By BBD Writer Eric Samulski
Well, they certainly found ways to make it interesting, but when the final whistle blew on Sunday evening, the Bills had picked up their third win of the season. They relied heavily on the ground game in a 19-16 overtime win over the Cardinals, but the team showed a toughness and determination that had been missing over the last two weeks. There are still things to improve and some questionable decisions being made, but in the NFL the numbers in the win column are all that matter in the end.
Let’s take a look back at how the Bills addressed the major concerns heading into the game.
The Bills showed a competitive fire that had been missing
(Question 1 was: Can the Bills respond to fan/league criticism?)
Part of this can be attributed to the Cardinals injuries, poor offensive line, and overall lack of talent when compared to the 49ers and Patriots, but the Bills showed up to play against a 4-1 squad that had beaten some strong opponents. The offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage with physicality, and the running backs finished off each play until the final whistle. The epitome of the aggressive attitude was on a first half Fred Jackson carry when he stiff-armed three Cardinals defenders on the same play. There were some missed tackles and coverage breakdowns, but overall, this team certainly showed up to prove something to fans and critics.
The offensive line was solid despite the injuries
(Question 3 was: How will the offensive line respond to the string of injuries?)
The Bills were dealt a bit of good news when Chad Rinehart was healthy enough to start at right guard, preventing Sam Young from having to shift over from his reserve tackle spot. Once the game got going it was clear that Gailey was going to rely on the physicality of his line to control the game on the ground. It was a strategy that definitely paid off. The yards weren’t always easy, but the offensive line did a solid job pushing the Cardinals defenders back and keeping Fitzpatrick upright against a solid pass rush. Erik Pears did look bad on a couple of snaps, allowing O’Brien Schofield to get to Fitz twice, but the line held up otherwise. Hairston especially looked solid against Dockett, and should be shifted to right tackle when Glenn comes back from injury.
Stephon Gilmore continues to impress
(Question #4 was: How will Stephon Gilmore handle Fitzgerald?)
We said going into the game that Fitzgerald was going to get his yards, but Gilmore had to prevent big plays. He did more than that. Fitzgerald finished the game with 6 catches for 93 yards and a TD. The TD was a nine-yard slant when he was matched up against Nick Barnett. His 28 yard catch in the fourth quarter was a coverage breakdown by Terrence McGee, and he caught another 16 yard pass with Bryan Scott draped on him. So, even with my bad math skills, it’s apparent that Gilmore did a solid job of holding Fitzgerald in check. He even had a potential interception fall through his hands. He needs to start finishing off those plays, but he’s more than held his own early in his career.
Chan Gailey finally found a way to get both runningbacks involved
(Question #5 was: Can Chan Gailey get Spiller and Jackson going?)
165 yards rushing is a good day at the office. When Gailey relied on the running game, he was banking on both men finding their lanes. In order to do that it appears he finally designated Jackson his power back and Spiller his big-play threat. Jackson may have only had 3.3 yards per carry, but he earned every inch in goal line and clock killing situations. Spiller was able to enter the game in more wide-open formations where he could use his speed and elusiveness in the open field. It was a strong strategy and helped the Bills control the time of possession early.
Stevie Johnson got open consistently against Peterson
(Question #7 was: Will the Bills attack Peterson with Stevie Johnson?)
I said coming into the game that Peterson struggled with sharp route runners, and Johnson proved that to be true. He used his precise, awkward routes to constantly gain separation from Peterson who was shadowing him all game. Johnson may have only had six receptions for 82 yards, but he was open on a handful of other passes where Fitz simply missed him. It was a strong showing from the number one wide receiver, and they really need to get him going in order for the offense to become more consistent.
The new additions on defense added a spark
(Question was not asked before the game)
Heading into the game, the Bills made one seemingly minor switch on defense, inserting Nigel Bradham in at SAM linebacker for Arthur Moats. It didn’t revolutionize the defense, but Bradham was flying all over the field. He played with a toughness and energy that was missing in the linebacking corps all season. His energy was matched by Kyle Moore, who was activated as a rotational defensive end after Mark Anderson’s injury. Moore was consistently in the backfield, beating Baptiste around the edge with a solid array of pass-rushing moves. It seemed to be infectious, as the entire defense was playing at a sped that had been lacking before today.
However, despite the win there were still some issues that needed fixing
Fitzpatrick is not strong enough to lead the Bills
(Question #6 was: Can Fitzpatrick limit his turnovers)
In his defense, Fitzpatrick did limit his turnovers. However, he also missed wide-open receivers throughout the entire game and continued to misfire on every deep pass attempt. He threw behind Johnson on multiple occasions and missed Fred Jackson in the flat on a pass that could have lead to a score on the first possession of overtime. Limiting turnovers is one thing, but if the Bills plan on competing, they are going to need their passing game to make plays, and Fitz just hasn’t proven that he’s capable of doing that.
The Bills are still missing way too many tackles
(Question #2 was: Can the Bills stop even the weakest running game?)
The Cardinals came into the came without their top two running backs, but they were still able to rush for over 180 yards on the Bills. The defensive line lost containment on Kevin Kolb far too often, allowing him to rush for over 60 yards. However, the most egregious offense came in the linebacking corps again. The middle of the field was wide open throughout the game due to blown assignments and missed tackles. Nick Barnett in particular missed at least three or four tackles that allowed big chunks of yardage. That’s inexcusable.
Chan Gailey is still making some questionable play calls
(This question was not asked heading into the game)
The reliance on the running game was a strong coaching move, but Gailey is still not putting together a full game of solid coaching. His decision to bring in Brad Smith to pass when the Bills could have run out the clock in the fourth quarter was terrible. I understand that people like his “guts,” but the Bills have been atrocious in the past two games and had the ability to kill the clock and seal a win. At some point, you just have to do whatever it takes to simply win. Then, when the Bills got the ball with just over a minute to play, he decided to sit on the ball and run out the clock. It was a decision that would have cost the Bills the game if Carrington hadn’t tipped Feely’s final field goal attempt.
At the end of the day, the Bills put up a “W” in right column and are a home win against the Titans away from being above .500 again. It’s a seemingly miraculous place for the team to find itself in given the way the season has played out, but it’s a win that is desperately needed. The Bills still need to face Houston and New England again before entering the softer part of their schedule.