“The Total Package”
How did the Bills win this game? Who had the largest impact? Here are my thoughts.
Waiting for the start of the game Sunday you might have been thinking “great, another opponent coming off of their bye week, injuries to key Bills players, and oh yes, a windstorm for our rookie quarterback to contend with; excellent.”
Well despite these perceived ‘disadvantages’ the Bills on Sunday played what I will call their most complete game of the season on both sides of the ball.
This week we don’t have to ask ourselves, “Where was the offense?” or “The offense is playing great but why can’t we stop anyone?” No, instead we are able to enjoy, for the first time this season, a total effort on both sides of the ball, and to make it even better, one that came against a division rival.
There are still plenty of negatives to sift through on the Bills side of this game, but let’s first focus on why they were able to win.
Goodwin, Graham, Hogan, Easley.
Those were the wide receivers that were dressed for the Bills on Sunday, and not many thought that would work out too well. It’s also a far cry from what many expected and hoped EJ Manuel would have to work with, as the team and fans are constantly evaluating his play, trying to determine if he is the quarterback of the future. Apparently someone forgot to tell Manuel that these receivers, coupled with wind gusts into the 30 mph range, were not an ideal situation for a young quarterback to play a division foe.
EJ had easily his most complete game of the season (20-28, 245 yards, 2 TDs) and did a few key things along the way that every fan of the team wanted and needed to see.
Firstly, he demonstrated his ability to throw the deep ball. Many had questioned why Manuel was not taking shots down the field. Perhaps it was coaching, or Manuel’s own tentativeness, but whatever the reason, it was something that we had not seen on a consistent basis in the Bills game plan. Not only did Manuel hit on two deep throws to score (Graham, Goodwin), he also hit one immediately after a Jets score (Graham), and one to keep a drive alive on a third and long (Chandler).
More on the intangible side, but still quite important in defining how Manuel is perceived by many fans, is the fact that he outplayed Geno Smith. During their week three meeting in New Jersey, the Jets rookie quarterback thoroughly outplayed Manuel, leading some to question whether the Bills made the right decision at the draft. While our total picture on EJ is still forming, we can see that based on other performances by Smith, EJ looks a bit more consistently poised and level, while Geno is more of a hot and cold type of player.
This was the best performance of the year by the Bills defense; evidence, it was the first time they held an opponent to under 20 points, and 7 of them came in garbage time. It was a total effort on all levels.
The D-Line set the tone by coming up with three sacks, two of them on third down, a forced fumble, as well as countless other pressures and QB hits which helped to keep Smith off balance.
The men on the inside, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, again had monster performances with Dareus setting the tone by temporarily knocking Smith out of the game on the first drive and Williams recording two sacks and a key forced fumble. I believe it is safe to say that Kyle Williams has returned to full Pro Bowl form, and that Dareus is finally showing why he was drafted so highly.
The secondary also had an excellent day, despite the early scare of Stephan Gilmore being beat deep early by Santonio Holmes. In all, they were able to pick off three Geno Smith passes, including one for a score by Da’Norris Searcy, but it was the play of Jairus Byrd that turned the tide of the contest in the Bills favor. This was one of Byrd’s best games as a Bill, not just this season, but in his career. He was seemingly lined up everywhere in Mike Pettine’s defense and finished with two interceptions, three tackles (one for loss), and a third down sack. He clearly demonstrated to fans, and hopefully management, why he should be paid by the team in the offseason, even if it is for top safety dollar, talent like that cannot be taught.
There were only a few this week, but here are the negatives.
Why the Bills continue to take block-in-the-back penalties as often as they do I cannot understand. The Bills were flagged for this penalty twice in the first half of the game, at a time when the Bills were having some difficulty moving the ball. Both times it pushed the Bills back from between the 35 and 40 yard line, back to near the 20. This, alongside the interference on the punt catcher (which could have led to a Bills possession) are penalties that rarely occurred under Bobby April, and are something that need to be immediately addressed.
The Running Game
The Jets have a very good run defense. They came into the game ranked 8th overall against the run and they demonstrated this fact to the Bills running backs all game long. Spiller finished with his lowest total of the season, being held to a minuscule 6 (yes, 6) yards on 12 carries. Jackson did not fare much better amassing only 34 yards on his 12 carries. For the Bills, gaining 40 yards through 25 carries is a recipe for disaster, but fortunately EJ Manuel was able to bail them out through the air.
The Bills were able to do something in this game that they were supposed to do. They beat a rookie quarterback. Their opportunistic defense made the Jets pay for every turnover they committed, and they played so well against Geno Smith that he had to be pulled from the game. It must have been a nice feeling for Mike Pettine to have his defense play that well against his old team, especially after how well the Jets played against the Bills in week 3. T.J. Graham also showed for the first time that when leaned upon, he can be dependable. His adjustment on Manuel’s first TD pass was excellent; he stayed with the play and turned what could have been an INT or incompletion into a touchdown.
Kiko Alonso totaled 13 more tackles to give him 112 for the season, second in the league, and Aaron Williams is quietly becoming a very dependable and versatile threat in the secondary racking up another 10 tackles.