By BBD Writer Eric Samulski
So that’s what a win feels like? Gut-wrenching, nervous and fidgety. Even when this team wins they can’t make it easy, but we’re Bills fans, there’s no complaining when a “W” is on the board. On Thursday night, on national television, the Bills played solid defense and ran their way to a 19-14 home win over the Dolphins. It wasn’t perfect. They had chances to break the game open in the first half, but the team looks to be making strides in the right direction.
So let’s get down to business and look at what this game taught us about our beloved Bills. Starting with the positives…
CJ Spiller is really good
This is obviously not a shock to anybody, but it just needs to be said after that performance. It wasn’t his most impressive game, statistically speaking, but 91 yards rushing and 39 yards receiving against a strong run defense is a very solid performance. What stands out most about Spiller, besides his incredible bust and change of direction skills is how patient he has become at hitting the holes opened by his line. He no longer simply gets the ball and goes. It’s really a remarkable improvement and bringing him along slowly might have been one of the smartest decisions the Bills have made. That being said, I don’t agree with the talk that Fred Jackson should be fazed out of the offense. Both backs bring an important skill set. If the Chiefs were able to run the ball 30+ times a game with Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones then there is no reason the Bills can’t do the same thing with Spiller and Jackson.
The Bills need to pay Jairus Byrd… like now.
Byrd was known as a ball-hawk when he came into the league, and he’s yet to disappoint. After making the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Byrd has been dealing with various groin and hip injuries that have made him an inconsistent contributor. However, this year he has proven just how talented he is. Not only has his tackling improved, with 50 on the season to go along with three forced fumbles, but he’s as talented a playmaker in the secondary as there is in the league. There are very few safeties who could have made the interception that he did. The Bills have won four games this year, and Byrd has sealed two of them with picks.
The defensive line is improving
When Kyle Moore burst onto the scene this preseason, Gailey was clear about the fact that the third year veteran only possessed one skill: rushing the passer. I don’t know if he was only trying to temper expectations, but that no longer seems to be the case. Moore has begun to grow into a three down defensive end. He consistently pushes the pocket and has been able to contain the edge against the run as well. With Mario Williams seeming to have his strength back after wrist surgery and Williams and Dareus looking as strong as ever, the defensive line is finally coming close to living up to their pre-season billing. Three sacks is not something to get ecstatic over, but the Dolphins have a strong line and the Bills were winning the point of attack all night, holding them to only 60 yards rushing. It’s a big step in the right direction.
Shawn Powell is absolutely proving his worth
After Moormon was released, many people were questioning whether the big punter was actually going to be an upgrade. I think last night finally ended that discussion. After leading the NCAA in punting, Powell has been tremendous for the Bills since he took over the starting spot. Last night he punted the ball seven times, five of which landed inside the twenty, which had become a big weakness for Moormon. Of course, the most spectacular of those punts was the one that he drilled out on the half yard line, which should have sealed the game if the Bills didn’t like to keep things interesting.
Now onto the negatives…
This team has a major problem with discipline that suggests poor coaching
After 150 yards in penalties last week, the Bills put up another 100 yards in penalties tonight. It’s a number that’s inexcusable. The false starts and offsides just suggest that the team has not been drilled in between weeks. Teams that rack up penalties like this are always teams that have more laid-back coaching staffs. It can begin to really cost games.
However, the discipline also shows up in the defensive coverage. Guys are not able to contain and take terrible angles to the ball. When Bess caught the screen pass over the middle on the final drive, George Wilson should have drilled him after two steps. Instead, Wilson inexplicably ran at Bess instead of cutting off the angle and allowed the wide receiver to reach the sideline. On another Bess reception, his diving one by the sideline, Justin Rodgers undercut the route, allowing the ball to float over his head and into Bess’ hands. To my eyes, it shows poor understanding of angles and spacing; two things which are directly related to coaching.
The play-calling continues to baffle me
Chan Gailey is supposed to be an offensive genius, but the Bills offense continues to make multiple head-scratching plays a game. Why was CJ Spiller only running draws from the shotgun formation last night? Why did the team get into the red zone on the back of Stevie Johnson and then refuse to throw him the ball? Why was Tashard Choice in on the red zone possession when Spiller had asked back into the game?
It’s the same question I have for the entire season: with two of the best backs in the league, why is Fitzpatrick throwing the ball 30+ times a game? I just don’t think this team has any identity on offense.
The Bills still can’t finish games
We saw it last week when Fitzpatrick threw the ball directly in Devin McCourty’s hands, and we saw it weeks earlier when the defense couldn’t stop the Titans final drive: the Bills simply can’t close out football games. After dominating the first half, the Bills scored zero points in the second half. It’s a trend that has been prevalent the entire season. While other teams make halftime adjustments and come out looking improved, the Bills seem to take three steps backwards. It’s another damning sign for the coaching staff and a poor indicator for being able to make a stretch run towards the playoffs. If the Bills want to be a good team, they need to be able to put teams away.