On Sunday, the Buffalo Bills opened their 2011 regular season schedule with a 41-7 shellacking of the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. The beating was so thorough, and the performance of the team so excellent, that it's tough to cobble together points of concern moving forward after this one. Let's give it our level best before getting to the really good stuff.
Pass Rush. This is the glaring weakness thus far. Early in the game, Chris Kelsay and Marcell Dareus combined to force Matt Cassel into a sack. Later, Kyle Williams muscled through the line, and Buffalo got another sack. Then Shawne Merriman hurt his right arm, and everything changed. Buffalo pressured Cassel a few times, but never truly rattled him around like good pass rushing teams can. Though Merriman returned to the game, he looked like he was half-stepping, trying more to be assignment sound and avoid injury than disrupt the Chiefs. It's been said by a few that Buffalo is one great, dominant pass rusher away from having a great defense. Evidence of that was on display at Arrowhead today.
C.J. Spiller's involvement in the offense. Again, this is another glaring weak spot from a otherwise good offensive performance. Spiller is not a running back for all seasons. There's a lot he can do, but there are some specific things that Spiller can't be used for. Short-yardage is one of those things. Fred Jackson bulled his way through the Chiefs defense, setting up 2nd-and-1, but is tired. Spiller is not the guy to enter the game. Either go spread, or get Johnny White in the game. Spiller is not going to power for the first down. It's not his game. Neither is goal line offense. If Spiller is going to get his Reggie Bush-esque 15 touches per game, they have to be better than what he got Sunday.
Donald Jones on fade patterns. I like Jones. He's a good receiver. But he's not David Nelson or even Stevie Johnson, who can use a size advantage on the fade pattern. Jones is thickly built, but only six feet tall. I don't see practices, and maybe Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jones connect all the time there. But in Fitzpatrick's last two regular season games (New England and Kansas City), we've seen a determination to get Jones the ball deep - and we've seen Jones miss time and again on jump balls. To go deep, a receiver can seperate via size (Johnson) or with speed (that Baltimore receiver). Jones has neither in abundance. Put Marcus Easley outside and get Jones in the slot, or have Jones run another type of pattern. He's shown that he's got capability - just not on jump-ball fades.
Team Defense. Wow. Aside from the lack of a natural, consistent ability to rush the quarterback, Buffalo played well. I was struck by the team's sound fundamentals. Buffalo didn't miss many tackles. The standard NFL shoulder tackle was replaced by actual wrapping up. Aside from the Chiefs' scoring drive, Buffalo was very assignment sound. Fans can't expect any defense to stop Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe, and Dexter McCluster. Buffalo did limit the damage by remaining in position. The size advantage we've all been discussing was obvious. Bills tacklers arrived with a thud. I know the stat line will always read that Kansas City ran for 108 yards and six yards per carry. That's actually good work against the best rushing team from 2010.
Receivers. Some Buffalo Rumblings writer has been saying for a while now that Buddy Nix has been assembling a big group of receivers, just like he had in San Diego. Cue Morpheus: "Now do you believe?" 13 of Fitzptrick's 17 completions were to the "tall" receivers: Johnson, Nelson, and Scott Chandler. Johnson looks like he's going to continue to get open in spread formations, and looked overpowering on his leaping touchdown grab. Nelson's wingspan means he's always open, and Chan Gailey used him a lot like a flex tight end against the Chiefs. He caught a lot of the underneath patterns, and turned some of them into more. Speaking of tight ends, Chandler channeled his inner Rob Gronkowski, catching five balls mostly in traffic or away from a defender with his ridiculous wingspan. Most of Buffalo's receivers have a natural quality that can't be taught: size. Aside from Brandon Flowers and Javier Arenas, the Chiefs have some taller defensive backs. Just not tall enough.
Offensive Playcalling and Execution. Kansas City is not some downtrodded group. This is the defense of the defending AFC West champions. The No. 11-rated defense a year ago. They are coached by defensive guru Romeo Crennell. No matter. Chan Gailey called a great game, and Fitzpatrick executed well. Fitzpatrick completed an un-Fitzpatrick-like 68 percent of his passes. Some of Buffalo's drives stalled, and Buffalo's offense was handed some great field position. But Gailey stuck to running Jackson, didn't get too cute, and took advantage of his players. Fitzpatrick, a new team captain and firmly in grip of the car keys, threw four touchdowns and guided the offense to 41 points.
Either Buffalo is much improved, the Chiefs are really rusty, or the Chiefs were a mirage last season. Bills fans would like to believe the first reason. Though the win was big, there's no reason to up any expectations from the Bills just yet. Buffalo's defense will be given a stout challenge from an arch nemesis next weak in the form of the strong power running game that Oakland will bring to Ralph Wilson Stadium. It's one thing to be in position to stop 200-pound backs like Charles; it's completely different than stopping the unrelenting series of power runs that Hugh Jackson will call. At least for one game, however, Bills fans saw one thing: the Nix plan has a chance at working. This team is bigger and more physical. The passing game lost nothing without Evans. The offensive line held up well, and the cast of a thousand cutdown day waiver claims played well. This game should be mostly about hope that Nix and Co. know what they are doing.
Next up: Oakland comes to Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 18 with a 1PM kickoff.