Oh, Canada! The Buffalo Bills won their first regular season game in the Toronto series with a 23-0 triumph over the Washington Redskins. The win marked Buffalo's first true complete game of the season, though it needs to be noted that Washington was playing without about half of its offensive starters. On that down note...
Deep Passing Offense. If only we all knew how important Donald Jones would be to the team's offense. Without him, Buffalo's offense has rarely gone deep. A check of the box score shows four receivers with receptions of over 20 yards. Fred Jackson's 46-yard catch was a medium completion and a big run. Scott Chandler scored on a medium-range catch followed by an impressive run for someone his size. The only true deep throws were an incompletion to C.J. Spiller that drew a flag and a 26-yard connection with David Nelson down the center of the field. Buffalo did better this week against a decent defense, but they need to keep trying to loosen the coverage.
Second-Half Offensive Letup. This one's somewhat debatable, but I felt a sense of offensive letup after the second Chandler touchdown. I've felt this before. Kansas City aside, I don't think Buffalo plays its best offense when they are ahead. We've seen this against Cincinnati and the Giants. While I'm far from faulting Chan Gailey's play-calling, it does seem that the calls, and the execution, improve as the pressure mounts. File this under the "let's keep an eye on this" - it could come back to bite Buffalo against teams it should beat, like Miami and Denver.
Tight End Coverage. Prior to last season, a whole lot of folks clamored for a return to the 3-4 defense. When it happened, we noted that getting beat by tight ends was something to expect out of that alignment. It's schematically difficult for a 3-4 team to stop a tight end in the passing game. Fred Davis caught eight balls for 94 yards. Consider those numbers are for a team that failed to score, and with a very average quarterback at the helm.
Offensive Consistency. If the offense isn't going deep with regularity, it must be effective and efficient in the short passing game, the run game, and on third down. Buffalo converted 50 percent of its third downs. The team ran for 134 yards at a healthy 4.5 yards per carry when Ryan Fitzpatrick's runs are discounted. Most of those runs weren't the longer types from Jackson. And Fitzpatrick, with the ink barely dry on the signature line of his new contract, played like a franchise quarterback. He surgically cut up the Redskins defense, going 21-of-27. The only offensive area Buffalo wasn't truly efficient was the red zone, where Fitzpatrick threw an interception.
Pass Rush. I'll qualify this section by saying that the Redskins' offensive line looked like a MASH unit, similar to Buffalo's line in years past. Nine sacks is a lot, even for a beat up line. Marcell Dareus did his best Ndamukong Suh impression, recording 2.5 sacks, four tackles, two tackles for loss, and three quarterback hits. The rest of the team jumped in on 6.5 sacks. The sack show isn't what's important. The implications regarding Buffalo's personnel are important. Washington's collection of average lineman got mauled; therefore, Buffalo's front is above average to a degree, and the sack count indicates Buffalo has a pretty healthy stable of complementary rushers, Dareus notwithstanding. This showing deepens my thoughts that the Bills are one real good pass rusher away from being very good up front.
Fred Jackson. Jackson is ridiculous. He's fourth in the league in rushing, with a 5.5 yards-per-rush average that's only behind LeSean McCoy's 5.6 YPC among the 10 best runners through Week 8. He's got 27 receptions for 353 yards. That's fourth best in the league among runners. Jackson continued his show in Toronto. He ran for 120 yards and added 74 receiving yards. His 43-yard run on the first drive of the third quarter set up the second Chandler touchdown that put the game out of reach for the Redskins. Jackson is closing in on 1,000 yards while proving to be the best Buffalo runner since Thurman Thomas.
The word of the day for the Bills is "stability." Buffalo has been missing a franchise quarterback since Jim Kelly retired. They now have the steady and smart Fitzpatrick at the helm for the foreseeable future. Jackson is a franchise runner. The offensive line is playing well as a unit, and the no-name receivers are making plays. On Sunday, the defense chipped in with a shutout. If Buffalo can get its defense to play this well consistently, the Bills will be really tough to play against, pressuring opponents with a high-powered offense and a stingy defense. Buffalo returns to Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday with aspirations of playing their second complete game versus the Jets.