By BBD Writer Eric Samulski
And just like that, the Bills are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. What was once a bright and optimistic season has now officially turned dismal. To make matters worse, the Bills lost another player for the season when Fred Jackson injured his MCL with a helmet to the knee. I know injuries are a part of football, but it always seems like the Bills get snakebitten more than most. With Hairston, Wood, Nelson, Pears, McGee, and Jackson lost for the season the Bills continue to suffer debilitating injuries in large numbers. Jackson’s injury, coupled with the Bills lack of effectiveness in the Red Zone and failure to come up with key defensive spots at the end of the game, put them on the wrong side of a 15-12 game to the St. Louis Rams.
In order to understand how the loss came to be, let’s look at how the Bills answered the questions I had for them coming into the game. Starting with the positives…
The offensive line really struggled to gel
(Question #1 was: How will the offensive line respond to injuries?)
With David Snow and Sam Young making their first career starts at center and right tackle, respectively, it was no surprise that the offensive line looked like a shell of it’s former self. Fitzpatrick was on the turf throughout the entire game and the rushing attack seemed incapable of getting anything going. With four sacks allowed, the Bills avoided putting up embarrassing numbers on the stat sheet, but the performance on the field was nothing short of poor. If they can’t find some semblance of unity over the final three weeks, it might be hard for the Bills to win any more games.
Chan Gailey continues to neglect Spiller
(Question #4 was: Can Spiller get back on track?)
I was there to defend Gailey last week after the weather and early lead enabled Jackson to see so many carries, but the fact Spiller only carried the ball seven times this weekend was inexcusable. He’s the offenses best player and he touched the ball only eight times. That’s not the way to win a football game. Gailey is always referred to as an offensive mind, but the fact that he can’t see that Spiller makes the best offense better is shocking to me. Jackson had nine carries for 14 yards, but Gailey continued to give him the ball. I’m not sure what game he’s watching.
The offense still can’t convert in the red zone
(Question #7 was about the effectiveness of the offense)
The Bills currently rank 25th in the NFL in red zone scoring percentage with touchdowns on 46.51% of red zone visits. That’s terrible. The offense continues to move the ball between the twenties and stall out when they get close to the goal line. It almost cost them in the Dolphins game, and it certainly cost them on Sunday. They controlled the clock early in the game, but only scored on one of three red zone visits, while the Rams scored on both of theirs. The game came down to that one stat.
Now onto the positives…
The Bills running defense continues to look good
(Question #2 was: Will Chan commit to the run?)
Since the bye week, the Bills defense has been playing very strong defense. They held the Rams to 78 total yards on the ground and 2.9 yards per rush. It’s a tremendous improvement from the play they were getting early on in the year. The health of Mario Williams helps, but Alex Carrington has also come on strong in recent weeks. He’s been getting into the backfield with ease and has really given Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus a boost by allowing them to rest and stay fresh throughout the game.
The Bills corners prevented any large gains through the air
(Question #2 and #6 addressed the secondary)
The Rams don’t have any playmakers in the receiving game without Amendola on the field but holding any team to 207 yards passing is an achievement. If only the Bills defense could have continued that success on the final drive of the game as well. The corners played strong and Gilmore was finally able to snatch the elusive interception. It’s a young group, so any continued improvement is a good sign for future years.
The pass rush was effective again
(Question #3 was: Can the Bills defense continue to get pressure?)
The Bills may have only registered one sack, but they were getting to Sam Bradford throughout most of the game. The pushed the pocket from the interior and off the edges and continue to be one of the most effective units on the team. On the same note, Mario Williams notched another sack (and a forced fumble later), which gives him 10.5 on the season. That’s the first time the Bills have had a player with double-digits sacks since Aaron Schobel recorded 10 in 2009. It’s also the second time the Bills have had a double-digit sack artist since 2006. That’s twice in six seasons. Futility just seems to follow this club around.