The Rockpile Review: Undefeated No More

Editor’s Note: We’ve agreed to begin hosting the “Rockpile Review,” a weekly mainstay written by “Shaw66” at the Buffalo Bills Message Boards for years. It will continue to appear in its normal place at the BBMB, but will now reach a new audience through the Bills Mafia Blog as well.

Shaw66 has been a Bills fan since attending the the first game at the Rockpile in 1960. He’s new to the Bills Mafia, but he’s been a leader of the Ball Burglar’s gang since it was formed in 2004. (What is the Ball Burglar? Click here to find out.) He claims he can barely spell “Twitter,” but he can write.

Shaw66 brings a long-term perspective few in the #BillsMafia movement have, so view this as an opportunity to perhaps have your horizons expanded a little. While the tone may be slightly different than our other bloggers “on staff,” Shaw66 still brings an attitude that is consistent with what #BillsMafia is all about.

UNDEFEATED NO MORE – Bengals Beat Bills

Cedric Benson of the Cincinnati Bengals
Cedric Benson of the Cincinnati Bengals

No one really believed the Bills would go 19-0 in 2011. Still, watching the Bills stumble badly for their first loss of the season was disheartening. The problem on Sunday wasn’t that the Bills ran out of time; the problem was that the game was four quarters instead of three.

In case the point was missed at One Bills Drive, the fans really didn’t need to be reminded what 2010 was like. We remember. We didn’t need to see running backs getting seven yards on every first-down carry against the Bills, we didn’t need to see ball carriers attack the middle, the edges and everything in between. We didn’t need to see passes completed against the Bills at will, with no pass rush in sight. We didn’t need to see three and outs that made us wonder whether the offense was in a hurry to get back ribs and beers on the sidelines.

After three weeks of excitement, we got 2010. Ground Hog Day. De ja vu all over again. A recurring nightmare. Whatever you want to call it, that’s what we got.

But let’s face it: it’s HARD to win on the road in the NFL. The Bengals did at home what the Bills did at home for the past two weeks. The Bills are 1-1 on the road, and that is not a bad thing.

So, as the Bills said after the game, learn from it, go back to work and get ready for the Eagles. Either the Bills are good, and Sunday was a blown opportunity that they’ll recover from, or the Bills are just mediocre and Sunday was just their way of getting back to normal.

Some random player thoughts, no particular order.

Marcell Dareus
We haven't seen the best of Marcell Dareus, and that's a good thing.

Marcell Dareus is SOME football player. Big and strong and really athletic. He’s quick. He can run. He’s hungry. And he’s learning – we haven’t seen the best of Marcell Dareus, and that’s a good thing for the Buffalo Bills.

Kyle Williams – you go when the center moves the ball, not before, okay? Been watching too many Bruce Smith highlights, I think. One reason those two are so good is they are or were lightning on the snap. Some days, you guess wrong.

During the run up to the draft, A.J. Green was my first favorite choice, and Sunday we saw what all the hype was about. That’s one quality receiver.

Some people are complaining about Leodis McKelvin today, but considering what Green can do on the field, Leodis held up pretty well. He got one really nice pass break up deep, when he had help over the top. He got turned around on another deep completion, but still made a decent play on the ball. He’s staying tighter on his man; he’s improving.

I’ve always liked Bryan Scott.

Hey, how about the Ball Burglar? Two more INTs, one for a touchdown. The Burglar did his job, again. If you haven’t joined the Ball Burglar, you’re missing some of the excitement of Bills football.

Unfortunately, the offense couldn’t keep up with the Ball Burglar. Maybe the Burglar has to pay for touchdowns, too. Offensive line wasn’t quite good enough against the Bengals, Fitz wasn’t quite good enough. No one was quite good enough. When the Bills needed a drive, the offense was out of options.

The Bengals dominated the second half.

Dumb and Dumber

The Bills lost two big plays against the Bengals on what were two correct calls, as the rules are written. Unfortunately, the rules simply don’t make sense.

Every time the tuck rule gets called and a fumble recovery is nullified, football fans of 31 teams know that it’s wrong. It’s dumb. Everyone understands how football works – if you throw the ball and it touches the ground, it’s an incomplete pass. If you don’t throw the ball and it comes out of your hand, then it’s a fumble. Simple, right? Everyone gets it, right?

