As I was a fan of Jason Pieri’s The Good, The Bad, The Ugly columns, I thought I’d give it a try. I’m more on the optimistic side, seeing a rebuilding team with good potential that needs to grow up fast. So I switched it up a bit to be more good than bad. If you like and want to see one next week, please rec and I’ll try again… (and hopefully the Bills cooperate with a W!)
Leodis McKelvin – is he cornerback #1A? He should be in the conversation given his performance through the first two games. In his first 64 games as a Bill, he had 28 passes defensed (0.44/game). In his first two games of 2013, he has 7 passes defensed (3.50/game). This is a whopping 800% improvement. By comparison, Stephon Gilmore had 16 PDs in all of 2012. Yes, sample size is small and this average will drop as teams realize McKelvin’s no longer the weak link, but his anticipation looks much better, and even though he didn’t have his head turned around on the deep ball to Smith, he was aware enough to punch it out the instant Smith caught it. Now he needs to convert those PDs to picks.
Super Mario looked like a video game – Mario Williams was a beast who should have had 5.5 sacks but for the strength and balance of Cam Newton. It’s what we hoped for when doling out the largest contract in franchise history. Now Mario, it’s time for consistency two games in a row – because that expectation comes with the contract.
The rest of the newcomers. Kiko Alonso was everywhere, picking up a critical interception that killed the Panthers’ momentum, being a sideline-to-sideline tackling machine, and getting rewarded with a sack on the last play. Robert Woods showed why he was thought of as the most NFL-ready WR – my favorite example: when running a fly route 40 yards downfield, he sees that his QB is scrambling for his life, and sprints straight back to get open and catch the pass. Nickell Robey continues to impress with his quickness and anticipation. Dan Carpenter hit a 55-yarder! (and it would have been good from 65) – without it, we would be having a different conversation.
E.J. Manuel’s brain, and the physical tools to go with it. E.J. Manuel ran almost flawless two-minute drill with no timeouts, completed 69% of his passes, and showed impressive escapability (the four-yard completion to C.J. Spiller saved the game). He checks down a bit too much for my taste, stalling drives - would like to see him develop a little more patience in the pocket, especially since he is getting pretty good pass protection and he gets results while under pressure.
The pass protection and run blocking – Carolina has a respectable front seven, but our five guys did a good job handling them – they only gave up 1 sack, a couple of pressures, and run-blocked for 149 yards at 4.5 yards/carry. We don’t get production running left though (we rushed 7 times to the left for 7 yards). (Would love for someone to figure out what’s going on with the left side of our line on run plays!)
The bonehead mistakes. I tried researching the number of defensive holding flags thrown on a punt and couldn’t find any examples. I’m pretty confident even if I did, the defender wouldn’t have had his helmet stripped off before the punt was in the air. Frank Summers, I love what you bring in both the running and passing game, but come on. Aaron Williams, but for Frank’s game of fetch with a helmet, you’d be at the top of the list.
Time of possession. 436 yards for the Bills to 308 for the Panthers. But they also ran 76 plays to our 73, and held the ball for 34 minutes vs. our 26. Two drives were extended by bonehead mistakes. But if Cam had just a little more downfield accuracy, the story would not have had a happy ending.
An MIA #3 receiver. When you get as many plays as TJ Graham, you should have something to show for it. Despite his physical skills, he just doesn’t look like he’s improving in his route running. At what point do we give Chris Hogan or Marcus Easley a chance? Soon, I think.
The bottom line
Nervewracking Sundays are back: this team shows flashes of potential, but also has a tendency to make critical mistakes at bad times. Would this column read the same had the Carolina corners not botched up the last play? Or had Luke Kuechly not bumped Stevie? On the flip side, the team overcame two bonehead mistakes and flawlessly executed on the two minute drill. In the end though, the team is young, and will have bumps on the road to becoming a playoff team – especially as the competition only gets tougher. We as fans will have to be patient – for me 8-8 is a successful season, and playoffs would be VERY successful. Next week's game will give us a good idea of where we are. On to the Jets!