Maybe Nolan Norwacki was on to something. According to one league executive...
The Monday Rodeo – Eagles Post-Game (10/10/11)
The Monday Rodeo is BroJ’s weekly round-up of the Bills previous game and state of the team as a whole.
It feels a lot better drafting these articles up after a win. After the Bills’ Sunday 31-24 victory over Philadelphia, this column isn’t going to be 100% optimistic, but it might end up being 95%. The offense, as expected, was able to put up enough points to win a typical NFL game (although 31 points is looking more and more typical in this league by the week). The defense was at times porous, but consistently opportunistic, a common theme throughout this season for the Bills. They currently lead the NFL with 12 interceptions (two more than the second-place Packers), which has been instrumental in the team’s +11 turnover differential (which also leads the NFL).
Even though the Bills have the 29th-ranked defense in terms of yards allowed per game, forcing turnovers has not only helped stop opponents, but provide the offense with tremendous field position. In his press conference today, Chan Gailey mentioned that to win in the NFL, the defense has to either stop the offense from gaining yards, or come up with enough turnovers to change the game. The Bills are accomplishing one of those things (so far).
Another important factor in the Bills’ turnover differential is that they haven’t lost a fumble through these first five weeks of the season. Although some experts suggest that fumbles and fumble recoveries can be a bit of a “luck stat”, I believe that this shows a staggering improvement for the offense. You could chalk it up to a greater focus on ball control, or just flat-out maturity, but the Bills simply haven’t had ANY drive-killing fumbles. Last season the team lost 18 fumbles, which led the way for last year’s turnover differential: -17. I believe that the shift in turnovers is the number one difference between 2010 and 2011.
As for the rest…
I’m going to go ahead and call one thing from this weekend ‘perfect’: Chan Gailey’s offensive gameplan. Sniper, Blake, and yours truly do the podcast every Wednesday (cheap plug) and our ideal offensive gameplans for the upcoming Sunday are always discussed. Yes, we aren’t as smart as the coaches. They know more than we do. But after analyzing the opposing defense’s strengths/weaknesses and then weighing them against our own, we usually come up with something that makes sense on paper. And rarely does the gameplan play out like that.
Against the Eagles, Gailey did absolutely everything that made sense. The Eagles possess a strong pass rush (even without Trent Cole), but are very weak at the linebacker and safety positions. It made sense to utilize Fred Jackson as much as possible, and then take advantage of the defense with short passes and screens.
The Fred Jackson part was easily covered, leading the team 26 carries and six receptions, which resulted in 195 all-purpose yards and a touchdown. Fitzpatrick threw screen after screen, and whether it was to Jackson or Naaman Roosevelt, the Eagles’ poor tackling led to significant offensive gains. Donald Jones also caught a screen before his injury (technically, ON his injury), and probably would’ve received a handful of those throws had he stayed healthy. David Nelson and Scott Chandler weren’t used as much as I thought they’d be, but Fitz still took advantage of a defensive mismatch on the Nelson touchdown.
That offside play… I’m not going to speculate how impactful Juqua Parker’s offside penalty in the waning moments of the game was, but I will admit that it was a crafty play on the part of Chan. After the Eagles didn’t jump after Fitzpatrick’s initial calls/shouts/grunts in an attempt to draw them offside, he sent Corey McIntyre in motion. At that point, at least one Eagle believed that the offense was moving in an attempt to gain a better look at the defense. Once Fitzpatrick called out his signals again, Parker lunged into the neutral zone and the game was history. As soon as that play happened, I immediately gushed about how I had never seen an offense use motion in that situation. I have no clue if that’s true; I could have just been blindly reactionary. Regardless, that was a creative way of turning the odds in our favor.
It’s possible that the Bills still would have gone for the first down either way, whether it was on that play or after a timeout (the latter more likely). Either way, giving the Eagles the ball back would have been a scary final minute for Bills fans, calling back years of games that the team lost in similar fashion. This is a very different Bills team, but some of those memories don’t fade quickly enough.
