Tyrod Taylor was efficient and the Buffalo Bills' defense was stifling in their convincing, 27-14 season-opening win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. The Bills played to their formula - run the football, make a few big plays, and rely on good defense and special teams - and it worked to perfection against a Colts team many expect to make a run at the Super Bowl.
These are the five things on my mind this morning thinking back on yesterday's big win. Let me know what stood out most to you in the comments section.
A little backstory: I'm a season ticket holder. The people who sit in the row behind me are also season ticket holders. One of the dudes, who is there every week, flat-out despises Stephon Gilmore. There is not an insult in existence that this guy hasn't hurled Gilmore's way, and he's come up with a couple of new ones specifically for No. 24. My exposure to anti-Gilmore rhetoric, as a result, is cranked up to a much louder volume during the regular season simply because of proximity to this guy.
Forgive me, then, if I sound a little more on edge than I should be when I call out anyone that came away disappointed by Gilmore's performance in Week 1. There seems to be an expectation, given all of the hype surrounding Gilmore, that he should be perfect in a game: allow zero receptions, intercept at least one pass, and do something hilarious to make his social media followers swoon.
Gilmore is not yet elite, and he'll never arrive there if he keeps dropping easy interceptions. But Gilmore was excellent against Indianapolis. His primary assignment, venerable veteran Andre Johnson, caught four passes for 24 yards on 10 targets. Gilmore broke up four passes on the day (a total that includes the interception-that-should-have-been). He, like the rest of the Bills' defensive backs, made multiple excellent open-field tackles to limit after-catch yardage from the Colts' excellent skill players. No, Gilmore may not be elite (yet), but it's far past time to accept the fact that there is a massive amount of gray area between being the best corner in football and being nitpicked to death by excessively misguided fans.
Slow start for Sammy
The people who sit behind me in the stadium were also loudly and repeatedly concerned with the whereabouts of Sammy Watkins, who played on 85 percent of the Bills' offensive snaps and is easily visible when you're looking for him.
Watkins did not record a reception in his sophomore debut, and was only targeted once by Tyrod Taylor on an extended play. Give a lot of credit to Colts cornerback Vontae Davis, one of the best in the business, and who played up to his usual standard in Week 1. The Colts also rolled extra players toward Watkins' side of the field on multiple occasions, clearly aware of his ability. Buffalo also only threw the football 19 times (there were more called passes that Taylor turned into runs, of course), which severely limits the number of targets one can see in a conservative offense playing with an enormous lead.
The Bills won't be an elite passing offense this year, and that mean Watkins won't put up gaudy statistics every week. But he'll also be more featured in the game plan in future weeks, and he won't draw a player like Davis each time out, either. Watkins will be just fine, and he'll have big games just like he did as a rookie.
Too many penalties
One major area of concern for the Bills coming out of this win? Penalties. The Colts accepted 11 of them on Sunday, and declined three more. WGR 550's Sal Capaccio has the breakdown:
#Bills penalties Off Holding 4 Per Foul 3 Chop Block 1 Offside 1 Delay 1 FMask 1 Def Holding 1 Illegal Use Hands 1 Running Into K 1— Sal Capaccio (@SalSports) September 14, 2015
The Bills were also one of the NFL's most-penalized teams in the league in 2014, and have ranked in or near the Top 10 in penalties taken per year for the last three seasons. A team that is clearly very talented can't afford to keep shooting themselves in the foot at this rate. The three personal fouls and four offensive holding calls are especially concerning.
Take away the 41 rushing yards put up by Taylor - 31 of which came on one scramble late in the second quarter on a touchdown drive - and the Bills' rushing numbers do not look particularly good. Bills running backs LeSean McCoy, Karlos Williams, and Boobie Dixon (as well as receiver Percy Harvin, who ran an end-around in the first half) combined for 106 rushing yards on 27 carries.
To the naked eye during live game action, this appeared to be in large part due to highly inconsistent play along the offensive line. (The Colts also clearly game planned to stop the run.) In a small sample size of passing plays the Bills' re-tooled front appeared to acquit themselves well, but it's very safe to say that Rex Ryan and Greg Roman will be hoping for a much higher rate of production from the running game moving forward.
Suffice it to say, if you have access to All-22 tape in NFL GamePass, re-watching the offensive line's play in the run game will be of particular interest tomorrow.
Snap count notes
One of the more intriguing (and, frankly, tedious) exercises we complete on a per-week basis here is to tabulate snap counts not just for the latest Bills game, but for the team on the entire season. That work began this morning, and you can keep track of everything at that link (which is accessible from the "Library" menu drop-down on our homepage). A few notes from Week 1:
- So much for McCoy being on a pitch count: he played 71.2 percent of the Bills' offensive snaps, with Williams and Dixon splitting the rest.
- After a fairly quiet preseason, Jerome Felton made his presence known in the offense, playing more than half of the snaps on offense.
- Something to keep an eye on: Harvin played more snaps than Robert Woods by a fairly significant margin. The Bills list (and announced) the pair as co-starters, but Harvin might be the true No. 2 receiver on this roster.
- The Bills are clearly going to ride their star edge rushers hard, with both Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams playing more than 92 percent of snaps. Last year, both players hovered between 70-75 percent in most games.
- Speaking of riding players hard, both starting linebackers, Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown, played every defensive snap on Sunday. (So did Gilmore and Aaron Williams.)
- The cornerback rotation was a bit messed up because Ronald Darby spent large chunks of time dealing with cramps. Mario Butler played well in his stead, and even Ron Brooks snuck in a few snaps. Buffalo's secondary was excellent on Sunday, but their depth was also stretched rather thin.
- The names atop the list of special teams rep-takers won't surprise you: Dixon, Marcus Easley, Chris Hogan, MarQueis Gray, Randell Johnson, Brooks, and Duke Williams all played more than half of the snaps.