It’s not time to sound the sirens in Buffalo … yet, but Week One hardly did much to instill confidence that the Bills can end their 13-year playoff drought this season.
The biggest disappointment in the loss to the Jets was the lack of impact plays made by the revamped defensive line. The numbers are known but bear repeating: zero sacks, zero QB hits for the unit and only one tackle from monster signing Mario Williams.
Jets QB Mark Sanchez had plenty of time to throw. On his touchdown passes to WRs Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill in the first half, Sanchez was able to pump fake before throwing to each receiver.
The problem with not getting heat on Sanchez was that it left the Bills’ secondary out to dry, and it's a secondary starting a rookie (Stephon Gilmore) and a second-year player (Aaron Williams) at cornerback. On Sanchez’s first TD pass to Kerley, the Bills had a nickel look with Leodis McKelvin, the slot corner, covering Kerley. With S George Wilson helping LB Bryan Scott in coverage on TE Dustin Keller, McKelvin had to stay with Kerley one-on-one. Kerley, who may have been helped by a little shove, made a nice, leaping catch for the score.
A similar situation unfolded on the touchdown throw to Hill to start the second quarter. Gilmore bit hard on Sanchez’s pump fake, and he was alone in coverage on Hill down the sideline, as Keller drew the attention of a safety in the middle of the field near the goal line.
On both plays, it very well may have been Wilson’s assignment to help on Keller, who is very good near the goal line, instead of cheating toward the sideline, but what's noteworthy about the two plays is the time Sanchez had and the island that McKelvin and Gilmore found themselves on.
Ideally, the Bills’ corners shouldn’t need a ton of safety help, and Buffalo can’t double-cover receivers every time, but the hope with an impressive D-line is that there will be less pressure on players in coverage. Unfortunately, that D-line did not do its job, and it exposed the corners for what they are — inexperienced. It also seemed odd that defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt rarely dialed up a blitz or brought any extra pressure to apply to Sanchez, even when the D-line wasn’t getting penetration early. The defense needs to be more aggressive and make plays — like the Jets did, and that begins up front.
On offense, Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s decision making was bad — he stared down his receivers and simply did not look comfortable in the pocket, a stark change from the start of last season. The Bills also didn’t utilize the screen pass — something they made good use of last season and a play that could keep the Jets’ talented corners from making big plays against the pass, which they did on three interceptions. RB Fred Jackson had zero targets before exiting the game with an injury in the second quarter, and RB C.J. Spiller had only two catches.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the Bills. In the second half, Fitzpatrick seemed to settle down and made some nice throws to Scott Chandler and Donald Jones — two players who figure to be major factors going forward with David Nelson out recovering from an ACL tear.
But like last season, and 2010 as well, if the defense doesn’t improve its pass rush and in limiting big plays, the burden will be too heavy on Fitzpatrick. And it all goes back to the D-line. If Williams and company make the plays they should be making, the secondary will play better, the Bills will give up fewer points and the offense can take control and rely on its strength — running the football.
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