The Buffalo Bills are 1-0 after their surprising, 23-20 overtime victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field. Let's start off our Monday morning recap session with five observations about the Bills' big Week 1 win.
EJ Manuel did not light up the scoreboard, but he won't need to if he continues the efficient, largely error-free level of play he exhibited yesterday. A 73 percent completion rate (yes, his receivers bailed out a few throws), 7.9 yards per attempt, and two touchdowns are more than enough to keep a run-first offense balanced, and that's all the Bills need to be offensively to compete on a weekly basis. Five of Manuel's 16 completions were gains of 15 or more yards in Chicago, too, which helped the cause tremendously.
In our Bills/Bears game preview, we talked about the impending battle of wills between the Bills' run-at-every-opportunity offense against a restructured Bears run defense that knew Buffalo was going to try to pound the rock. It wasn't always pretty, but it's hard to argue that the Bills didn't come away the victors in that particular area. Buffalo finished with 193 rushing yards at 4.5 yards per carry as a team. Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller, and even Anthony Dixon all contributed at least 50 yards of that final total.
To illustrate how unusual yesterday's win was for the Bills: they surrendered a whopping 435 yards of offense to the Bears, but managed to give up just 20 points and escape with the win. Dating back to the latter portion of the 2011 season, the last 10 times the Bills had allowed over 400 yards of offense, they had won just one of those games (2012 Week 2 against Kansas City), and allowed an average of 35.4 points per game. All of that is to say: this winning concept probably isn't sustainable if the Bills can't make big improvements defensively.
It sort of goes without saying that the reason the Bills were able to overcome a whopping 34 pass completions from Jay Cutler, plus allowing 4.8 yards per carry to Matt Forte, was their work in the turnover department. Two of the three Dan Carpenter field goals came off of a Preston Brown fumble recovery and a Kyle Williams interception, and a Corey Graham interception set up a seven-yard touchdown pass from Manuel to C.J. Spiller. Those were big plays, but the Bills can't count on winning the turnover battle in that fashion every week; all the same, give them props for turning those plays into points.
For all of the consternation about coordinator Danny Crossman and the Bills' special teams this offseason, they had a rock solid debut in Chicago. Carpenter was perfect on his field goal tries. Kickoff specialist Jordan Gay had just one returnable kick, which the Bills stopped just shy of the 20-yard line. Spiller had a 29-yard kickoff return, and Leodis McKelvin added a solid 14-yard punt return. But none were as good as brand new punter Colton Schmidt, who had a net average of 43.2 yards on his five punts, with four of those landing inside the 20-yard line. Field position was a big part of Buffalo's win, as well.