NFL Week 3 Review – Bills At Browns

The Bills won their first road game in over a calendar year on Sunday when they defeated the Browns in Cleveland by a score of 24-14.  The victory may have come with a price however as running back C.J. Spiller appeared to suffer a shoulder injury in the game.  While Spiller’s injury doesn’t seem to be as bad as it originally appeared to be, the Bills may have to play a crucial division game against the Patriots this week without him.  Here are some thoughts on the game on Sunday:

  • Fitzpatrick has thrown 8 TDs since his last INT

    Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a different quarterback since the Cromartie interception.  Fitzpatrick capped off a nightmare day against the Jets in week 1 with an interception to open the 3rd quarter that Jets CB Antonio Cromartie returned for a touchdown.  He’s been a changed man since that play.  Fitzpatrick was a workman-like 22 of 35 for 208 yards and 3 TDs on Sunday.  Fitzpatrick has thrown 8 touchdowns without an interception since that Cromartie pick.  He’s also only been sacked once and he wasn’t even touched on the play.  He lost the ball in the rain and fumbled which qualifies as an official sack.  A team that’s built to produce in the trenches simply needs a game manager at quarterback and Fitzpatrick has been exactly that over the last two games.

  • The Bills offensive line is very, very good.  Obviously C.J. Spiller is a special talent and nobody works as hard as Fred Jackson.  But even when both of those guys were lost Tashard Choice stepped up and ran for 91 yards on 21 carries.  Choice isn’t the home run hitter that Spiller and Jackson are but the line gave him a hole pretty much every time that he touched the ball to generate a solid 4 or 5 yards on every carry.  As I mentioned earlier the line technically didn’t give up a sack again either.  Cordy Glenn has been a revelation at left tackle.
  • T.J. Graham celebrated his 1st career TD on Sunday

    The Bills receiving corps is a work in progress but it’s getting better.  Stevie Johnson had his best game of the year thus far with 61 yards and a touchdown on 7 catches.  Rookie T.J. Graham had the most productive day of his young career with 3 catches for 24 yards and his 1st career touchdown.  Donald Jones bounced back from being in the red last week with 5 catches for 42 yards.  The unit as a whole isn’t very deep without primary slot man David Nelson but this unit will have to do at least until Spiller and Jackson are back healthy.  These guys did their jobs on Sunday.

  • Mario Williams is quelling those early concerns by the week.  A huge red flag went up when big ticket free agent Mario Williams was basically a no-show against the Jets on opening day.  Williams got more involved last week against the Chiefs with some pressure and a fumble recovery.  This week he finally got on the board with a sack and a half.  Williams has put some pretty consistent pressure over the past few weeks and is starting to look comfortable in the Bills defense.  Maybe he wasn’t such a waste of money after all.
  • Kyle Williams is back to form.  During the off-season Kyle Williams said that he was feeling the best he had since he was playing at L.S.U.  That certainly seemed like hyperbole at the time but Williams has looked like the Pro Bowl player he was in 2010 before he lost most of 2011 to injury.  Williams is showing that explosive first step that has made him so difficult to block early in his career.  He has already recorded 3 sacks from the inside so far this season.
  • Arthur Moats and crew were active in the run game on Sunday

    The linebackers had their best game of the season on Sunday.  Nick Barnett, Arthur Moats and Kelvin Sheppard were all active in the run game on Sunday.  They took advantage of the lack of options that the line was giving the Browns running backs and didn’t let them get to the outside.  All of these guys are playing a new position in the Bills revamped 4-3 defense and it looks like they are getting more comfortable.

  • Chan Gailey has had two good weeks of excellent play-calling.  Gailey has been out-coaching his defensive counterpart over the past two weeks and it’s paid dividends for the Bills, particularly at a time when their depth is weak at the skill positions.  It must have been especially sweet for Bills fans to see Gailey run circles around Browns defensive coordinator and former Bills head coach Dick Jauron early in the game on Sunday.  Gailey will have to pull another rabbit out of his hat this week in New England.

This week’s game against the Patriots is obviously a huge game that will determine just how much of a contender the Bills really are.  This is not a prediction by any means but I wouldn’t be surprised to see both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller out there.  All news has been optimistic for Fred Jackson over the past few weeks so I expect at least he will be in the lineup.  I expect it to be a raucous crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium.  I’ll be there myself in what should be quite the atmosphere in Orchard Park.

