Titans 23, Bills 17: Three Good And Three Bad

The Buffalo Bills missed a prime opportunity to stay in the playoff race. Of their remaining opponents, the Tennessee Titans seemed the easiest to beat. San Diego faces the Bills after they travel to the West Coast - never easy conditions to win under. Miami is hitting their stride, Denver looks unbeatable, and New England hosts Buffalo. The Bills needed to win all five games to have a realistic chance at making the playoffs. While still mathematically alive, Buffalo's chances are dim.

The Bad
Run Defense Consistency. Was Buffalo's run defense really that bad? Tennessee finished with 31 rushing attempts for 187 yards. I came away from the game surprised that the statistics were that bad. After digging into the stats, Buffalo's run defense was not as bad as it seemed. Tennessee called 30 planned runs, gaining 186 yards. I used three yards per carry as the metric, with three yards or below per run in the same category. With that metric, on 16 of their runs, Tennessee gained 183 yards. On the other 14 attempts, Tennessee gained a total of three yards. For half of Tennessee's runs, Buffalo's run defense was dominant. On the other half, Buffalo was a doormat. The talent and ability is present to stop the run. Buffalo needs to find consistency now.

Turnover Battle. This is fairly self-explanatory. Tennessee recovered two Buffalo fumbles, and didn't turn the ball over themselves. The effects of the two fumbles were huge. The first fumble came from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Facing a 4th-and-3 from the Tennessee 34-yard line, Fitzpatrick lost the ball scrambling and Tennessee got the ball at their own 43-yard line. The score at the time was 10-7 in favor of Tennessee. Fitzpatrick was unlikely to make the first down running, and while I don't disagree with Chan Gailey's call to go for it, the fumble started a 14-point swing. The Titans drove down and scored to extend their lead to 17-7. After halftime, Buffalo received the ball down 17-10. With a chance to tie the score, Scott Chandler fumbled on the first play of the drive. Tennessee took the ball and extended their lead to 20-10. Tennessee scored ten points off the turnovers after two situations where Buffalo could have tied the game or taken the lead.

Field Position Battle. Buffalo had 11 possessions. All but two started outside the Buffalo 20-yard line. One drive started at the 30-yard line, but ended with Fitzpatrick's fumble. The other drive start outside the 20 was Buffalo's first in the second half, which started at the 41, but ended after one play with Chandler's fumble. Discounting Tennessee's last drive, where Matt Hasselbeck kneeled down for the win, the Titans had 10 drives. Six of the 10 drives started outside their own 20-yard line. Two drives started across the Tennessee 40-yard line, and one drive started in Buffalo territory. A lack of Tennessee turnovers affected field position, but Buffalo's offense had to work with long fields all afternoon.

The Good
C.J. Spiller. After the first half, I sensed that the main Sunday meal for many Buffalo fans would be crow. While Spiller's second half wasn't as dynamic, and while he's still limited in the power run game, he showed signs of becoming a feature, impact running back. In the open field, Spiller is electric. He was the fastest player on the field while Buffalo was on offense. His first touchdown run was past numerous Titans, and his second run (negated by penalty) was also past Titans defenders. Spiller looked more patient and waited for blocks. Expect more as he becomes comfortable.

Overall Offensive Gameplan. Gailey's taken criticism over the past few days regarding his game plan and some decisions. I think those criticisms are highly unwarranted. Think about what Gailey has done well over the past two weeks. Sure, he could've run Spiller more in the second half. Anyone take notice of the complete transition of the Buffalo offense away from a spread, fast-break offense to more of a traditional, run offense? Gailey is an Erhardt-Perkins ball control traditionalist, but had used the spread formation and some horizontal timing offense concepts with Fred Jackson and Fitzpatrick. After getting thumped for three straight games and Jackson getting hurt, Buffalo's offense rebounded during the past two weeks. Buffalo has run far more twin tight end sets, getting Lee Smith on the field as the in-line blocker and moving Chandler to the move tight end, something he's more suited to. Corey McIntyre has seen the field more. This resulted in a solid game from Fitzpatrick, Spiller's emergence, and if not for the turnovers, a decent offense. The offense without Jackson should have tanked. It hasn't, and credit needs to go to Gailey.

Brad Smith. Maybe Gailey should have gone to Smith sooner in the season. He's not a bona fide deep threat, but he's more of a playmaker than Donald Jones, catching seven balls for 72 yards on Sunday. Smith is a better open-field runner, and he converted third downs by running after short catches on a couple receptions. With Steve Johnson attracting the defense's best cornerback and David Nelson seeing better coverage, Smith's emergence over the past two weeks was needed.

Outlook
Buffalo is currently 5-7 and hanging by a thread to their playoff hopes. With four teams ahead of them for the final wild card spot, a lot has to happen for Buffalo to make the playoffs. Much of the conditions need to be set by other teams, and are out of Buffalo's control. It's highly unlikely that the Bills run the table with Denver, New England, surging Miami, and a road game in San Diego.

Buffalo's playing for pride and for the future at this point. Bills fans talking about playoff chances into late November and early December was a nice change. The reality is that Buffalo isn't ready yet. They still start and rely on too many rookies and young players. Buffalo's slim chances are on the line when the young Bills head to San Diego on Sunday.

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