Last year, I did a post-game analysis of my experience of the Buffalo Bills' preseason game game against Indianapolis. I thought the post was pretty unique, because not only did I discuss the game, but I also talked about my overall experiences that weekend. I realize a lot of fans don't have the opportunity to attend games, so I figured a post like this will give you the opportunity to sort of live vicariously through me. I also like to share some of my stories, with the intent for you to get to know me a little bit better.
I decided to split the post up into three different parts, because honestly it was three separate crazy experiences.
Part I: The Trip
My neighbors are huge Steelers fans, and they asked my wife and I to accompany them on a road trip to the Bills' preseason game against Pittsburgh two weekends ago. We agreed, but with one caveat; they must join us when we attend the New England game in October. They accepted the deal, and off we went to the game.
The morning of the game, I was unsure on what I should wear. I'm usually one of those fans who wears everything Bills, but I didn't want to get in to a fight with Steelers fans. I heard some pretty awful things from the Ravens fans here in Baltimore, and the last thing I would want is to have to fight my way out of Heinz Field, like I had to do some years back in the Meadowlands. Ultimately, I decided that I would wear my jersey and my Zubaz pants anyway.
My wife and I made the four-hour drive from Baltimore to Pittsburgh. We left at 8:00 am in order to get there around lunch time so that we could try one of those famous sandwiches from Primnati Brothers. We ordered carry-out, because parking in the Strip District in Pittsburgh is horrible. We then made our way to the Wyndham Hotel, which was located in the downtown area.
By the way, if you haven't been to Pittsburgh, it is a rather pretty city. It has a clean and pretty active downtown area, with great views of the city.
As we're pulling up to the hotel, I see a guy wearing a Florida State t-shirt. I thought it was pretty odd, since we were in Pittsburgh. I look to his left and notice a guy with a curly blonde afro; I looked at his clothing and he was wearing a Louisville shirt. I told my wife, "That's Eric Wood, get your camera out". As I held up traffic to get the picture, I yelled out "Eric". Wood turns around and gave me a look like, "C'mon, dude."
I immediately thought to myself, did I just violate a man code? A little bit embarrassed, I drove off disappointed by my behavior. That brief interaction would completely influence the remainder of my trip.
We then proceeded to park and check in to the hotel. As I waited in the lobby, I noticed three men walking through the revolving doors. Lo and behold, it was Wood accompanied by who appeared to be Jeff Tuel and Garrison Sanborn. As the three players approached me, I was determined not to be "that guy." I could tell that the players noticed me; how couldn't they? I was staring at them, waiting for them to at least acknowledge the one fan that was in the lobby with Zubaz pants. They walked right past me, avoiding making eye contact in fear that I would ask for a picture or an autograph. Nope! My pride wouldn't let me; I just checked in and went to my room. The entire elevator ride up, I thought to myself, "Was I that fan that players try to avoid?" My perception of myself has totally changed. I always thought of myself as one of those fans that the players could hang out with; one of the guys, so to speak.
It's now 3:00 p.m. and I'm ready to head to the parking lot to start tailgating. My sandwich was okay; they mistakenly put coleslaw on it, and I've never been a big fan of coleslaw. As we're waiting for the elevator, the door opens and Doug Marrone is riding solo. Once again, determined not to be "that guy," I was a lot more subtle in my approach. I noticed him look at me, trying to be inconspicuous, but he could tell by my outfit that I knew exactly who he was.
I get on the elevator and quietly whisper, "Good afternoon, coach." He replies "Hey." Feeling like a giddy little school girl inside, I was overwhelmed with excitement and I forgot to press my floor. Coach presses my floor and smiles. My wife at this point has no clue who's on the elevator with us. All she sees is her husband acting like a complete fool. She then asks me what's wrong in the loudest voice possible.
Every married man knows exactly what I'm talking about. You try to whisper something to your wife in confidence; she can't hear you so she asks you out loud to repeat yourself.
Anyway, I tried to whisper to my wife "That's Coach Marrone"; she responds, "What did you say?" I gave her that infamous look that husbands give their wives when they want them to be quiet. You know, the head tilt and the bulging eyes.
Not wanting to repeat what I said, I say, "Coach looks taller in person, doesn't he?" I can see on my wife's face that she's trying to translate what I just said; she looks to her right and her face lights up. In the six years that I've known my wife, I never saw her look at another man the way she looked at Coach Marrone. I must admit it made me feel some sort of way, seeing her gleam over another man. I guess she took her cue from me.
My wife is now chatting it up with Coach; I, on the other hand, am in the corner star struck, scarred by my last interactions with a few of the players. I stood there, said nothing, and did nothing. I didn't introduce myself, go in for a handshake, ask for a picture; nothing at all. Coach Marrone gets off on his floor, tells us to enjoy the game, and the door closes.
My wife gives me a look of shock and disappointment. All I could do is put my head down in similar sentiments. You must understand: in her eyes, I'm a big shot. I write for Buffalo Rumblings, my articles have been linked on BuffaloBills.com, and I have 170 Twitter followers. For her to see me for who I truly am, was bit of a letdown for her. At this point, it was very clear to me: I'm a fraud. I'm not ready for the big leagues.
