The Buffalo Bills came into their Week 1 matchup with the New York Jets with an off-season full of expectations and hype. The pressure proved to be too much in falling 48-28 on the road. From my vantage point, the Bills played tight. They made mistakes they should not make. The Jets, called a clown show by the New York press, came out loose. The difference showed. The Jets executed; Buffalo did not. I think this game comes down to pressure, and the young Bills did not handle it well at all. That could actually be good news for Buffalo fans, since losing a game in this fashion might loosen this young team up.
C.J. Spiller looked loose - and elusive, too. He showed why Buffalo drafted him ninth overall in 2010, picking his hole patiently, bursting through creases, and running through contact much better than I thought he could. Chan Gailey said that once Spiller learned to run with patience, no one would question the pick. That prediction is proving to be more accurate with each game Spiller plays. In a closer game, Spiller's efforts could make the difference between a win and a loss.
With due respect to Spiller's tremendous game, the Buffalo run defense showed that it noticeably improved from last season. The Jets passed 27 times and called 36 designed runs, gaining 118 yards on the ground for a 3.3 yards-per-rush average. That represents a significant accomplishment, considering the Jets rang up 264 rushing yards against the Bills in 2011 (at 4.3 yards per carry), and 549 rushing yards (at 5.6 yards per pop) in 2010. New York's offense maintained a good balance between run and pass throughout the game, so we cannot account for the lack of a Jets running game to a lack of commitment. Buffalo's defense played stout at the point of attack, limiting the great majority of New York runs to a minimal gain. Defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt rarely had to put extra defenders in the box to stop the run. Most of the Jets' yardage came through extra effort from Shonn Greene. While Buffalo showed an immense amount of room for improvement defending the pass, the defensive front seven stopped a dedicated running attack without much scheming or support.
Gailey called passes 57 and 60 percent of the time in 2010 and 2011, respectively. With the bulk of Buffalo's plays going through the air, they cannot make the playoffs the way Ryan Fitzpatrick played on Sunday. He did not read the Jets defense well consistently, and misfired on many throws. Fitzpatrick overthrew his receivers on a number of plays. The interception to Darrelle Revis is forgivable. Fitzpatrick's throw was not that bad, and Revis made a great play to make the interception. Fitzpatrick's throw on the second interception was late and behind the intended receiver. He misread the coverage on his third interception, thinking that the defense was playing man or three deep, when they were actually playing Cover 2, with Antonio Cromartie playing in the short zone. His interceptions led directly to seven Jets points (on Cromartie's return) and indirectly to 14 more. Elite franchise quarterbacks don't set their teams back in this manner. Now we get to see how Fitzpatrick bounces back from this game.
Let's Not Overreact
A number of teams play poorly in Week 1 and go on to do great things. Pittsburgh, Atlanta and the Giants all had forgettable first weeks last season. Hope is not lost. Besides, Buffalo's breakdowns were isolated to specific areas. Failures in those areas just happened to be catastrophic. Buffalo needs to focus on pass defense, and Fitzpatrick needs to play to like the franchise quarterback Gailey and Buddy Nix are betting he is. The pass defense should work out in time. The way the defensive front seven and the secondary works together is going to take a couple games to gel, and the front four only showed glimpses of the penetration that it's sure to get as weeks progress. There were a lot of good areas. As previously mentioned, the run defense showed up. Pass protection held up well, run blocking looked solid, and Spiller was special. While the boo-birds rightfully ought to boo, all is not lost. Far from lost, actually.
Buffalo needs to maintain those good areas, fix their pass defense, and get a better game from Fitzpatrick. They get a chance to bounce back next week in their home opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, the victims of Buffalo's Week 1 blowout win last season.