A win! But we have lots of work to do. E.J. Manuel could have an entire column of GOB dedicated just to him for his play today. More on him below.
The pass defense. Yes, we had a couple of blown coverages that resulted in two big plays. But we also had 5 picks, allowed only a 50% completion rate, and 13 passes defensed. Flacco was constantly under pressure, leading to mistakes. Special recognition goes to Kiko Alonso, who showed elite athleticism on his second pick, and Aaron Williams, who made two critical picks and made up for a 74 yard completion by not giving up on the play and saving a touchdown. Kudos also to Brandon Burton, mystery man #29, who came on in relief to prevent Torrey Smith from catching a perfectly thrown fade. Da’Norris Searcy also shows positive progress in learning how to cover, with four passes defensed. And finally, kudos to Justin Rogers for showing character – he gave up some plays today, but he made some as well and overall showed a lot more consistency.
The defensive and offensive line. Both lines came to play today. Marcell Dareus was unblockable at times. Mario Williams showed hustle in catching Flacco for what could have been a TD-saving sack. Kyle Williams, while sackless, got a number of good licks on Flacco. Combined, they erased the rushing attack of Baltimore. Offensively, the line did a credible job in pass protection and dominated rushing the ball. While the longest rush was only 16 yards, we rarely got stuffed, and our 3.7 ypc was weighed down by EJ’s 5(!) kneeldowns for -16 yards.
Fred Jackson and Robert Woods. The most reliable offensive threats today. Woods flashed his potential on his TD catch, and would have had 100+ yards had he been able to make an acrobatic grab. Freddie demonstrated time and again his durability and vision. C.J. Spiller’s team? Not even close, nor should it be.
E.J. Manuel. I’ll say one thing for E.J.: he is exciting to watch – causing screams of both agony and ecstasy. His completion to Robert Woods was the deep ball we were all looking for. He still excels in throwing the intermediate routes. He gave his receivers more chances to catch the ball – the deep out to Scott Chandler was almost perfection. He also didn't flip the ball down the sidelines at the first sign of a rush. But he still has a knack for big mistakes – the loose scramble under pressure where he fumbled, and his imitation of the three stooges that was fortunately recovered by Stevie Johnson. He also has been repeating mistakes - his underthrown deep ball to Robert Woods that got picked, and his 6 yard dart to Stevie that was too hot to handle and got picked. Hopefully the frequency of good plays increases, and mistakes decreases in upcoming weeks.
The Offensive Playcalling. Yes, the playcalling coming out in the second half was pretty atrocious – and it resulted in three three-and-outs, and a pick. Some are calling the entire game ugly, having expected us to score 30+ in the first half. However, by the start of the second half, the coaching staff had built up a 20-7 lead, dominated on offense and defense, and seen their star quarterback make a couple of very bad mistakes – a pick and a fumble - when under pressure from a talented Baltimore front seven. They’d also opened up the playbook a bit more, with more play action, read options, a deep strike, and rushes by Woods and Graham. Anyone remember when the Bills last rushed for 200+ yards in a game? I can’t entirely fault a little conservatism, and trusting the defense.
The Second Half Start. While I can’t entirely fault the playcalling, I can fault the execution. Three 3-and-outs and an interception are not the way you want to start the second half. While it ended up ok in the end, this game easily could have been a loss because we couldn’t execute offensively in the second half.
The Penalties. 11 for 99? We’ve got to clean it up. A couple of holding calls on Woods were drive killers. The guys making the mistakes are not young, they are experienced vets.
More Injuries. Williams, Spiller, Jackson and Kraig Urbik all got even more dinged up. Stevie was the shadow of himself, making me wonder whether he’s really more injured than he’s letting on. That 5-yard dart hit him in the hands, so he had a shot at catching it. Hopefully, it was just an off game for our best WR.
It's a short week, and how players respond to injuries may go a long way to how we do Thursday. But the Bills are continuing to demonstrate they have talent, and an increasing amount of grit. Perhaps this will be the day we look back on as the day we turned the corner and closed out a game we should have lost on paper. Bring on the Brownies!