A minor dilemma going forward is what the Bills will do at the wide receiver position. Donald Jones got a much hated high ankle sprain during Sunday’s game, and is currently projected to be on the mend for six weeks. That’s probably a short enough span for the Bills to leave him on the active roster (although they have previously injury reserved players with lesser injuries). However, that does leave the team without their second receiver during that time span. I think there’s several routes that the team could take, some more likely and others more speculative.
Option #1 – The Bills basically stay on their current course and play Naaman Roosevelt in Donald Jones’ place. Stevie Johnson was on WGR radio today and said that he was most impressed by Roosevelt because he didn’t take any snaps during the week at Jones’ position on the field. Roosevelt had a good game against the Eagles, with five receptions for 41 yards. Fitzpatrick clearly doesn’t have any problem throwing to him, targeting him seven times during the game, which led the team. From there, Ruvell Martin would continue to stay on the roster as a special teams player and emergency receiver.
Option #2 – This is a similar option to the first one. Roosevelt would still be the team’s second receiver. The Bills would then either pull up Kamar Aiken, or sign a player from another team’s practice squad (roughly 75% of NFL teams have at least one receiver on their practice squad, many of them undrafted players like Aiken). This option could lead to Ruvell Martin being cut to make room on the roster, although it may not because of his special teams value. It’s also possible that this extra receiver could be a player previously in the Bills’ system, such as Buster Davis, Felton Huggins, or Paul Hubbard. I don’t think any of those players are likely signings though, as they wouldn’t be drastic improvements over Martin as a receiver.
Option #3 – This is the speculative option, but probably the most fun one to talk about. Earlier in the day, Sniper and I were discussing possible trade options at receiver before the league’s deadline. Trading for a number two-type receiver would let Naaman move back to the slot in four wide receiver packages, and also keep Ruvell Martin off the field. We decided that to even discuss a player as a trade candidate, they’d either have to be on a team with very low expectations, or a team with a deep receiving corps with players to spare. Some of the players we came up with preliminarily were Ben Obomanu (Seahawks), James Jones (Packers), Steve Smith (Eagles), Davone Bess (Dolphins), and Steve Breaston (Chiefs). You could make cases for and against all of these players and how likely they’d be traded, and after all, this is simply an exercise in speculation. I think James Jones, despite being on the best team of these players, would be the most likely option. Despite his productive game this weekend, he has been more-or-less lost in the shuffle on a team deep with receiving talent. If the Bills overpaid for him with a solid mid-round pick, it could be a deal that the Packers consider.
Option #4 – Terrell Owens. Just saying, it’s still on the table.
Regardless of which option the Bills choose, Brad Smith is more likely to get on the field as a receiver next week, something that Chan Gailey confirmed in his press conference on Monday.
Three Stars of the Game (because I still can’t think of a better system to use than the NHL’s):
1st Star – Fred Jackson, again. Pretty much everything has been said about Jackson’s play thus far, so I’m not sure how much more I can expand on it. He had 32 touches against the Eagles for 196 combined yards and a touchdown. He looked great on screens. He looked great between the tackles. He looked great on the draw plays that Gailey’s offenses regularly utilize (which for whatever reason work far better than the Dick Jauron draw play). One of the most impressive parts of Jackson’s running ability is the way he runs with the ball in open space. Every skill position player in the league turns on the jets when they get into open space, and that includes Freddy. But one thing that he does differently is when he shifts his direction slightly to keep the upcoming defenders off guard. While running in the open, Jackson shifts his path or trajectory, even if it’s ever-so-subtly, as he runs down the field. Especially in the case of a cornerback or safety downfield that gets caught flat-footed, these shifts change the angles that the defender can take to stop him.