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NFL Week 2 Review – Chiefs at Bills

Well, week 2 went a hell of a lot better than Week 1 did for the Bills.  Facing a near must-win situation already in Week 2 the Bills came out swinging and dominated the Chiefs on both sides of the ball.  The Bills really fed off of the home crowd to get to 1-1 going into a relatively tough stretch that takes them on the road for 3 games next month.  Here are some thoughts on the Bills’ 1st win of the season:

  • Cordy Glenn got downfield to block for C.J. Spiller

    Let’s talk about the best unit of the day for the Bills.  No, it wasn’t C.J. Spiller but rather the big guys in front of him.  The offensive line for the Bills had an outstanding day.  Cordy Glenn looked like a beast out there, running down the field and blocking for Spiller.  Eric Wood looks healthy and the unit as a whole looks very strong.  Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn’t been sacked in the 1st two games and Spiller leads the league in rushing.  I’d say that they are off to a pretty good start.

  • C.J. Spiller gets it.  I know it’s like beating a dead horse by now but C.J. Spiller looks like a totally different player in year 3 than he did in years 1 and 2.  He said this week that he has given up trying to hit a home run on every run rather than taking what he is given.  He has slowed the game down and letting his blockers make the plays before he finishes them off.  There’s concern about his workload or whether or not he is playing over his head right now.  Spiller will only have to carry the bulk for a few more weeks however until Fred Jackson returns.  The Bills will likely rely heavily on the run game, particularly with the strong offensive line, throughout the late winter months.
  • Fitzpatrick looked just alright.  He didn’t make mistakes but he missed Scott Chandler badly twice when he was open.  He will definitely benefit from a run-first mentality.  As mediocre as he’s been he leads the league in passing TDs.
  • Kyle Williams looked like his old beastly self on Sunday

    The defensive line finally showed up.  Mario Williams’ day was another modest one on the stat sheet although he did get a fumble recovery.  His presence, along with that of fellow DE Mark Anderson, was certainly felt though as they collapsed the pocket and made Matt Cassel step up and play in front of the pocket.  That resulted in 5 sacks up the middle, 2 by Kyle Williams, 1 by Marcell Dareus, 1 by Alex Carrington and 1 by MLB Kelvin Sheppard.  Kyle Williams looked like his old, pre-injury self by collapsing the pocket and beating his man all day.  When this line is on it will be very tough to block.

  • Cordy Glenn wasn’t the only rookie with a great day.  Stephon Gilmore shook off a tough start after a rough game against the Jets in week 1.  Gilmore was targeted early and often and held his own against Chiefs receivers Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, and Jon Baldwin.  While it was a good showing the rookie can’t rest because teams will likely still key on him in the passing game.
  • The old man can still play.  The Bills had some cornerback troubles early on in the season but Terrence McGee came off the bench on Sunday to contribute with a strong game in pass coverage.  McGee is a great guy for the young guys to lean on but I think he proved that he can still play with his performance last week.  Of course it is easier to cover receivers when the defensive linemen are in the quarterbacks grill right off of the snap.
  • Leodis McKelvin ran back into the good graces of the Bills mafia on Sunday

    Leodis can’t cover but he can still contribute.  Leodis McKelvin has been a disappointment ever since he was drafted in the first round by the Bills in 2008.  He has trouble locating the ball when it’s in the air and also has trouble making a play on it.  McKelvin was downgraded to 5th cornerback for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs but it didn’t get him down.  He returned a punt for a touchdown to put the game away in the 3rd quarter.  McKelvin may not see much of the field on defense but if he keeps his head in the game he could be a key contributor to the special teams unit.

The Bills embark on a tough 4 game stretch this weekend when they head to Cleveland to face the Browns.  This is a pretty important game for the Bills.  The Browns are a beatable opponent but the Bills have lost 9 of the last 10 road games.  If the Bills want to be in the conversation in December they will need to win at least 2 of the next 4 games.  This one might be the easiest of the bunch.  Regardless the Bills will likely try to take the “one game at a time” approach and try to take care of business in Cleveland and then start preparing for the Patriots a week later.

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Thoughts on Bills/Titans

Well, it was fun while it lasted.  What started out as a fun and exciting season had it’s legs officially cut out from under it this Sunday with a 23-17 loss to the Titans and a 5th straight loss.  The Bills dim playoff hopes were put out and if the Lions and Texans can both qualify for the playoffs than the Bills will have the longest playoff drought of any team in three sports (the MLB has a handful of teams that have gone longer).  Either way it’s a disappointment and you need to wonder, once again, what exactly is next for this organization.  Here are my thoughts on the disappointing game 12:

