Due to a fortunate set of circumstances (read: me flipping the proverbial bird at my pile of schoolwork), I was able to catch the re-air of the Bills/Ravens contest last night on NFL Network. I'd seen the game once live, so this time around I decided to pay closer attention to the nuances of the game. My notes were pretty extensive, so I thought I'd share some of what I saw. We'll start with the offense; defense will come
later on this afternoon early tomorrow morning (news, a.k.a. Trent Edwards, bumps opinion).
Quarterback: You can't help but be impressed by Trent Edwards. Other than the Patriots game I'd never seen his release on film - it's as quick as advertised. But his release point bothers me a bit - he'll make some throws at strange angles; his deep throw to Lee Evans had a bit of wobble on it that caught Lee off guard and forced the bobble, and Trent also had a couple of almost-sidearm throws knocked down at the line. When he's in rhythm, he's a dead-eye, making the right throw nearly every time. But when his reads break down, he gets very antsy in the pocket, and hasn't displayed much of an ability to make things happen on his own. It's pretty clear that Edwards has what it takes to be highly successful at this level, but boy is he green. I've never seen a pass as obviously telegraphed as his interception in the fourth quarter. Look that corner off, rook.
Running Backs: We all know how hard Marshawn Lynch runs (he looks even more impressive in the stadium), but against a blitz-happy Ravens defense Marshawn was superb in blitz pickup. He has a very low center of gravity, which helps him anchor against blitzers, and he's very willing to sacrifice his body for his quarterback. He and Anthony Thomas looked like extra tight ends blocking for Edwards at times.
The Bills have a great luxury in their top three backs Lynch, Thomas and Dwayne Wright. All three are sturdy, versatile runners that can play in pretty much any situation. I particularly like Wright - he's not the most talented back I've seen, but his physical, straight-line style fits well with Lynch's hard-nosed, slashing style. This is (hopefully) going to be a good one-two punch for a long time in Buffalo.
Wideouts/Tight Ends: With Edwards only completing 11 passes in this game, I didn't see much from the wideouts that we don't already know. Lee Evans, if he's involved early, can make plays at any point on the field. Josh Reed is terrific after the catch, and may be the go-to wideout when the Bills hit the red zone (as evidenced by the lob pass the team attempted his way before the Lynch TD). Roscoe Parrish is tougher than he looks, making a nice catch over the middle for a first down. With Peerless Price on IR, it would be great to see the Bills find a way to get Roscoe a bit more involved than one catch per game. The tight ends were non-existent in the passing game; Michael Gaines had a bad drop on a catchable ball on the first play of the game.
Every single player from this WR/TE group are good to above-average run blockers. The two best are Josh Reed and Robert Royal. Reed isn't huge, but he's thick, and my guess is that his experience at RB in college gives him a little more insight as to how to block corners and safeties going down the field. The Bills move Royal around a lot; in the absence of a fullback, the team motions Royal essentially on every play, often moving him into the backfield as a lead blocker. He is at his best when blocking in space - he'll often pull with a guard when Lynch hits the edges, and the result is some of Marshawn's more productive runs. Royal also had a great lead block on the Lynch TD.
O-Line: It's difficult to get a read on just how good this unit is. Their run blocking in the first half was impeccable (Lynch had 62 yards at 4.8 yards a pop in the first half), but they often looked overwhelmed in the second half. Part of that was play-calling and attempting to ice the game, but there were players who struggled as well. Melvin Fowler had issues picking up inside defenders at times; he missed seals on Terrell Suggs and Dwan Edwards that led to the Ravens' two sacks on the day. Brad Butler looked confused a couple of times and missed Suggs on his sack as well, and Jason Peters had trouble with some bull rushes from Suggs as well. Peters is great at neutralizing the speed rush, but he's not the most physical left tackle we've had here by any means. To be fair, Suggs is a menace - he has the perfect package (speed, power, versatility) and as a result he's one of the league's most dynamic sack artists.
I came away from this project a bigger fan of Derrick Dockery. Other than Royal, Dockery is the one run blocker that moves more than any other, and he's very good when getting out in front of Lynch. For some reason, the run plays got more conservative in the second half, however - Dockery stayed left most of the time, and Lynch struggled in the second half (14 carries, 22 yards). Marshawn has looked excellent on misdirection and stretches to the edge this season, and Dockery's movement skills are the biggest reasons why.
General Thoughts: This was an underrated, solid outing by our offense. We don't score a lot of points, so to get 5 scores - in any fashion - against a defense as good as Baltimore's can only be considered a moderate success. The biggest problem remains play-calling. Steve Fairchild called a pretty solid game between the twenties (the no-huddle helped keep the Ravens off-balance for most of the game), but the team is far too predictable in the red zone. Run, pass, draw play or run, roll-out, incompletion. Every time. The Bills' lone touchdown drive was following the same pattern, but a pass interference call against Reed in the end zone set the Bills up 1st-and-goal from the 1. Luckily, Marshawn housed it from there - those proved to be the deciding points in the contest.
Overall, the team is finding ways to keep defenses off-balance, but until the play-calling in the red zone improves and the Bills can score touchdowns, you're going to continue to see 15-20 point games for the Bills.