Not the NFL. For some reason, the NFL has decided it’s a good idea to say that when the quarterback starts to throw the ball and then decides not to, and then the ball comes out of his hand, it’s NOT a fumble. But wait. If I’m the QB and I think I want to throw it and I stop, without moving my arm, and I get hit and lose it, it’s a fumble. So why isn’t it a fumble when I think I want to throw and stop, but I move my arm? What difference does it make?

We all get that when the guy’s arm is moving forward and he gets hit, it’s an incompletion. We don’t get why the tuck rule exists. It’s stupid. It’s inconsistent.

It was called right on the field, after replay, but it’s wrong. That was a touchdown for everyone except the rule makers.

Stevie's controversial incompletion
Stevie's controversial incompletion

The rule on Stevie’s first down catch is even dumber. A few years ago the league decided that when a guy makes a really great catch while he’s in the air, it shouldn’t be a catch until he survives his collision with the ground. Okay, we all got that. So they wrote a rule to capture that thought. Turns out that the rule isn’t written correctly, so a few times every season plays that we all know are catches are ruled incomplete – correctly under the rules, incorrectly in the eyes of everyone who knows what football is about.

Why was the call at least possibly correct? Because if you go to the ground as part of completing the catch, according to the rule the ball is supposed to stay secure through the impact. Watching Stevie’s replay, you can see the ball move when he hits the ground. Didn’t move a lot, but it moved. He didn’t have steady, continuous control of the ball, although he certainly never lost possession.

HOWEVER – that was NOT the kind of play the rule was written for. He caught the ball, clearly. He had it. He put it away. He went to his knees, either on his own or through contact. Then he was touched by the defender with Steve’s knees on the ground. Play over, except under the rule. If he’s a running back, drops to his knees and gets touched, play over, even if the ball wiggles or comes out when he hits the ground.

How many steps does he have to take before he turns into a running back? How clear does it have to be that he caught the ball?

The concept of the rule is good; the actual rule and the interpretation of the rule is horrible, and it hurts a few teams every year. That was a catch and a first down. Instead of punting, the Bills are first and ten on the 50 with less than nine minutes left. They’re 20 yards away from a field goal and a ten point lead. In any case they’re about to run another one or two minutes off the clock.

The only calls that truly change the outcome of the game are calls on the last few plays of the game. The Bills had time to recover, and they couldn’t.

Still, the rules are are dumb and dumber, in concept or as interpreted, and both rules stung the Bills on Sunday.

Players vs. Schemes

No one is accusing the Bills of having the best talent in the league, and the genius of Gailey’s schemes and planning masked the talent shortfall for the first three weeks.

The Bills had an unstoppable passing game for three weeks, even though they have eminently stoppable receivers. They had decent pass protection and run blocking, even though they’re a bunch of young no-names on the line. They had a solid defense, especially late in games, even though mostly the same players are taking the field to do the job.

But the Bengals did what many predicted – they rushed the passer well, flooded the zones with defenders to limit the Bills’ deadly short passing game, and still prevented the long ball. The Bengals defeated the scheme.

The great start is a credit to Chan Gailey and probably Dave Wannstedt. They study film, design plays, develop new looks and create an edge for players who, for the most part, don’t have the dominant physical skills to create the edge themselves.

The Bills are still light on talent. It’s not that the talent the Bills have is bad. It’s that they don’t yet have enough stars. They don’t have anyone to make the BIG play at BIG moments in the game.

Imagine, for example, how much different the outcome would have been with Calvin Johnson in a Bills uniform against the Bengals. (Or A.J. Green, for that matter.) Calvin Johnson gives his team three or four plays a game where the team says “bail us out of this,” and he does it.

Merriman hasn’t been that guy. None of the safeties is. Barnett is excellent, but he isn’t Ray Lewis. Dareus isn’t, yet. Stevie isn’t the guy. Fitz isn’t. Freddy tries, but he can’t do it alone. Good, good players, but they aren’t, or haven’t yet been, the guys who make the play when it’s time to win the game.

All is not lost. I love these players. They’re good, and they’ll get better. They’ll learn more about how to win, and they’ll stay hungry. And with the continually evolving schemes of Gailey and co., they have enough ability to beat every team in the league. They just don’t have enough talent to make anyone believe they WILL beat every team.

GO BILLS!!!

The Rockpile Review is written to share the passion we have for the Buffalo Bills. That passion was born in the Rockpile; its parents were every-day people of western New York who translated their dedication to a full day’s hard work and simple pleasures into love for a pro football team.

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