  • I know Ryan Fitzpatrick has taken a lot of flak for his performance since he signed his contract extension but I think he is making the best of a bad situation.  He’s trying to get everyone involved and he plays his ass off, whether he is playing poorly or playing well.  The Bills just need to keep building around this guy.
  • I remember a playmaker on the Jets named Brad Smith who used to make all of these plays when he played the Bills.  I was wondering what happened to him.  Good to see that guy show up in the last couple of weeks.
  • C.J. Spiller had his best game as a pro yesterday.  By far.  Of course there was not much to go against but he really play and ran hard.  You have to wonder what could have been had Corey McIntyre not been called for a hold on his TD run that was called back.  Having 3 carries in the 2nd half didn’t help either.
  • The offensive line hasn’t been terrible but they haven’t been as good with Eric Wood out of the lineup.  Kraig Urbik tries hard but he’s just not as good.
  • Another poor defensive effort in the first half by the Bills but a light seemed to go off in the second half.  I’m hoping that it’s something that they can build on because it would be nice for these young guys to get some experience at being a good, solid unit before the re-group with the injured guys for next season.
  • In the spirit of the above, Kelvin Sheppard looked to continue his brutal play from last week in the first half but seemed to play real strong in the 2nd half.  He’s been inconsistent but his development is key to the future success of this defense.  If he and Nick Barnett can make a formidable duo in the middle they can build out from there.
  • Aaron Williams played well again before his injury.  He’s going to be a player.  I hope he can make it back before the end of the season.  I think Justin Rogers has a lot of potential too.  That news is welcome to Bills fans who are sick of the Bills drafting cornerbacks.
  • Jairus Byrd is a beast.  If the Bills can ever re-build this defense he might just be the centerpiece.  He sets the pace for the whole defense.
  • Chan Gailey had another day as inconsistent as the rest of the team.  His play-calling has been sporadic.  I think that they shy away from the run too much (seems like it’s been a trend for years for the Bills) and I can’ help but feel that the guys are not always in the best position to succeed.  He gets a half of a pass to because the personnel is not exactly what he expected it to be but still we need to see a better game plan from Chan.

I haven’t got much more to add…I’m just hoping for a 7-9 season…8 would be nice but they way they are going it’s a long shot.

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Despite growing pains the future is bright for the Bills defense

I know that many of the members of Bills nation don’t want to speak optimistically about the future right now, after all they’ve been doing it for the past 12 years, but maybe it’s time to put some rose colors on those glasses.  The bills defense has been dismal so far this year but thanks to what looks like a much needed and long overdue loaded draft class the future finally looks bright.

Let’s start with #3 overall pick Marcell Dareus.  The Alabama alum was quick to fit into the Bills hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense because Alabama ran an almost identical defense.  Dareus was blowing up offensive linemen for the first few weeks of the season.  It looked like he was going to make quite the formidable duo with Pro Bowl Nose Tackle Kyle Williams but big Kyle’s season ended after 6 games and Dareus was kicked inside to the Nose.  He’s been playing out of position, and has been the focal point of opposing offensive linemen, but Dareus is learning at the school of Hard Knocks and will be battle tested once Kyle Williams is ready to return to the line-up in 2012 and return to his natural DE position.  It was a no-brainer pick for the Bills back in April but one that should set the front line of the defense up for years to come.

Next up was the 2nd overall pick in round #2, Aaron Williams, a cornerback out of Texas.  I have to admit I love this kid.  I love his attitude and his personality but he’s had a tough year.  He’s been thrown into the lineup because of injuries, been carted off the field himself in a big game against the Patriots, and had to wait out the injury while the Bills struggled to stay in contention.  Williams returned to the lineup two weeks ago against the Dolphins to immediate significant playing time.  This past week Williams was matched up with former Super Bowl M.V.P. Santonio Holmes and his play was absolutely sterling.  He blanketed him for most of the day, including a nice pass break up in the end zone.  In the end Holmes had too much time to run around as Mark Sanchez ran around in the pocket with no pressure being put on him and Williams lost him in the end zone for the game winning touchdown.  You live and you learn but there is no doubt in my mind that Aaron Williams will be a player in this league.

The Bills went linebacker in the third round taking Kelvin Sheppard, a veteran of Les Miles’ defensive system at L.S.U.  Sheppard has brought energy to the field since day 1 with the Bills defense.  Sheppard quickly supplanted starter and captain Andra Davis in the lineup a month into the season and quickly made an impact, crushing Michael Vick and forcing and interception and ensuing touchdown by fellow middle linebacker Nick Barnett.  Sheppard has been prone to the big play, recording a safety against the Dolphins in Miami a few weeks ago.  I’d like to see the Bills blitz Sheppard more and that will come as the defense is filled out.  As it stands it looks like Buddy Nix and co. went 3 for 3 as far as opening day 2012 starters go for the defense at the top of the 2011 draft.

Nix didn’t quit there.  He added to his special teams by drafting safety Da’Norris Searcy out of North Carolina in Round 4 and Linebacker Chris White in round 6.  Searcy has started the last two games for injured captain George Wilson and has filled in admirably.  He may well be starter #4 in a few years time.  Overall it was an excellent job by Nix and his scouting staff.  This is a draft for the defense that the Bills have been sorely lacking for years.  You could probably go back to 2001, when Nate Clements and Aaron Schobel were both drafted in the first two rounds, to find this type of prospective long term production for the Bills.  If these guys can live up to their potential, 5-2 might not turn into 8-8 next time around.

Twitter @ErikVenskus