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.
Reality Sets In
The Cowboys man-handled the Bills on Sunday, 44-7. The Bills are still in the thick of the race for the Eastern Division title, but after the past two weeks (the Jets game was easily as troubling, despite final score), it’s hard to see how the Bills can compile enough wins to get a wildcard slot, let alone the division crown.
There isn’t much point in analyzing the Cowboys game. Plus, CBS ended in the misery in my locale by switching to a more competitive game. I missed the fourth quarter entirely and haven’t bothered to read about it. I had seen enough. It was ugly.
What’s wrong with the Bills? Here are some thoughts based on the Bills-Jets, three quarters of Cowboys-Jets, and parts of Giants-49ers and Pats-Jets.
The Trenches: The Bills aren’t strong enough at the point of attack. The Jets won the battle on the line on both sides of the ball for the entire game. It wasn’t scheme, it wasn’t preparation. The Bills played hard, played with courage – they just could not move the Jets off the Ball.
We saw more of the same against the Cowboys, except that the Cowboys aren’t as good as the Jets, so the domination was less complete.
What’s the problem? Probably not enough talent, and/or perhaps not enough experience. Having Levitre out of position didn’t help, and missing Kelsay and Williams didn’t help, either. Barnett is a stud, and so is Dareus, but they can’t do it alone.
What’s the solution? One way or another (new talent or better skills), the Bills have to get better on the lines. The Giants and 49ers are an extreme example, but those defenders hold their ground. The Jets, too. The Bills need more of that.
Gailey talked after the Cowboys game about fundamentals, holding your gap, execution. That’s starting to sound like a polite way of saying “our guys aren’t good enough.” They KNOW the fundamentals, and they KNOW their assignments. But knowing what to do and being able to do it are two different things. Practice all you want, but if the guy across the line from you is simply better, you aren’t going to execute.
The Receivers: Over the past two weeks it’s been painfully clear what the Bills need and don’t have. Big, tall receivers who are fast enough. The Bills did a nice job staying with Plaxico Burress and Dez Bryant, but there’s simply no stopping big, tall receivers (and outstanding small ones). Plaxico, Bryant, Holmes, Crabtree, Gronkowski and Hernandez.
Who do the Bills have in the size department? David Nelson. Nice player, nice size, nice hands (cute girlfriend) but not Plaxico Burress or anyone better. Scott Chandler. Nice size, but not Gronkowski or Hernandez.
Who do the Bills have in the outstanding small department? Donald Jones is trying to get there. Stevie Johnson, no.
The Bills simply don’t have the receiver who is going to challenge teams, either by being a continuous, serious deep threat or by being a consistent big target over the middle.
When the Bills want to throw the fade for a TD, they need Stevie or Jones to get serious separation early. When the Cowboys or 49ers want to throw it, they just leave it out there for Bryant or Crabtree to pull it down. Big difference.
Compare the catch Bryant made over McKelvin to the interception off Jones’s hands. McKelvin’s defense wasn’t perfect; he wouldn’t have had a play on a perfectly thrown ball. But his defense was quite good, and he made a decent play on the ball. Bryant just took it. Fitzpatrick’s throw to Jones was easily good enough; a Bryant, a Burress, Hernandez, a Crabtree catches that ball.
Marcus Easley may have been the answer, but he went down early and we never got a chance to find out. He’s the only Bills wideout with the size and speed to be a serious, consistent receiving threat.
Coaching: Too many things are going too wrong not to wonder about the quality of the preparation this team is getting. The sack on the first play from scrimmage was all we needed to see. The Bills had all week to prepare for the first play from scrimmage. They knew what play they wanted, and they knew the single player they most had to worry about on the Cowboys defense. They left him unblocked. Levitre never thought about blocking Ware, so that suggests that either Wood blew the call of the blocking assignment, the tight end was on the wrong side, or Jackson was supposed to pick him up (not likely). Someone really blew it.
Now, players blow assignments all the time. But on the first play from scrimmage? Against the best player on their defense? That was pitiful.
The challenge on the Brad Smith kickoff return. Brad Smith didn’t know how to make that play, and then he told the coaches that he had made it correctly. I don’t blame the coaches, much, for trusting him. I do blame them for not preparing their player to do it correctly and to understand whether he did it or not. Bad.
Going for it on fourth down on the opening drive of the second half. Foolish. Take the points until the game tells you that you have no choice. The Bills spend five minutes of game time to get down there, and they came away with nothing. 28-7 is three touchdowns to tie. 28-10 is two touchdowns and a field goal. Big difference. Some people will say that the Bills needed a touchdown because the Cowboys were scoring at will. Well, the ONLY way the Bills could win that game in the second half was by stopping the Cowboys; if you’re going to assume that the Cowboys will get another couple of touchdowns, the game is already over.
Bills are predictable. On offense, for sure. The things the Bills can do on offense are limited, and everyone knows it now. So the defenses are prepared.
But on defense, the Bills have some guys who can support a little more creativity. The front four couldn’t get to Romo, but we never saw much blitzing. Mix things up, create some mismatches. Take some chances. Don’t just sit back and let the other team attack. It looked like a Jauron team out there.
The pass routes. Enough with the three-yard slant pattern! The Jets, the Pats, the Cowboys, the Giants and the Niners ALL run deeper routes. They have receivers who regularly run patterns 12-15 yards into the secondary; the Bills rarely seem to do that. When they run those patterns, they spread the defense, which actually opens up those cute little underneath routes the Bills are so fond of.
Why don’t the Bills run those routes? The receivers are fast enough. I think it’s because the coaches know the offensive line isn’t good enough. They throw those routes so Fitz doesn’t have to stand back there and get smacked, even when the Bills remember to block Ware. Three steps and throw it. Five steps, maybe. But none of this Tom Brady, Mark Sanchez, Tony Romo seven-step drop and wait until a downfield receiver actually gets open. So it comes back to the line.
Is Fitz a problem? I don’t think so. He made a horrendous throw on the deep ball to Jones. I’d like to know what was going on on that play. He launched that ball (nothing wrong with the arm strength on that one), but it wasn’t close. Was he throwing it away, and as he let it go Jones broke free? I don’t know.
But the interception off Jones’s fingertips should have been caught, and Spiller looked like a high school kid struggling to track down a near perfect throw up the right sideline.
I think Fitz can get it done. Give him a Crabtree or a Bryant or even a Burress to throw it to.
Bottom line – the Bills need more horses. Get a good year’s growth out of Sheppard and Troup and Carrington – Carrington is coming on nicely. Get another guy to step up. Get another defender out of the draft, or a stud lineman. And a get a receiver.
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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