Over the next few weeks you are going to get a lot of observations, notes and reflections regarding the Bills in pre-season as we gear up for Year 2 with Chan the Man and the Amish Rifle. After the first game the feeling in my camp is that the starters impressed in the 1st quarter and the backup depth on offense was absolutely terrifying for the rest of the game. As you wade through all the notes and observations you will find that I'm going to have a lot to say regarding our favorite team. For a look at how the fellas looked in their first live action game as individuals, feel free to take the jump...
Fred Jackson: Fred Jackson looked crisp, efficient, and fresh running the football. Hands down looking like the most game ready player on the offensive side of the football.
On one run, the left side of the offensive line displayed true power against the defense allowing Fred to show off a quick and quite explosive cut.
On another run, Fred showed off an excellent stiff arm, using technique and power to remove himself from a Bears defender on an outside run and move unhindered for a good, long first down pickup.
Shawne Merriman: Easily the best player on the field, period, for both teams. Shawne Merriman looked like he was not 70%, not 80%, but 100% back to Lights Out form and it was impressive.
Shawne should have registered three sacks on the day but was so humiliating the left tackle that he blatantly held him on an easy would be sack. This effort by Merriman may not have registered on the stat sheet as a sack but was a wonderful previewof how disruptive he can be - a flag was thrown against the offense and his move allowed rookie Marcell Dareus to grab himself an athletic clean up sack. Loved this play.
Now here's the really good news fellas - Merriman's two sacks came with his hand in the dirt lined up as a 4-3 defensive end! He looked fantastic in the 4-3 lined up at end. I mean, looking like a real terror at DE fantastic. On one play he used great burst and aggression to get to the QB and followed that up on the very next play with a huge sack in which he celebrated by fist pumping and giving what looked like a half "Lights Out" move. I know he said he won't do it again but this was close and I hope he does it in the regular season. Awesome. Lights Out, as many of us have hoped, can instantly make this defense scary if he can return to form. Lets hope this continues. Lights Out Baby!!
Marcell Dareus: In addition to the aforementioned sack above, Marcell looked not only powerful but incredibly quick when breaking up a pocket that Jay Cutler was trying to get comfortable in on a different play.
Against the run, Marcell stuffed the RB on a big play in which - while he failed to get a push against the defensive lineman, he didn't get pushed himself and held his ground to grab a bear claw on the runner and pull him down.
Marcell looked great at times, looked incredibly athletic at others, looked average from time to time, but overall showed off the power, quickness, and suddeness that leaves a fan thinking he could be a real difference maker in this league. The instant upgrade to our running game is obvious. What I hope continues against a better offensive line than the Bears is the boon he gave to our passing game. He was disruptive - same key word I used to described Merriman and something this defense has missed for a while.
Terrence McGee: It was really good to have Terrence McGee back out there and he right away reminded me why I love him so much as a player. On a running play that looked disturbingly similar to many against the Bills defense last year - Chris Kelsay over-pursues, the RB cuts back in the other direction, entire defense is out of position, runner looking like he can go 25 yards - McGee sniffs out the runner on a great angle that he took to the ball carrier and makes a nice tackle to bring him down and out of bounds for only a 3 yard gain. This guy makes us better when he's in.
Demetrius Bell: As expected, he looked like a great athlete at times and made some nice plays and then looked over-powered and a major liability in pass protection at others. I have been savaged repeatedly for saying this but once again he showed me that I am not crazy - Demetrius Bell is a great run blocker and a terrible pass protector. Fans like to think otherwise because we're told he's "athletic" but if you watch the plays I think it's clear what his strength and what his weaknesses are.
On a screen play, Bell is sent into the second level and while the play was ugly - either out of poor running, poor design, or poor execution I'm not sure - Bell moved impressively and looked great moving in space and getting himself in position to remove defenders from the play.
On the very next play, in true Bell fashion though, he got owned in pass protection to disrupt the flow of the offense.
On a running play to the left, Bell shows off impressively quick feet, churning to push the defender back on a nice run block.
On another passing play, Demetrius is tasked with pass blocking Vernon Gholston (yes, that Vernon Gholston) and allows him to push him back and then jump up to get a hand on a throw to tip the ball. This can't happen against that level of talent for Bell.
