As we discussed yesterday, we're going to start reviewing chunks of TV footage from the Buffalo Bills during the 2010 season. I started that process last night by looking at the team's offensive performance in a 34-31 overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 7 - a loss that dropped the Bills to 0-6 on the season. I've got five thoughts to share; if there's something you're curious about that I don't cover here, ask away in the comments section.
Point 1: Buffalo's wide receivers torched Baltimore's cornerbacks. If you're wondering why the Bills were so efficient in this particular game, against one of the league's best defenses, the biggest of a myriad of reasons is that the Ravens were beyond brutal at cornerback. Every Ravens cornerback struggled, but Fabian Washington in particular was brutal, as he was beaten deep early for a score by Lee Evans and repeatedly torched on slant routes by both Evans and, in particular, Stevie Johnson. Buffalo got their running game established early - five of their first six plays were runs - and that helped them get balance and rhythm, as well. Johnson beat Washington on the same exact slant play off of play-action twice, gaining 78 yards on those plays.
Point 2: Ryan Fitzpatrick was Ryan Fitzpatrick. I'm going to poke a hole in the idea that this performance from Fitzpatrick was an aberration. In re-watching this game, I saw a Fitzpatrick that was decidedly excellent, but still prone to all of the shortcomings that we talk about frequently, and show up more often in other games. He overlooked open receivers in favor of forcing balls into coverage, made slightly inaccurate throws that his receivers brought down, was imprecise mechanically, and made poor decisions at costly times. (Like trying to squeeze a ball through Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to Roscoe Parrish on the first play of the second half. That was a bad idea, Ryan.) He also made some outstanding throws - a 24-yard pass to Evans in overtime really stood out - and did a fantastic job of finding favorable matchups and exploiting Baltimore's terrible cornerback play. Statistically, he was excellent, but there's more to football than stats.
Point 3: Formation, formation, formation. Buffalo earned a reputation last season as a team that liked to spread opponents out with three- and four-receiver sets and shotgun formations, but that's not how they played in their 24-point first-half performance. Fitzpatrick was in the gun for just eight of 34 plays in the half, and they had two receivers on the field for 18 of them. After the game got away from them a little bit, the shotgun and spread returned, as Fitzpatrick was in the gun for 29 of 45 plays in the second half.
Out of the gun, Fitzpatrick completed 20 of 31 passes for 199 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. From under center, however, Fitzpatrick was much more efficient, if not incredible, going 9-of-13 for 199 yards and two scores. (Data for a Fred Jackson screen pass - one that eerily resembled his long touchdown against Pittsburgh - is counted there, even though the play was brought back due to an illegal formation penalty on Buffalo.) Buffalo was productive when they weren't forced into the shotgun, as Fitzpatrick was 6-of-7 for 73 yards and a score out of the gun in the first half. Based solely on this one game, it's fair to postulate that the less the Bills use the gun next season, the better. But balance is a must.
Point 4: Shawn Nelson was a big part of Chan Gailey's game plan. Nelson had just come off of a four-game suspension and a groin injury, and was appearing in his first game of the season. He saw a lot of playing time, getting in on 25 of the team's 79 reps offensively - more than twice the amount of reps given to C.J. Spiller. He was used predominantly in a three-receiver, one-tight end, one-back personnel package that lined up in a variety of different formations. Nelson spent most of his time in-line, but was split out wide a few times, and was the target on a fade route in a red zone drive that ended in a field goal. People will remember Nelson's costly overtime fumble in this game, but he was solid prior to that play. If Nelson is healthy next season, it wouldn't shock me if Gailey threw him back into this package right away.
Point 5: We need more play-action, Chan. I'd take a hit in the eyes of Ron From NM if I didn't point out that this was the game in which Gailey unveiled a pass protection scheme that involved left guard Andy Levitre pulling to the right side of the formation, as if he were run-blocking - even on calls that didn't involve a play-fake. Baltimore cottoned onto it eventually, but early on it did a fantastic job of freezing Baltimore's linebackers and opening up throwing lanes down the field. Eric Wood was used as an effective puller early in the game on run plays, as well, which helped set up the play-action game. Fitzpatrick was gold on traditional play-action plays in this game, completing five of six passes for a whopping 130 yards. Play fakes were used on the slants that torched Washington, as well. Buffalo also had a bubble screen set up for Parrish on a play fake, but Washington beat blocker Evans to Parrish on the only play Washington made all day.
Again, these are just the big points I came away with. I can answer questions to the best of my ability in the comments section.