2nd Star – The offensive line. Yeah, it is kind of a cop-out to pick five guys as the second star. But these guys work as a group, and I think they should be treated as a group here. Individually, they all had their moments of standing out. Andy Levitre and Eric Wood absolutely mauled their guys for most of the day. Erik Pears did an admirable job up against Jason Babin, who led the NFL in sacks prior to the game. The group only gave up one sack on the day, which was to Cullen Jenkins who has five on the season. And in a game where screen passes were a primary weapon in the offense’s arsenal, the line did an excellent job of getting downfield quickly and providing effective second-level blocking for the receiver.
3rd Star – George Wilson. I still have a big problem with his coverage; mainly that he’s not good at it and gets burned more than occasionally. But in my mind, that was the best game of his career. Wilson was absolutely everywhere on the field. He finished the game with 11 solo tackles, another interception, a tackle for loss, and three passes defended (including one on a third down blitz that was a flat-out awesome play). He’s on the field because he’s a playmaker, and it’s nice to see that he’s actually making plays. Shout out to Jairus Byrd also; despite not having any interceptions, he’s having his best season as a pro thus far. He’s clearly put some time into becoming a more effective tackler, which has made him a far more complete safety.
Least Favorite Bill (LFB) of 2011 so far – It’s difficult to come up with a least favorite Bill when we’re winning and playing well. And believe it or not, my LFB isn’t on the defense, or really that integral to the team’s success. But as of this moment (if you couldn’t tell from my tone earlier), Ruvell Martin is my least favorite Bill. Yes, I know he is a good special teams player. But he is completely useless on offense, a liability when he gets into the game. He slipped during his cut on his only target on the game, almost single-handedly causing a Fitzpatrick interception. His hands aren’t very good and he doesn’t have the speed to stretch the defense. This wouldn’t be a huge problem, except the Bills seem to have some sort of injury at the wide receiver position during every game. This has forced Martin into the game, probably on limited practice during the week. I think that the Bills need to start considering a replacement for him at wide receiver, a hand that may be forced after Donald Jones’ injury.
Waiver Wire Watch – I’m going to use this space to gush about Buddy Nix, who has done an excellent job of finding free agent/waiver wire talent during the season. Starting right tackle Erik Pears was signed during Week 15 of the 2010 season, after being cut by the Raiders and the Jaguars during that season. He was originally undrafted, but Nix apparently had some knowledge of Pears and signed him to the team during what was essentially garbage time of the Buffalo Bills 2010 season. Less than a year later, he has been a consistent and sometimes dominating force on the right side of the Bills offensive line, putting in his best work of the season against the Eagles. I don’t have any super secret inside information about tackle Sam Young, tight end Lee Smith, and cornerback Terrence Wheatley, but they were all signed off of waivers after this preseason’s final cuts. Just saying.
2012 1st Round Pick Watch – I know that we can finally start paying attention to this season instead of constantly pondering who we are going to draft next offseason, but the NFL Draft is still fun to talk about. Right now it looks like the Bills will be picking in the low-to-mid 20’s, unless something crazy happens to the team in one direction or the other. I think this team is good enough to basically go best player available if somebody slips, but the most pressing need for the Bills is a pass rusher from the outside linebacker position. Some of the OLBs that look to be around at that time include Bruce Irvin (West Virginia), Brandon Jenkins (Florida State), Courtney Upshaw (Alabama), and Ronnell Lewis (Oklahoma). However, I’m going with a surprise projection right now, taking Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd with the 23rd overall pick. I think the Bills will continue to put up good passing numbers, but will probably get the majority of their production out of Stevie Johnson and slot receiver David Nelson. A tall (6’3), fast, and athletic receiver in Floyd could truly make the Buffalo offense one of the most dangerous in the league.
Where I think the Bills should be in NFL Power Rankings: 6th.
Where I think your favorite NFL site will rank the Bills in their power rankings: 8th.
Early Predictions on Topics For Next Week’s Rodeo: “What Was Eli Manning Awkwardly Gazing At?”, “Is Freddy Top 3?”, “Who Is Our Second Receiver?”, “WHY DIDN’T WE SIGN VICTOR CRUZ ARGHH”, and “Terrell Owens’ Latest Press Conference…”