On a CJ Spiller reception that netted a first down, Bell displays how he struggles against a power rush getting blown back by the defender and literally knocked on his butt.
On a following pass play Bell gives an excellent block to beautifully seal his edge and buy the passer time to make a throw. Unfortunately a David Nelson offensive pass interference negates anything.
Andra Davis / Nick Barnett: I was pleading, openly, for the Bills to sign former Miami Dolphin Channing Crowder fearing that the Bills lacked a physical presence at ILB. The other night Andra looked very good, physical and he looked big. He played that way too. I thought it was an encouraging showing for the veteran.
Nick Barnett looked fast on the field, moving fluidly. And he displayed more burst and block-shedding than we normally got used to with Posluszny on an inside blitz that got him to the QB. The problem, however, was that unlike Posluszny he didn't wrap up the ball carrier and bring him down when he should have. Cutler easily side-stepped Barnett and then took off up the field for a first down. This is the kind of play that can change momentum and cost you losses, Barnett has to make the play. Encouragingly, he continued to chase Cutler all the way down until the whistle and was visible furious at himself. At least it was a play he knows he should make and was upset at himself for whiffing on.
Kellen Heard / Michael Jasper : As a community we have discussed quite a bit how a roster spot will come down to Heard or fan favorite Michael Jasper. If last night is any indication, Heard is - as of now - winning that battle by a mile. Heard was disruptive both against the run and the pass. Heard collapsed the pocket on one play that netted the Bills one of their nine sacks - even though he didn't make the play, once again a Bill defensively was disruptive enough to make it all happen.
On another play, Heard got some nice push and than put his arms up to swat a pass at the line of scrimmage. Nice power and awareness from the young man.
On a running play later in the game Kellen Heard makes a great tackle to stuff the runner and then follows it up a few plays later with a beautiful sack that results in a forced fumble.
My eyes showed me a Jasper that is not ready but can be at some point. He is obviously massive but he needs to get better push. He looked strong however and I thought had pretty fine technique considering his college background on both lines. He got washed out of some running plays that caught me a bit off guard considering his size but he also had an impact whenever a runner moved in his direction based on his size alone.
Kraig Urbik / Erik Pears: This combination, if it doesn't provide a better showing than last night, is going to be a source of many this teams offensive struggles in 2011. The Urbik/Pears right side of hte line was killing runs on Saturday and they got owned, plain and simple.
On one run the defensive lineman got entirely into Pears' body, took complete control of the matchup and drove himself and Pears laterally for a few yards until the defender got completely in the ball carriers path to make the stop for no gain.
On a CJ Spiller run Kraig Urbik got blasted by his matchup, yes blasted, to result in a complete stuffing of CJ.
On a great screen play later in the game, that was designed very well to convert a third down, a dump to CJ Spiller saw him in position to turn upfield for a big chunk of space with Eric Wood and Kraig Urbik well up the field to provide him protection. The only Bear that seemed to have a chance to prevent this play from blowing open was Brian Urlacher and he had to get through two Bills. Sadly, first Eric Wood whiffed completely and then Kraig Urbik failed entirely to slow down Urlacher. This play embodies who unfair this offensive line is to CJ Spiller's potential. From what I've seen since he joined the team, there is an explosive, game changing runner doing all the right things but getting no help from his blockers. Fred Jackson is built to manage in those circumstances, all CJ needs is a proper block or two to spring him for huge gains. One hat on Urlacher and CJ is going for six potentially.
Danny Batten: At one point I asked my buddy "who is that guy?" before reminding myself that Danny Batten is back. And man, he looked good out there. He was fluid and his body has this length to it that seems to allow him to stretch to make plays you wouldn't expect. I thought he was great in terms of being in the right place and moving well on the field. Just look to the stat sheet to see his impact on the game. Considering the situation at linebacker on this team, I think Danny Boy should get a shot to show his stuff with the 1s at some point in pre-season. He was that good.
Brad Smith: Looking every bit like the playmaker he was signed to be, I think he can be a fine third QB - maybe second - and was a very wily signing by Buddy Nix. This guy will be used everywhere and he should. He looks as fun to watch as he was on the Jets.
