By BBD Writer Eric Samulski
I don’t know why I continue to believe that the Bills can be a playoff team, but rest assured that belief was buried deep into the ground this afternoon. It’s easy to explain away losses to the Patriots, Texans, and 49ers. It’s impossible to explain scoring only 13 points against the 22nd ranked defense in the NFL and effectively knocking yourself out of playoff contention. The offense continues to be inept with Fitzpatrick at the helm, the defense cannot get off the field on third down, and Chan Gailey remains one of the most maddeningly inconsistent head coaches in the NFL. So, despite keeping Andrew Luck relatively in check, the Bills still found a way to lose to the Colts and prove that, until this team hires people with legitimate experience winning football games, they will continue to find ways to lose football games.
Now, let’s take a detailed look at the ineptitude that took place on Sunday in Indianapolis.
The Bills secondary continues to leave receivers wide open
(Question #1 was: Can the Bills contain Andrew Luck?)
The Bills did a halfway decent job of containing Andrew Luck. The impressive rookie was only 20/37 for 244 yards with a TD and a pick. However, the Bills secondary continuously failed to make plays when the rest of the defense had the Colts on the ropes. Andrew Luck was able to avoid pressure and find wide-open receivers, including leading target Reggie Wayne on a 3rd and 17, which is inexcusable. On the day, the Colts converted 8 of 16 3rd downs, four of which were on a second half touchdown drive, their only offensive touchdown drive of the night. Stephon Gilmore looked quick and instinctive in coverage, but none of the other corners stood out, except for Justin Rodgers, who got beat multiple times, including on the TD catch.
Chan Gailey’s play-calling continues to be baffling
(Question #7 was: Will Chan continue to make questionable play calls)
Stevie Johnson called his head coach out about play calling at the end of the game today, and despite the poorly timed nature of the comments, he’s not wrong. For starters, the Bills are among the worst red zone offenses in the NFL. There is something about getting in the red zone that throws Chan for a loop. He simply cannot dial up a play to convert. The Bills had to settle for two field goals on the day when they had driven into the Colts red zone. Which may be the only time Chan opts for a field goal after punting instead of attempting a 52 yarder, indoors.
What’s more important is the question of how Chan Gailey can continue to under-utilize his best offensive weapon, CJ Spiller? Spiller had 14 rushes for 107 yards today. Even though the Bills were only down by seven at the half, Spiller only got six second half carries. When the Bills had the ball on their own fourteen with 50 seconds left in the half, Gailey decided to repeatedly try and move the ball through the air instead of running out the clock. Nevermind that the Bills offense had looked stagnant and they would get the ball to begin the second half. Instead, Gailey used only 14 seconds on the possession and allowed Luck enough time to drive the Colts to a last second field goal. Gailey also decided, on the Bills final drive, to not allow Spiller to rush, even though the team was only down a touchdown. Instead, Fitzpatrick threw a pick and then, after we got a second chance, Fitzpatrick threw two dump off passes the Spiller eight yards shy of the first down marker. I could go on for hours, but I’m not sure how this man is considered a play-calling genius.
Fitzpatrick really hurt the Bills today
(Question #5 was: Can Fitz attack a beat-up secondary?)
Another day, another poor showing by Fitzpatrick. Gailey is still allowing him to throw 30+ times a game, even in close contests, and Fitz continues to reward him with crappy outings. On the day, the Harvard graduate was 17/33 for 180 yards, one TD, and one interception, which could have been worse, had the Colts been able to hold onto two others that he threw into their hands. However, what stands out most is his continued inability to hit on deep passes. Twice during the game Fitz overthrew wide-open receivers that could have walked in for the touchdown. He overthrew Spiller in the first quarter and Donald Jones in the second. Hitting on even one of those passes would have drastically changed the game. With the season lost, it’s time to see what Tarvaris Jackson can do.
Offensive line was beat consistently all game
(Question was not asked before the game)
I know Fitzpatrick was only sacked twice on the day, but the Colts were getting into the backfield regularly. Freeney and Mathis were beating Hairston and company around the edges most of the day. Shoot, the Colts even flushed Fitz from the pocket when they rushed only three guys. Now, as a right tackle, Hairston struggles against speed rushers, so this was a tough match-up for him. However, the Bills coaches should have known that and had people chip off the edge. Also, the lineman failed to get to the second level on most blocks. The Colts linebackers were coming free all game long. That can’t happen if you claim to be a power running team.
Now, onto the positives…
CJ Spiller looked good in the feature back role
(Question #3 was: Will the rushing attack change with Spiller out front?)
As I mentioned before, Spiller had 107 yards on 14 carries. He looked as elusive and quick as ever, but simply wasn’t asked to do much against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. I can’t keep talking about this because it makes me so angry, but Spiller is a legit feature back in the NFL.
Mario Williams and the defensive line came to play
(Question #2 was: Can Mario Williams and Co. get to Luck?)
Maybe we were all a bit hard on Mario at the start of the season. It appears as though his wrist injury really was an issue. After notching three sacks today, Williams has five in his past four games. The attention he creates has continued to allow the defensive tackles to push the pocket, as Dareus also recorded a sack and a couple tackles for a loss, and Kyle Williams pressured Luck on more than one occasion.
When the dust settled on Sunday, the Bills playoff chances were nowhere to be seen. What had seemed like encouraging chances were dashed in 60 minutes of disconnected football that shows no signs of understanding pressure and urgency. Put simply, this Bills team has continued to lose because the organization doesn’t know how to win. Whether it’s third downs or fourth quarter comebacks, the Bills always seem to fall short. It’s not because there’s no Frank Reich, it’s because this is no longer the organization that can win a big game. Until the Bills can bring in a coaching staff that can change that culture, the team will continue to lose every season.