, created trap game conditions on Sunday versus the Cincinnati Bengals. It was a good story for which the young Bills obliged.
Perimeter Defense. International relations theorists should be familiar with the coastland and heartland theories. The NFL has a parallel theory: build with athletes on the perimeter, or build around the football. Buddy Nix chose the latter, and I agree with this philosophy. Nix has added Marcell Dareus, Alex Carrington, Dwan Edwards, Torell Troup, and Andra Davis to Kyle Williams over the past two off-seasons, solidifying the middle of the defense. What Buffalo doesn't have are the athletes on the perimeter. One quick look at the Bengals defense provides long, lean greyhounds like Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson. Both are designed to do one thing: get after the quarterback. Take note of Perry Fewell's defense in New York, with a plethora of perimeter athletes. Buffalo is having issues getting consistent edge pressure on quarterbacks, and they are starting to get beat to the edges. Nix has built a solid interior, and now needs to add athletes on the edge. A more immediate fix may be getting Arthur Moats some more snaps.
Second Half Defense. Buffalo was choking the life out of Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense in the first half. As oxygen was just about to run out, the defense let up. The run defense was ripped apart. Tight ends went wild. A.J. Green schooled Leodis McKelvin. I can't truly explain it. Maybe the defense was emotionally gassed from the week prior. Buffalo's defense was gashed by plays in the second half which were contained in the first half. George Edwards rotated defensive linemen, but nothing worked. Drayton Florence needs to be Buffalo's version of a shutdown corner, as he played better against Green. Beyond this, Buffalo just needs to play how they played in the first half.
Third Down Conversions. Buffalo was 4-of-14 on third down. Some were harder than others to convert, but one thing is obvious: throwing deep on third down is not working for Buffalo. This is somewhat of a recurring theme between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Donald Jones. I counted three times in the first half where Buffalo faced a third-and-manageable down and distance situation. All three times, Fitzpatrick recognized Jones was in a situation where he could beat the corner, and all three times, Fitzpatrick took the shot. While I like the guts, it's foolish. Buffalo did the same thing in 2010 versus New England at Ralph Wilson Stadium. It's not working. Buffalo needs to sustain drives and score. Throw deep on a different down. When it's third-and-three, get the first down.
Brian Moorman. In 2010, I listed Moorman under the good a few times, particularly when the Bills laid an egg. Moorman was a way to get three things in this category. On Sunday, Moorman was back to his old, dominant self. When he is, he's a weapon for the Bills. Moorman averaged 51.6 yards gross with a 43 yard net, including a 65-yard punt. Had Justin Rogers not given up on a play, he might have pinned the Bengals inside the five. On a day where field position mattered, Moorman did his job. At the moment, Moorman is tenth in the league in net punting. Considering five of the punters ahead of him play inside or in good weather, and don't have to deal with swirling winds in Buffalo, I'd say Moorman is playing much better than last year.
First Half Defense. If Buffalo can play defense all year like they did in the first half of the Cincinnati game, this team will play into January. Granted, Dalton is a rookie, but he's smart and played in an offense at TCU where he made pro style reads for a few years. He's ahead of the curve. Jermaine Gresham is a weapon, and Green has been very good. Cedric Benson and the Bengals running game is nothing to scoff at, either. Buffalo got pressure on Dalton, stuffed the running game, and scored two defensive touchdowns (the first nullified upon review). Dareus looked unblockable, and the defense swarmed to the football. If Gailey and Edwards need to show the defense how to play, look at this half.
Safety Play. Jairus Byrd, George Wilson and Bryan Scott won't be included in any polls asking for the NFL's best safety corps. They should be, though. Byrd hasn't intercepted a pass this year, but he hasn't been thrown at a lot either. Losing Donte Whitner caused some concern about tackling in the secondary, but Byrd has erased those concerns, becoming a sure tackler for the Bills. Wilson is doing everything that Whitner was doing, and he's intercepting the football. Scott is Buffalo's swiss-army knife. He covers tight ends and backs, he plays linebacker, he blitzes, he plays deep coverage, and more. Buffalo is getting a lot of production from a mostly unheralded group.
Bills fans shouldn't read too much into this loss. Aside from the edge pass rush, Buffalo's issues can be fixed fairly easily. If Gailey calls more screens and Fitzpatrick converts more on third down, Buffalo scores more than 20 points. If the defense keeps up the intensity and focus, Cincinnati doesn't score 23. The definition of a trap game is a game where the better team loses focus and plays down to their opponent; Buffalo executed the trap game well.
Pay attention to Buffalo's reaction this week. It's already started. Buffalo isn't acting like the sick man of the NFL, who was just lucky to be in the game. They are acting like a good team that knows it played down. That's an attitude adjustment from previous seasons. It's needed, because Buffalo is entering a tough part of their schedule. Sandwiched around a bye, Buffalo plays the NFC East and the Jets over the next five games. The Giants are tough defensively, and like the Redskins are 3-1. The Cowboys are Jekyll-and-Hyde, but play Buffalo in Dallas. The Jets crushed Buffalo twice last year.
It all starts Sunday, October 9 at 1PM as the Bills host the redemption-seeking Philadelphia Eagles.