Aaron Williams: "Just when I thought you couldn't possibly be any dumber, you go and do something like this... and totally redeem yourself!!"
The Dumb and Dumber quote above defines Aaron Williams night. Four notable plays stuck out to me.
1. Aaron Williams saves the special teams coverage unit from a touchdown. After Johnny Knox burns everyone and looks set for six, Williams hustles on the play and never gives up, racing to take out Knox's legs after a big gain and saving six. Great hustle and good to see from the young man.
2. Aaron Williams get burned deep on a huge pass that puts Chicago in good field position. He needs to run better with his man here when he goes across the field but in his defense, he also needed better safety help from rookie Searcy that just never materialized. Still, not good coverage from Williams.
3. The very next play Aaron Williams gets called for a pass interference on a route in which he was badly burned. I mean badly. Burned as in, Williams had no chance to stay with his man when he turned inside then quickly cut it back outside so he reached to bear hug the WR in order to prevent the huge play but was so badly turned around he failed to wrap up and ended up falling on his face. Puts the Bears in scoring range.
4. Sometimes, I like to pat myself on the back so I'll go ahead and do that here. I turned to my buddy and said, Aaron Williams has single-handedly put this team in position to get scored on and let the Bears move 50 yards in seconds, watch, he HAS to make a big play to redeem himself. Ok self patting over. Time to praise Aaron Williams. The dude TOTALLY REDEEMS himself. On a play that was so Troy Polamalu-esqu you might believe it was him, Aaron Williams gets incredible vertical on a pass directed at a man in front of him. He leaps up, allows himself to get a hand over the WR to tip the ball. Lands and then dives out to make an interception on his own tipped ball. Fellas, if that was an indication of his ability, this kid has potential to be a serious playmaker. It was the best play of the game.
Overall, Williams showed grit, hustle, speed, athleticism, and toughness to bounce back and come up big. But he also showed he was raw in coverage. A work in progress but might be a fast riser. I like the way he plays already.
Alex Carrington: So there goes the notion that he was at OLB just for one practice huh? He was there often on Saturday. And, as he did in his limited action last season, he looked dominant. His combination of size, athleticism, and burst is simply awesome. I really don't like the idea of him at OLB but he looked very comfortable and good playing out of that position. At one point, Carrington made a beautiful sack by overwhelming the blocker with his combination of speed and power. Count me as a believer in Carrington. I think he will be a player for this team.
Besides his sack, Carrington looked very good throughout the night, displaying strength across his reps.
The backup offensive line literally can't stop anyone in run blocking or pass blocking. ANYONE. It is very scary. Considering how badly the starters looked, this is very discouraging stuff.
Mansfield Wrotto and Cordaro Howard, two men hoped to compete for starting jobs, were some of the biggest disappointments of the night not named Urbik. They were supposed to show something and showed nothing. They got beat routinely and badly.
Scott Chandler had a bad drop in the first quarter but also made some plays thereafter. This team needs better talent at tight end but if there is a guy who should be starting its definitely Chandler. Great size on that tight end too.
No one stepped up and made me take notice as a guy to become the no. 2 WR. I thought it was obvious that he missed Lee Evans but its still early. Stevie needs help and no one made it happen. Of course, no QB had time to throw all night, especially Levi Brown. This offensive line is our biggest handicap hands down. I've been screaming for upgrades there because I believe this team has talent to be a winning club if it just had some time to do anything. Nothing develops on the offense in the run or the pass because of poor blocking routinely.
Buster Davis dropped a pass that would have been a first and looked sloppy on his routes.
Spencer Johnson had a nice tip of a pass at the line and followed that up with a great sack. Spencer is a great veteran presence on this team.
Antonio Coleman moved well upon contact from a blocker and showed some good stuff.
Johnny White looks solid and would do better with real blocking, just like CJ Spiller.
Final Thoughts: The defensive unit were the stars last night and deserve to be praised for a great effort all around.
Helped their causes: Shawne Merriman, Marcell Dareus, Kellen Heard, Danny Batten, Fred Jackson
Hurt their causes: Kraig Urbik, Erik Pears, Mansfield Wrotto, Cordaro Howard
Where was he? : Donald Jones