Part II: The Tailgate
With the horrific elevator experience behind me, I was determined to make the most of the trip. We begin to make our way to the stadium to start tailgating, and we met our neighbors at the parking lot.
I personally enjoy the tailgating more than I enjoy the game, quite honestly. If you haven't been to Ralph Wilson Stadium and tailgated, I suggest you make it your top priority.
Whenever you tailgate at the home of the opposing team, you're always a little wary of how it will turn out. First, you have to find the right parking lot; then you have to make sure that you are aware of the tailgating rules; and then you have to worry about the opposing team's intoxicated fans. However, outside of the $40 I had to pay to park, and my minor rule infraction, I didn't have any problems whatsoever.
The weather was gorgeous, and the Steelers fans that were next to us were pretty nice. I purchased a $20 grill from Wal-Mart, and on the grill were your usual tailgating favorites. I guess the food smelled rather good, because Steelers fans were coming up to me willing to trade beer for food. I figured it was a fair trade until Bills fans offered Jell-O shots instead.
My music was blaring; people were dancing, eating, and having a good time. My wife was telling everyone the elevator story, and bragging to some of the fans that I write for Buffalo Rumblings. As I hear her telling the story, I hear a guy say "No way, that's Doctor K?" So he comes up to me and says, "Bro I read Buffalo Rumblings every morning, I love your work. I came over here initially, because you had Zubaz on and I just had to come introduce myself."
His name was Paul, and he introduced me to his very sweet girlfriend, Kate. He was a super nice guy also, and it was pretty cool to run in to a fellow Rumbler.
After that encounter, I was feeling a little better about myself, because my self-esteem was suffering up until that point. I could see the faith my wife had in me slowly being restored; I was no longer the guy from earlier.
Part III: The Game
I don't often 't get the chance to talk to you much about the game itself, because I focus on conversation-starter type topics. So I'm going to give you my analysis in a way that I think you might enjoy: questions and answers. Here are the questions that I was looking to get answered, and my take on them.
Is E.J. Manuel relying on the check down?
No. Contrary to what you are being told or what your eyes are telling you when you're watching the game on television, Manuel is not relying on check downs. The one thing I noticed from being there in person watching this game, that I didn't know prior, is that the offense is designed to do just that.
Let's start with the facts. What do we know about our offense? We want to be up-tempo, run the ball, run a lot of plays, possess the ball, and move the chains. That is exactly what the Bills did in Pittsburgh.
Every pass play and every pattern that I saw were possession-type patterns. Each play seemed to be designed to just get the first down and move the chains. There were hardly no patterns run down the field, and when they were it was off of play action.
Is Manuel going through his progressions?
What progressions? Prior to the start of the play, Manuel knows exactly where he's going with the ball. The offense seems to be designed that way. What I saw, is that the non-primary wide receivers are running decoy routes, in order to get the primary wide receiver open. The other wide receivers don't seem to be running routes to "get open." The indecision or the patting of the ball that you see is primarily due to the first option being taking away by the defense.
It may seem that I'm placing blame on the system, but I think the offense keeps the defense guessing by switching up who's the primary receiver on each play, and looking to take advantage of matchups.
Why the Bills can't convert in the red zone?
Lack of creativity. I don't know if this is a product of the preseason or a knock on the offensive coaching staff, so I won't elaborate much on this, but the Bills were pretty predictable once they got into the red zone.
What did you see from the offensive line in the run game?
There is a huge disconnect from what the offensive linemen are asked to do, and what they are best suited to do. This offensive line is one of the biggest in the NFL. I just don't understand why the Bills insist on employing an inside-zone blocking scheme, where their linemen are expected to be quick and agile. It seems to me that we should be more of a power team up front.
I think the Bills' short-yardage problems are scheme related, not personnel. It explains why the Bills are running read-option plays on the three-yard line, rather than running power or off-tackle plays.
Is Robert Woods losing his job to Chris Hogan?
Clearly, Woods is the better talent and better player. Nothing Hogan did on Saturday stood out to me; however, I did notice that he has a knack for finding the holes in the defense. Hogan is your classic possession receiver, and is perfect for the offense that the Bills are running. He's a guy that runs crisp patterns, gets open, has reliable hands, and who can move the chains. I wouldn't expect much of anything after the catch, because he doesn't have that shiftiness and burst that Woods has.
I don't think Woods is necessarily competing with Hogan, because I don't think the staff sees Woods as a guy whose best position is on the inside. Woods is best on the outside, and he is competing with Mike Williams for playing time.
What is wrong with Stephon Gilmore?
On the touchdown play, Ben Roethlisberger had all day to complete that pass for the touchdown. There wasn't much of a pass rush, and Gilmore really had no chance there. However, what I've seen from Gilmore, is that he has a tendency to get caught peeking in the backfield, which was the reason for the touchdown against the Panthers.
T.J. Graham or Marcus Easley?
Easley. It's rather simple for me. Who would you rather have: a backup kick and punt returner, or your best gunner on special teams? Graham will not be competing for playing time at wide receiver this year, which means his only contribution would be as a returner if someone gets hurt. Yes, Graham may be better at receiver than Easley, but not by a whole lot. If injuries do happen, you're not gaining much with Graham, so Easley is more valuable and the better special teams player.