Don’t panic Bills fans, this one was much better.
Though Buffalo may have lost their second preseason game to Minnesota 36-14, things definitely are starting to move in the right direction for the Bills.
They aren’t quite living up to their offseason hype and wild predictions yet.
But Buffalo looked like they were starting to find a rhythm on both sides of the ball and had definitely took steps to address some of the issues that so plagued their depressingly boring 6-7 loss to the Redskins last week.
Sure, it might have turned into a rout by the end, with back-to-back pick sixes by Audie Cole in the fourth quarter, but the first-team offense looked to finally find its rhythm, the backup quarterback issue seemed to get solved, and the defense as a whole is getting stronger, looking more on the field like they do on paper.
While the score may have gotten ugly by the time the clock struck 0:00, Buffalo doesn’t deserve a “Good, Bad, and Ugly” piece like last week, but will instead get a “Good, Getting Better, and Needs Work” write up this time. It wasn’t a win, fans, (far from it) but there wasn’t anywhere near as much to truly fret about after seeing the Bills in their second preseason outing.
Young/Fitz – It may have begun slowly, with Buffalo really pushing the run to start, but Ryan Fitzpatrick soon started mixing plays up and never really made any mistakes (over/under-throws, forcing passes, etc). Before you knew it, they put together a great third drive, with both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller making plays (Jackson for 20, Spiller for 5), as well as completed passes to three different receivers, the last a 31-yard touchdown to Donald Jones (Buffalo’s first non-penalized endzone trip of the year).
It was a five play, 61-yard drive that showed great simpatico between the offense and Fitzpatrick (except for his moronic delay of game) and the “Bearded Wonder” finished the day 8-11, for 58 yards and a TD (a 115 passer rating, whatever that means).
Protection was strong, allowing Fitz to really command the field and you could see how the teamwork between the first-squad has really started to come around. If Fitzpatrick plays more of this type of balanced (seven runs, 11 passes), efficient, mistake-free ball during the season, the Bills could have something here (there really are a lot of weapons).
As for Vince Young – well, he won the No. 2 spot with an 8-14, 123-yard day that included a great deep pass to a speeding T.J. Graham on the first play of the second half (more on T.J. in a moment). Whereas last week saw all of Young’s excitement coming from broken plays that he turned into scrambling first downs, this game saw Vince standing in the pocket and working through his progressions for great results.
Apart from watching Young effortlessly flick a ball 64 yards down the middle to Graham, you had to admire how much more in command he was this week, more confident in his understanding of Chan Gailey’s offense. He even split out wide during a Wildcat direct snap play to Tashard Choice, a wrinkle the Bills have been trying to run (unsuccessfully) with Brad Smith.
In the end, Young’s performance seemed to almost guarantee the nod for the backup spot, while Tyler Thigpen’s 8-15 performance for 56 yards and an INT seemed like they’re enough to send him on his way out of Buffalo.
Rookie Defensive Backs – Another high point was the play of rookie DBs Ron Brooks and Delano Howell. Cornerback Brooks continued to improve on his encouraging performance last week, always seeming to be everywhere, blanketing his receiver assignments and getting some great breakups (and definitely not missing tackles like he did in the first game). Brooks officially ended the day with four tackles, as did strong safety Howell, who had one of those four for a loss.
Howell was a revelation, not only recovering a fumble knocked loose by Leodis McKelvin, but making three great plays in one Vikings drive (the tackle for loss, a pass breakup, and a great third down stop). He went from being an unknown Stanford player to seriously making a case for a roster spot in Buffalo and here’s hoping his solid, aggressive play continues to impress.
Also, receiver T.J. Graham seems as quick as advertised, but also showed great hands and runs a pretty neat route. On his 64-yarder, he simply looked up, saw Young’s pass floating through the air, and just sped right to it, leaving the defender five yards back.
On the night, he had two catches for 69 yards, as well as some nice work returning kicks and punts. Jones was another welcome sight on the field, fighting to the pylon for his TD and recovering a fumble when Steve Johnson got stripped previously in the drive. Good stuff.
Front Four – The pressure was there, and both starting tackles (Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams) had sacks on the opening drive, due largely to the forceful push the two ends (Mark Anderson, Mario Williams) exerted on the outside.
While they too often seemed so focused on getting to the quarterback that they gave up short screens and runs up the middle, they began to settle down as game progressed and rotated in second-stringers with no real drop in production (Chris Kelsay and Dwan Edwards especially).
