BBD Staff Writer: Glenn Gifford
The jury is still out on who exactly the 2013 Buffalo Bills are. In a long, drawn-out affair that saw several trips to the replay booth, the Buffalo Bills triumphed over the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, 23-20, on Sunday.
While I felt Buffalo was slowly letting the game slip away at several times throughout the second half, second-round pick middle linebacker Kiko Alonso stepped up once again and demonstrated that he is a big time playmaker.
A crippled defensive secondary forced Super Bowl MVP quarterback Joe Flacco to throw five interceptions. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine dialed up pressure, and the offense did enough early to help Buffalo squeak out an important victory.
The Bills sit at 2-2 at the quarter pole of the season, and with games already versus the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens, I feel most fans should feel happy with the team’s results thus far.
The defense demonstrated Sunday why they will receive many of the first down accolades in this week’s “First Downs and Flags.”
Kiko Alonso is a playmaker. Not only does Alonso come up with solid defensive plays throughout games, he seems to have a tendency to make big plays at important points in games. This playmaking ability has helped Buffalo directly in both of their victories this season.
Alonso had two interceptions Sunday, the second an incredibly athletic interception of a tipped pass that iced the game for the Bills. He did an excellent job in coverage. Through the first quarter of the season, he has proven to be worth every bit of his second-round draft status.
He has been Buffalo’s best defensive player this year, and the Bills finally look to have a three-down inside linebacker who can make plays. Great start to the year for Kiko Alonso.
Not to be overshadowed by Alonso, Aaron Williams made a successful transition back to cornerback Sunday and also recorded two interceptions against Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. His second interception, an athletic play in the end zone, was also important to the game’s outcome as it thwarted a potential Ravens scoring drive.
Another key play during the game was Williams’ touchdown-saving tackle of Torrey Smith on a Flacco 74-yard deep bomb in the fourth quarter. Williams dove and tripped up Smith, and it proved to be a very important play as the Bills held the Ravens to a field goal with a red-zone stop.
Although Williams only had two tackles, his tackle on Smith was crucial. Williams’ play on Sunday may make fans wonder if Williams will stay out at cornerback, even when Leodis McKelvin is ready to return. Drafted as a tall cornerback as a second-round pick in 2011, his versatility proved to be an important asset on Sunday.
Former Baltimore Ravens safety Jim Leonhard had a nice game for Buffalo on Sunday. While he was not much to write home about as a punt returner, he made an impressive interception in Ravens territory that led to a Bills touchdown drive.
Leonhard’s familiarity with Pettine’s system from their time together with the Ravens and New York Jets has made him an effective safety in Buffalo. He has picked up the Bills defense rather quickly, and appeared to do a capable job directing traffic in the defensive backfield on Sunday.
Leonhard also had a couple of punishing hits. One of those landed him a penalty for hitting a defensless receiver, although in my opinion, the hit was all shoulder and he was wrongly flagged.
Leonhard also recovered a fumble on a Tandon Doss reception in the second quarter, but it was overturned when determined the Ravens receiver never established possession. In all, Sunday was a solid effort for Leonhard, whose three tackles and one assist really do not tell the story of his importance.
Not having the advantage of watching the game on television, I find myself scribbling notes throughout the game which draws the ire of some of my fellow season-ticket holders. As I looked through my notes, I made several comments about the play of Marcel; Dareus.
Dareus had five tackles and two assists, but his game will be remembered Sunday for his two sacks. Both sacks were the result of great effort. The first one pinned the Ravens on their own two-yard line, while his second sack was a huge individual effort that put Baltimore in a 2nd-and-18 situation late in the fourth quarter.
Dareus was stout versus the run and was a huge plug in the middle on a day where the Bills held the Ravens to 24 rushing yards. He seemed much quicker off the ball than fellow defensive linemen Kyle and Mario Williams in this game.
Robert Woods was EJ Manuel’s favorite and most effective receiving target on Sunday. Woods caught four passes for 80 yards and had a touchdown. It appeared Woods also had a 4-yard touchdown late in the third quarter on a tight throw and catch in the right rear corner of the end zone, but a replay review determined Woods did not have possession of the ball.
