The Buffalo Bills pulled out a last-second, 24-23 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, with EJ Manuel orchestrating a two-minute touchdown drive with no timeouts to steal the victory. The win puts Buffalo at 1-1 on the season as they begin to look forward to their first road game of the season next Sunday at the New York Jets.
NFL.com has published play time percentages for this weekend's game, so let's take a look at the Bills' snap counts to begin the analysis on yesterday's big win.
For a second straight game, Buffalo's quintet of starting offensive linemen played every snap. Doug Marrone has said that he believes less in cohesion up front than some other coaches might, but the longer this group of players sticks together, the better off the team will be.
T.J. Graham may be to the Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett offense what Devery Henderson was for years in New Orleans: the oft-used vertical threat that never produced the way many expected him to. Graham has played a ton this season, but has very little to show for it as the fifth or sixth receiving option in the pecking order.
Unlike last week, when the Bills played almost exclusively 11 personnel (3 WR, 1 RB, 1 TE) against New England, the Bills sacrificed their third receiver for fullback Frank Summers on a sizable chunk of plays. Possibly related: the Bills were significantly better running the football in Week 2 than they were in Week 1, when Summers logged zero snaps.
Unsurprisingly, the Bills played significantly less nickel defense against Carolina, which runs a more conservative offense formation-wise than does New England. Still, as usual in today's NFL, there was about a 55/45 split between nickel and base reps, as exemplified by the rep percentages for Nickell Robey (the nickel corner) and Arthur Moats (the base-down inside linebacker).
Speaking of Moats: it is now explicitly clear that he has surpassed Nigel Bradham on the depth chart as the second middle linebacker behind rookie Kiko Alonso, who has played every snap on defense so far this year. Bradham is one of the more prominent early-season disappointments for this football team. A hybrid defense works best when it has two every-down capable linebackers, and the Bills aren't there yet.
It was nice to see a lot more of Manny Lawson on the field. He is arguably the team's best run defender, is capable in coverage, and the defense seems to lose some of its stoutness when Jerry Hughes comes into the game as the designated pass rusher.
Rather than using one of its brand new cornerbacks in the dime role on Sunday, Mike Pettine decided to throw Jim Leonhard in as the dime back. That shouldn't be surprising; expect that trend to continue while the Bills' cornerback depth chart remains depleted.
What else sticks out to you, Bills fans?