No offense would expect Marcell Dareus in pass coverage. Try dropping him back. Or maybe the unexpected thing is viewed as such for good reason. The Buffalo Bills might have to use defensive linemen as running backs out of necessity, but there is still a limit to deception’s value. Some tactics are so clever that nobody thinks a combatant will try them. They may be right about the reasons why a crazy idea seems implausible.
The Bills have outthought themselves too often during losses and even for spells during wins. Specifically, this team has a tendency to holster devastating offensive weapons. Their most ominous options often seem like they’re only in the huddle to intimidate opponents without having to prove it. But the staff has to pull triggers.
To wit, the Vikings almost called Buffalo’s bluff during Sunday’s standoff. You can call a game plagued by infuriating decisions and sloppy play a win, at least this week. Otherwise, Terry Pegula might be researching lemon laws.
Relentlessly featuring the most dynamic players is an obvious but crucial concept. The notion needs to be stated because it hasn’t always happened with the Bills. Passively letting opponents dictate game plans has been a hallmark of unsuccessful drives and afternoons. They must maintain the confidence that their best players can overcome the defense’s focus.
Sadly, one of the first chances to see C.J. Spiller gallop downhill was also the last. It’s beyond frustrating to see perhaps his season and Bills career come to an end on a play where his talents were maximized. It wasn’t quite fun debating whether he was ineffective because he was reflexively bouncing outside or just being used improperly.
Spiller was finally used as more than a distraction, but only once. He may have been resistant to getting hard yards. Or, he may not have been used in a way where he could easily gain ground. But the point is moot after a single fantastic glimpse of him returning to form.
At least Sammy Watkins got Pegula to .500 in the latter’s career as a football owner with a second to spare. Deploying him consistently will help the Bills win in less dramatic fashion. Even with far more opportunities than during the frustrating Patriots outing, 14 targets still somehow felt low. I hope the game plan was to not use him for stretches so the Vikings forgot about him, as it would at least explain why the top receiver didn’t always seem like the first option.
Kyle Orton lost his mustache but found Napoleon. The discovery wasn’t complete until nearly the post-game show, as the rookie gained 39 of his 122 yards on the last drive. As good as he was, the Bills could still use this and next year’s first-round pick more, especially during the first 57 minutes. After all, management got him so they can win now. As it stands, Watkins’s first score came on catch number two right after Leodis McKelvin’s second of his own.
Nathaniel Hackett blessedly remembered Watkins was available before the handshakes, which hasn’t been true every game. There have been times where the Clemson man has looked like he’s being used to deceive foes into thinking his quarterback might actually throw to him. Instead of wallowing in trickery, the coordinator must actually use the exceptional receiver. Let other teams obsess with neutralizing him above all else and throw to him anyway. The only team that’s succeeded at stopping Watkins so far has been the Bills.
This isn’t the first time a spectacular youngster has not been used enough thanks to a coach being too canny for his own good. O.J. Simpson, who for some reason doesn’t show up for team alumni events, was first used as a freaking decoy, accumulating a middling 1,927 yards over his first three seasons. Non-murdering memories of 1969’s top pick start in 1972 when Lou Saban came in and issued cage masks to wideouts. The purported catchers’ primary task was to block for the team’s best player, and maybe receive passes after that. By incessantly handing their superstar the ball, the Bills played to their strengths, which is a lesson that shouldn’t have to be taught again.
The Bills can’t wait that long with Watkins. Luckily, nothing will stall them except their own decisions, which means there’s a somewhat decent chance it won’t happen. Daring others to stop your biggest threat is effective both as a strategy and mentality. It’s better to commit than omit.
Of course, there will be risks accompanying any bold action. Whoever’s covering Watkins may occasionally intercept a pass. But that’s better than the figurative cornerback not getting one because the man he’s tailing is not targeted enough. Besides, Watkins is already proving that he can lose defenders even while covered like a coat of paint.
Consider this week just a long break between drives. The Bills should continue to use Watkins during the first possession against the Jets like they did during the legendarily satisfying final play of the Vikings game. That end was a good start.
If coaches are really concerned that opponents are capable of hindering their youthful video game character, have Orton lean on passes that are less likely to be stolen such as slants and crosses. The precocious wideout can grab them and go in New Jersey, especially with little chance of a cornerback getting on his inside. Knowing the offense is aimed at Watkins doesn’t make him easy to stop.