Woods is a polished route-runner, and I am confident that if EJ Manuel had sufficient time to throw in the pocket, he would take advantage of Woods’ route-running ability and put up much bigger numbers. Like Alonso, Woods has come in and made positive contributions to improve the team as a rookie.
Stevie Johnson prides himself on being a team leader, but the Bills’ No. 1 wide receiver was a complete non-factor on Sunday. He only had one reception, a quick-hitch pass that netted a one-yard loss. Johnson had a few drops — granted, the passes may not have been placed perfectly — including one that went into the hands of Ravens linebacker Daryl Smith for an interception. He also had a silly holding penalty that put the Bills behind the eight ball in the fourth quarter when they were trying to burn clock.
Johnson was targeted six times, but only came up with one catch. He was not double covered often, and the Ravens put several defenders in the box to stop Buffalo’s running game. Johnson prides himself on his ability to get separation, but did not look the part Sunday of the star receiver he claims to be.
Shawn Powell is a streaky punter. He will belt out a 59-yard punt and follow it with two shanks out of bounds. In his eight punts on Sunday, he only averaged 36.9 yards.
The Bills were pinned in deep in their own end many times and needed Powell to come up with a big kick, and he came up with weak punts on at least two of these important situations.
He has been streaky all year and this may prove to be costly down the road. Early in training camp, I was somewhat critical of Buffalo special teams coach Danny Crossman. Suprisingly, Crossman’s unit has played well in the first quarter of the season. Powell appears to be the only inconsistent component in the special teams makeup.
What would “First Downs and Flags” be without an appearance by the consistently poor play of cornerback Justin Rogers? Rogers appeared to play better at points in the game on Sunday than he had in previous weeks, but he was consistently targeted by Flacco.
Rogers led the Bills in tackles on Sunday, but that statistic is mainly due to the number of times he was targeted. Rogers made six tackles and had two assists, but was beaten on two occasions for touchdown receptions by Marlon Brown and Torrey Smith. While his effort and improvement is noted, he is still deserving of a Flag on a day when the Bills defense came up big.
I really hate the offensive playcalling of the 2013 Buffalo Bills and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. While the Bills were focused on the run and the rushing numbers from Sunday’s win look good, Buffalo was playing scared in the second half. The offense lacks creativity, and the passing game will need to improve behind a shaky offensive line.
I was pleased that the Bills looked to run out the clock in the fourth quarter; however, running clock with non-creative plays really doesn’t work too well. I feel that Buffalo left some plays out on the field Sunday because of penalties and being ultra-conservative.
Whatever happened to the screen pass? Buffalo has not been running any screens during the regular season. The screen is a great way to help avoid pressure and keep the defense honest during blitzing situations, but Buffalo has failed to capitalize on this aspect of the game.
In short, the offense looks rather simple. I am under the impression that it could be much more than it is, and I truly feel Hackett’s play calling will end up costing this team victories.
There is little not to like about the Buffalo Bills defeating the defending Super Bowl champions. In a game many fans probably thought the Bills were going to lose, the Bills defense came up huge and picked off Joe Flacco five times.
The game was highlighted by multiple interruptions and replay reviews. Many of these reviews did not go Buffalo’s way, but they were still able to hang on for the victory.
It was a “gutty” win for a young team that is still struggling to discover who they really are. The Bills sit at .500 through four games, and while their upcoming schedule looks daunting, they have been competitive in all of their games.
The hope that seemed to vanish after a bad loss to the New York Jets in Week 3 has been avenged by the Bills’ Week 4 win, and the Bills look to improve to 3-2 when they face Cleveland on Thursday night, depending on what version of the 2013 Bills makes the trip to Ohio.
Tags: Aaron Williams, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, First Downs and Flags, Game Reviews, Jim Leonhard, Justin Rogers, Kiko Alonso, Marcell Dareus, Nathaniel Hackett, Postgame Takeaways, Robert Woods, Shawn Powell, Stevie Johnson, Week 4