Breaking down an NFL game play by play is a painstaking process. Because it takes so long to accurately get through, we'll be going over the film from the most recent Buffalo Bills game on Wednesdays in one lengthy, as-comprehensive-as-possible post. Today's recap is of the Bills' 15-10 Week 1 loss to the Miami Dolphins, and includes offensive and defensive notes. This post doesn't contain every minor detail we track, so if you have a question, ask - we'll do our best to get it answered for you.
Is It The QB Or The O-Line?
I've managed this blog for well over three years now, and one of the oldest debates I've seen on an almost daily basis is whether the quarterback or the offensive line is more to blame for Buffalo's passing woes. It's rather chicken and egg, yet the debate rages on. Understand this: Trent Edwards stunk in this game. So did the offensive line.
I counted nine mistakes by Edwards. Three were altered or battered throws, which isn't entirely under his control. Five were bad to terrible throws; two should have been intercepted and returned for touchdowns. He also took a delay of game penalty late in the game. The biggest worry, however, might be the fact that Edwards again looked antsy in the pocket. He got rid of the ball too quickly against three-man rushes, bailed out of a clean pocket too early on occasion, and also held onto the ball too long once or twice. Trent made some good reads, some great decisions, and had some sharp throws. He's got a long, long way to go.
The line, by contrast, was responsible for 16 miscues. That includes 10 bad blocks, two blown assignments, two sacks allowed (a third was on Edwards), and two critical penalties. So there. Both quarterback and line struggled. Not surprising in the least. Please don't use this fact as reason to start yet another flame war around Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey. We've heard it all before.
Speaking Of The O-Line...
I consider Geoff Hangartner the best performer on Sunday, mostly because he made zero mental and physical errors. He got a bit dinged up at one point, but finished the game.
Eric Wood looked good, too. He had one poor block that led to a quickly collapsed pocket, but otherwise graded out well, if you ask me. Zero mental errors is a great start to the season for our starting right guard.
Andy Levitre played a solid game, though he was the least stout of the three interior linemen in pass protection, often losing ground, preventing Edwards from stepping up into the pocket. (Not that he would have in the first place.) He was much better on the rare occasion he was asked to run block, looking especially good while pulling.
Demetrius Bell exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations on the left side. He played 41 of 54 snaps, and I credited him with four errors - two blown blocks, and two missed assignments. One of those miscues was a blatant hold that should have negated a moderate gain on Buffalo's lone touchdown drive, but which was not called. He was competent on most other snaps. Jamon Meredith spelled Bell for the remaining 13 snaps, and was physically overwhelmed on two of those plays.
Cornell Green is one of the team's more popular whipping boys at the moment, and for good reason: he had a terrible game, particularly in the second half. On top of a procedure penalty - the worst kind of penalty, if you ask me - I gave Green two sacks allowed and five missed blocks. He didn't miss any assignments, which I suppose is a positive, but it doesn't matter if he's physically bested.
The problem here is that when they're on top of their game, this offensive line is merely average.
The Running Back Trio
Many of you have inquired as to how often Buffalo's three running backs saw the field. Here's your answer: C.J. Spiller got 28 reps, Fred Jackson got 26 reps, and Marshawn Lynch got 11 reps. Undrafted rookie receiver David Nelson (30 reps) saw more work than any single Bills running back.
Lynch, Corey McIntyre (13 reps) and Jonathan Stupar (13) were the least-utilized offensive skill players, aside from the running backs. All of Buffalo's top four receivers saw at least 30 snaps.
Yes, Buffalo's offense was terrible, but it might have approached slightly below average had it been able to fix a few basic execution problems in-game. Edwards didn't sell the screen very well, leading to a couple of altered throws on those plays. The Bills' linemen were confused about the direction of a play on occasion; I recall one particular play in which Bell allowed a defender into the backfield largely unblocked, thinking that the play was going to the right, not to the left. Bills players also struggled to make plays with the ball in their hands; Spiller in particular had a shot at some big gainers, but couldn't run through arm tackles.
Gailey's got a long way to go to get this offensive unit to a competent level of play; fixing mental errors, sharpening focus, and slimming down the complexity of his alignments a touch would be a good place to start.
George Edwards' Blitz Packages
A lot of fans were curious to see how new coordinator George Edwards planned to generate pressure out of his 3-4 defensive scheme. Buffalo still struggles mightily to generate pressure out of a four-man rush, but Edwards sent five or more rushers on just 12 of Miami's passing plays. Two of the team's three sacks, however, came on delayed blitzes executed nicely by Paul Posluszny and Bryan Scott.
While we're on Edwards: the injury to Posluszny certainly helped, but it should be known that he's using a lot of defenders in his sub-packages. 19 Bills defenders saw reps in this game, including five defensive linemen, six linebackers, four cornerbacks and four safeties.
The team's role players - those who are limited to sub-packages only - saw somewhat significant playing time. Dime corner Reggie Corner was on the field for seven plays. Rookie nose tackle Torell Troup saw ten snaps, while fellow defensive lineman Spencer Johnson got 23 spelling Marcus Stroud and Dwan Edwards. Designated pass-rusher Aaron Maybin got 14 reps. Scott, the nickel linebacker, got onto the field for 21 plays, while free safety Jairus Byrd - limited to nickel and dime packages as he continues to recover from groin surgery - got 32 plays.
Only one defender played every snap: outside linebacker Chris Kelsay. So yeah - don't expect him to be riding the pine any time soon. Drayton Florence and Donte Whitner played every snap but one; they come off the field in a goal line package on Ronnie Brown's touchdown plunge.
McKelvin Replaces McGee
As many of you pointed out, third-year cornerback Leodis McKelvin replaced veteran Terrence McGee in base 3-4 formations part-way through the second quarter. All three cornerbacks got significant chunks of playing time with so much nickel and dime used, but McKelvin actually saw more field action than McGee, possibly for the first time in his career when both players were healthy. I'm not sure what the rationale was, but it certainly wasn't to get McKelvin lined up across Brandon Marshall; that didn't happen very often in the second half. Perhaps they're trying to keep McGee fresh? Time will tell, but this bears watching - and it's a great problem to have.
Missed Tackles A Major Problem Going Forward
Here's my biggest issue with Matt's article yesterday claiming that Buffalo's run defense held up well: after the Bills scored to cut the lead to 13-10, the Dolphins railed off consecutive runs of four, eight, five and five yards, chewing nearly three minutes off the clock. That drive stalled when Dan Henning inexplicably put the ball back in Chad Henne's hands; he promptly threw two incompletions, and Miami punted. I thought the run defense generally met or exceeded my very meager expectations, but boy, it'd be nice if the team were a bit stouter in crunch time. That's especially during the four-minute offense.
Missed tackles are part of the problem. I counted 13 combined missed tackles by seven different Bills defenders, with George Wilson (four) and Kelsay (three) the biggest offenders. Wrap up, gents. This defense is rarely out of position, and it kills them when they can't finish plays.