Off-Tackle Run Defense: To be fair, the Buffalo Bills' entire run defense wasn't that great. When New England ran out of their base offense, though, most of the running room came off-tackle and to the outside. The 3-4 is designed specifically to stop runs to the outside. I haven't reviewed the game yet, but my initial thoughts are that Buffalo's outside linebackers are having a difficult time anchoring on the edge and turning the run back inside, where pursuing inside linebackers can stop the run. The Patriots are far from a running juggernaught, so this is inexcusable. Chris Kelsay, Chris Ellis, and Reggie Torbor need to play better.
Pass Rush: When a team's undersized nose tackle gets the most pressure during a game, something might be wrong with the pass rush. Nothing against Kyle Williams, who did a fine job pressuring the middle of the Patriot offensive line, but a 3-4 should feature edge rushers that can get to the quarterback. A lot will be made of how poorly the secondary did against Tom Brady. I see it in reverse. The secondary can only cover for so long. Brady had a clean pocket with all day to throw most of the time. Add in Randy Moss and Wes Welker, and a big passing day is what happens. The secondary wasn't perfect, for sure, but without any pressure on an elite quarterback like Brady, there's not a secondary in the league that's going to do well.
Defensive Game Plan: George Edwards needs to do much better. New England presents some unique challenges, considering they often times play ball control through short passes. That said, could the defense be any more vanilla? Teams like the Jets and Ravens present a ton of problems for the Patriots because they mix a variety of blitzes into their defense. The Jets, in particular, rush defensive backs at Brady all the time, with a good deal of success. The Bills are a far cry from the Jets or Ravens in terms of personnel, but sitting back and letting Brady pick the defense apart isn't wise. The defense gave up 38 points. Even if the Brady burned some of the blitzes, some might have worked and forced bad throws or created more turnovers.
Chan Gailey's Pre-Game Changes: Gailey replaced Trent Edwards with Ryan Fitzpatrick, decided to continue to use Marshawn Lynch as the feature back, and elevated Roscoe Parrish to No. 2 receiver. Every move worked. Fitzpatrick's play gave life to the team. There was a noticeable sense of purpose and jump among the offensive personnel. Fitzpatrick also played well, aside from two heartbreaking interceptions. Gailey's planned roll-outs, misdirection, and play action worked well, and Fitzpatrick's ability to push the ball downfield was the difference. Lynch was a horse, and he may have rediscovered his burst with lower body weight. Parrish made clutch receptions and was generally a mismatch for the Patriot corners. Even Steve Johnson seemed to play better, and his demotion may have gotten him going as well. All of this combined to actually give Buffalo an offense that the team can compete with.
Offensive Game Plan: We finally saw Gailey call a good game. Granted, the Patriot defense won't be soon confused with the 1985 Bears. That said, Gailey did put together a game plan that worked. Gailey has always had a featured back in the past, and he seems to be moving toward Lynch as that back. He tried to get his playmakers the ball in space. He mixed Spiller in well, getting him the ball on the edges of the offense. They made an attempt to get Lee Evans the ball, targeting him eight times, for five receptions. Gailey called timely play-action, waggles, and counters mixed in with power runs. This is a clear departure from what the team did in the first two weeks. With the current personnel and their developmental level, 23 offensive points is a very good effort.
Ryan Fitzpatrick: It's easy to say that Fitzpatrick's two late-game interceptions lost the game. The team wouldn't have been in the game at that point without him. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and even semi-competent can elevate a team a great deal. We saw this with Ftizpatrick. He completed 71% of his passes, threw two touchdowns with almost 250 yards passing, completed passed downfield beyond ten yards with regularity, checked into good plays most of the day, ran hard when he needed to, and stayed poised even when the pocket collapsed on him. This all added up to an offense that moved the ball all day, and looked confident in doing so. I still don't think Fitzpatrick is anything more than a good back-up quarterback. Imagine if the team had an elite starting quarterback...
As I've said before, Buffalo is just a couple blue-chip players away from fielding a solid team. Right now, Buffalo needs those two players to be a franchise quarterback and a pash rushing presence on the edge of the defense. With that, count me among those not bothered that Fitzpatrick threw two interceptions. It was nice to see a Buffalo quaterback pressing the ball downfield instead of making safe shorter throws that don't net first downs. It was also nice to see a competitive game. Getting guys like Evans, Spiller, Lynch, and Parrish more involved was a good sign, as was Spiller's kick-off return and offensive execution in general. I'll be OK if Buffalo only wins a couple games this year, if they play something like they did against New England.
Up next: October 3 against the New York Jets, 1 PM at Ralph Wilson Stadium