Whatever optimism the Bills may have instilled in their fans with offensive fireworks in the preseason, they just as quickly erased in a mostly boring 15-10 loss that looked like it was just their 17th game in the 2009 season.
Coach Chan Gailey was a large reason for the Bills’ faithful to be excited that their team would be better. Dick Jauron was a defensive-minded head coach, and it showed in the Bills’ putrid results in recent seasons. Gailey is supposed to know offense, and I’m pretty sure he does. However, the “vanilla” plays he drew up in the preseason sure looked a lot better than the “inside handoffs out of shotgun” playbook he saved for the regular season. Granted, the Bills have been known for their inside handoff out of shotgun for sometime, but at least in the Jauron years, they saved it for their 3rd and long situations. I’m sure the pistol offense and running out of shotgun are great schemes to run if you’re the head coach of Georgia Tech, but maybe we saw some signs of why Kansas City Chiefs‘ coach Todd Haley was so quick to axe Gailey as offensive coordinator last season. When defenses are as fast as they are in the NFL, running out of shotgun is generally only effective when it’s a surprise or a supplement to an effective passing game. I would imagine Gailey thought he would catch Miami by surprise by unveiling a college offense, but hopefully Gailey now realizes there is some value to lining your quarterback up under the center in the NFL.
C.J. Spiller was supposed to be scintillating in his NFL debut, building off a promising preseason. Unfortunately, the Dolphins were also aware of this possibility. It seemed as if the Bills came out and tried to get Spiller going early, and to set up whatever else their college offense was designed to do. However, Spiller may as well have been wearing a bull’s eye on his jersey, because Miami quickly bottled him up at every opportunity. Spiller finished with 7 rushes for 6 yards, while catching 4 passes for a paltry 8 yards. Spiller is going to have to work on trying to find yards inside, which will be much easier if he ever gets the opportunity to run out of a formation that isn’t the shotgun.
Trent Edwards looked like the same old Trent on Sunday. Granted, right tackle Cornell Green was doing a poorer job slowing down Miami pass rushers than the the turnstiles outside the stadium were doing keeping out 70, 000+ Bills’ fans, but Edwards needs to make plays down the field. Edwards’ 4.1 yards per pass attempt would be a good average if he was a tailback, but he is by no means a tailback. Miami did not need to blitz to put pressure on Edwards, and Trent reverted to watching the rush and scrambling for his life instead of looking downfield for receivers. By the way, it’s maddening to watch a QB throw 5 yard crossing patterns into traffic when his team is deep in its own territory, down by five, with no timeouts, and 29 seconds left on the clock.
If you had forgotten that Chris Kelsay was a defensive end prior to this season, he did his best to remind you of it on Sunday. Whether it was losing containment on the edge, or falling on his rear end because the fullback he failed to cover meandered past him, Kelsay showed that he is playing way out of position at OLB.
I could not have disagreed more with either of Gailey’s 4th down decisions in the 4th quarter. If you are trailing 13-3 with 5:00 left, you have a 4th and 11 on the opposing 31, and your defense has been doing a nice job of slowing down the opposition, you have to kick that field goal to make it a one possession game. The odds of picking up that yardage on one play when your offense’s three previous plays have gone for a combined loss of one yard are not very good. However, the Bills went for it and were rewarded as Edwards threw a nice ball to a wide open Roscoe Parrish for a 31-yard touchdown. While I didn’t like the move, at least it was over-aggressive, a seemingly welcome change from the “playing not to lose big” approach of Dick Jauron. However, Gailey lost all of those brownie points by reasoning that a 4th and 10 was more difficult to pick up than the following scenario: snapping a punt out of bounds to give up two more points, making the score 15-10 and mandating the Bills find the end zone on their next possession. Then, because it is now a free kick that the Bills can not try to recover, punting it to a member of the Dolphins who was not too sure handed (which turned out to be leading receiver Brandon Marshall) and force him to fumble and recovering it. It more likely seems to me that Gailey preferred losing 15-10 to 20-10. Someone will have to explain to him that there aren’t any voters who rank NFL teams based on scoring margins.
Silver linings from Sunday? The Bills defense appears to be very strong up the middle. Their defensive linemen and inside linebackers (though Posluszny’s injury will jeopardize this) played a very strong game, limiting Miami rushers to under 4 yards per carry, something they were not able to do last season. Though the defense was unable to generate a pass rush without blitzing for the most part, their secondary was up to the task on Sunday, limiting Miami to 164 passing yards. When the Bills face a good quarterback (or a great one, like they will next week) they may be in some trouble if their pass rush is this poor. The entire secondary played well, as Leodis McKelvin continued to show signs of improvement. Chris Ellis, despite making some mistakes, showed some promise as an OLB, and Aaron Maybin was able to get some pressure on the QB, probably the Bills’ most effective 4 man pass rusher on Sunday. It was also nice to see the adjustments defensive coordinator George Edwards made during the game, sending more blitzes at the Dolphins in the second half.
On their very limited opportunities, Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson showed they are still quality backs, running just seven times combined, but gaining a respectable 32 yards on those carries. The Bills need to get Trent under center and have some run/pass options to take advantage of their strengths and give their offensive line a chance to get some rhythm by run blocking. That should result in more chances for both Lynch and Jackson.
The Bills, who seemingly will be setting film-watching records this week, based on postgame interviews, had better figure some things out quickly, or else their game in Green Bay next week will be ugly.