Overall, they just seemed more aware and cohesive.
Again, the run defense was pretty rough, though, giving up 160 on the night. Not only did the Bills’ defense allow Toby Gerhart and fullback Matt Asiata a combined 73 yards on 13 carries (each had a 15+ yard run), but backup quarterback Joe Webb took some broken plays and turned them into a team high 64 yards rushing.
It really does come down to overpursuing into the backfield, too much focus on attacking the quarterback. The line did sniff out and disrupt several play actions, runs, and trick plays (including a flea flicker Kelsay just blew up and a couple runs that Dareus sniffed out immediately), with the line as a whole settling down before the half, looking stouter and damn big.
Cordy Glenn – The rookie left tackle got reps pretty much the whole first half and though he did get two penalties on the night, the left side stayed strong and protection was tight. Even when working against eight year veteran end Jared Allen, those collapses so often seen last week were pretty much non-existent and Fitzpatrick was made all the better for it. A marked improvement.
First-Team Run Game – Any sight of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller would have been a notch up from last week, but seeing Jackson get involved early and often helped alleviate worries about any lingering effects from his broken leg.
Though Spiller ended up in the negative both on the ground (2 for -3) and in the passing game (-2 on one reception), it was kind of impressive to see Fitzpatrick in the shotgun, bookended by the Bills’ own dynamic duo. Jackson ran five for 27, caught three passes for 14 yards, and if Spiller can become more than just a possi
ble distraction, Buffalo could very well be a play-action nightmare for teams.
ble distraction, Buffalo could very well be a play-action nightmare for teams.
Also, the replacement refs… okay, they didn’t blow every call this time and anything was an improvement over last week and they got better as the game went on… That being said, there were a few pretty off calls, including Glenn’s first phantom hold, a block in the back on a kick (when the Bills didn’t receive… how can you block in the back without possessing the ball?), and the unnecessary roughness call on Aaron Williams, which was way off.
Speaking of Aaron Williams - Personally, I would have like to see more to have seen more to Stephon Gilmore’s side of the field, but with Williams giving up so many big plays on the right side, it’s no wonder the Vikings didn’t test the left.
Williams gave up a naked bootleg on third down that led to Minnesota’s eventual first TD. Receiver Jerome Simpson regularly abused him, getting 43 yards on three catches (though he had no luck on the left against Gilmore).
Even when he was in the right place, Williams just couldn’t seem to get his hand on the ball to deflect it (see the 35-yard pass to Michael Jenkins in the first). Either Terrence McGee needs to get healthy, or the Bills need to put rookie Brooks opposite their first round pick, Gilmore.
Or Williams can start playing like the college star he looked to be at Texas.
Chandler’s Blocking – Twice, tight end Scott Chandler missed his blocking assignments — horribly. The first resulted in a no gain for Jackson, the second a Spiller run that went nowhere fast (a blocking penalty erased it, anyway). Seeing it on the replay, you realized that Chandler is really much better at being a wide receiver than in being any help blocking up front, so here’s hoping he gets back to being a bigger part of the passing game next week (he wasn’t even targeted).
Tackling, or Lack Of – Was it me, or did the Bills seem to need some lessons in wrapping up runners and receivers? They let some big gains come from simply not taking down their targets on the initial contact, looking sloppy and usually watching from the ground as their prey scampered away up the field. Some tackling drills are in order this week, Coach Wannstedt.
Also, though the penalties were virtually cut in half, with just seven for 55 yards, there were still too many mental mistakes. Fitzpatrick’s delay of game, some holds, and a couple false starts were discouraging, especially after last week (Chan enforced penalty laps for pre-snap infractions during camp this week).
And the end… What was with giving up back-to-back INTs for scores to the same player (Audie Cole. Who is Audie Cole)?
I mean, Buffalo’s defense may have been a little porous, but it held the Vikings offense to field goal attempts six times (they made five) and the game was still within reach at 22-14 before those last 14 points ballooned the score.
So, it wasn’t a powerful performance by Buffalo. In no way was it a perfect outing and there are still many things to be addressed the next couple of weeks, but the Bills did show signs of improvement in their overall game.
In addition, the first-string offense seemed to actually be there this week and it’ll be interesting what they look like when Buffalo actually gameplans for a game.
Still some red flags, but at least it was enough to warrant a sigh of relief. A small one.
Josh Bauer is a writer with Football Nation