Bills' D, Shaw Come Up Short in Loss

In my last piece dated just prior to game day it was explained why I believed the Bills' defense to have been somewhat overrated. This game was evidence of that. The Bills have played few top ten caliber scoring offenses this season. Through the beginning of this week, the Colts, Chiefs, Eagles, and now the Titans are the four teams that the Bills have played that possess top 12 scoring offenses.

The result in those four matchups, 0-4 with 106 points allowed in those four games for a per-game average of 26.5 points. In those four contests, the Bills have allowed an average 117 rushing yards per game with only the Titans, possessing the 28th ranked rushing offense, as the only one of the four teams not to exceed the 100-yard rushing barrier in those four matchups.

The Bills have also allowed an average 243 passing yards in those four games along with an average 346 net yards while amassing only 7 sacks, 4 of which came today vs. the Titans. They have generated no interceptions and only two fumble recoveries as the only two takeaways. As such I raise questions as to how good this defense really is. A defense touted as highly as the Bills' D simply doesn't possess such a shoddy track record. Even last season the Bills held the Chiefs to only 17 points vice 38 this season as well as other top ten defenses last season to fewer than 26.5 points against.

Today, defense was the primary issue as the D allowed 349 total net yards against a team with the 28th ranked rushing game entering the week, only the 16th ranked running back, and a quarterback in his first start filling in for a candidate for league MVP. Yet, on the Titans' five scoring drives, the Bills' defense allowed a total of 238 net yards on Volek's 14 of 24 for 186 yard effort and 7.8 yards-per-attempt.

Aiding the defense in allowing 28 points was Bledsoe's fumble and the only team turnover of the day setting the Titans up inside the Bills' red zone at the 18 yard line. That Titan touchdown turned what had been a 10 point lead into a 3 point lead with just over 20 minutes remaining. It also negated a forced Volek fumble returned by Big Pat for a TD and changed the momentum heading into the home stretch and gave the Titans the confidence that they needed to score on their next drive as well.

Against the Titans' 14th ranked yardage and 13th ranked scoring defense in front of loud 12th man, the Bills' offense was able to generate 19 points. It was the second highest total scored by the offense over the last 7 games yet not enough to get the job done in spite of a defensive touchdown by Pat Williams on the heels of Posey's sack and forced fumble. It is also not enough to erase doubts as to the effectiveness of the Bills' offensive game planning or Bledsoe's poor play and overall abilities.

Prior to the last Bills' drive resulting in a potential game-tying touchdown, Bledsoe had been a very lackluster 11 of 22 for only 72 net yards through the first 57 minutes. The Titans defense on that last series seemed as if they had assumed that the win was a foregone conclusion and most of the defenders, on top of playing in an extremely soft zone prevent, and were playing as if their minds were already in the lockerroom.

They almost allowed the Bills to walk away with a victory. In fact, had Bobby Shaw not attempted to raise the football on a controversial incompletion on the mat on the conversion attempt, there was a strong likelihood that it may have been ruled a completion and forced overtime.

Game Grades:

QB: C- Bledsoe was simply not good until the very last drive where the Titan D seemed as if they had "turned it in" already and considered a win a foregone conclusion. He a good half dozen inaccurate throws, threw several balls where he was fortunate that they did not end up interceptions, and contributed little through nearly 58 minutes with over half of his contributions offensively coming on the very last drive.

He did all this vs. the league's last ranked yardage passing defense. His only other touchdown came on a drive begun at the Titan 26 due to an outstanding punt return by Clements and on a drive with Henry providing the rest of the yardage. Billy Volek's game could have served as a clinic game for Bledsoe. In fact, I do believe that Volek is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Hint Mr. Donahoe, hint!

RB: A+ Once again, Henry provided well over half the offense through the first 58 minutes or so and did it versus the NFL's top ranked rushing defense and with virtually no balance from a passing game. He provided the sole punch to an otherwise flat offense through the first 11 drives on the strength of 19 carries for 88 yards and 4.6 yards-per-carry. What more needs to be said. Morris, Henry, and Gash also combined to log 6 catches for 35 yards upping the contribution of the running backs to total net yardage to over 50%.

WR: C+ Moulds and Shaw were the only two wide receivers who caught any passes on the day and combined for 7 grabs for 105 yards and touchdown. Shaw can be faulted for trying to hoist the ball on the final two-point conversion attempt in an effort to prove a catch thereby losing the ball resulting in a called incompletion. Coverage by the Titans was decent on the game also limiting opportunities for the Bills. Having said that, the receivers need to find a way to get open and Drew a way to get them the ball.

TE: A Mark Campbell played an excellent game and had an outstanding catch of a perfectly thrown Bledsoe pass on what may have been the game tying touchdown forcing overtime. Moore was inactive and Neufeld was not particularly visible in this game as the tight ends once again went far less used than they should have been. .

OL: B Once again, the offensive line paved the way for a very good day vs. the top rushing defense in the league. Pass protection was sketchy at times however Bledsoe had plenty of time that he simply did not do much with when he did have it.

DL: B- The defensive line created little pressure on Volek in the first half even when rushing five men. It was better in the second half. Schobel was the only lineman with a sack and had two, one in the first half, one in the second. Line play vs. the run was good but not great allowing 86 yards rushing vs. one of the poorest rushing teams in the league. Concerns over generating a pass rush in the absence of a blitz should be of top priority this offseason in free agency. Pat Williams returned a Volek fumble for a TD.

LB: C+ Spikes played solidly although not spectacularly. Posey logged a single sack that jarred the ball loose from Volek but was average otherwise. Fletcher played well vs. the run but once again struggled mightily in covering tight ends and running backs out of the backfield on passing plays. Pass coverage is a huge weakness for Fletcher that should concern the Bills braintrust and fans alike.

DB: C+ Coverage was sloppy throughout the game and in the first half in particular largely due to the defense playing zone coverage with skilled Titan receivers picking the gaps well. Nevertheless, it was an issue. Coverage was excellent on some plays, but the overall level of play of the secondary was sketchy allowing a team that had averaged 239 passing yards per game under McNair to amass 295 passing yards led by a first time starter. That should not have happened. Attribute a portion of that to the front seven being largely unable to generate a pass rush barring a blitz. Wire had one sack on a safety blitz in tandem with Clements on an extremely well designed yet risky play.

STs: C Kickoffs were fair, punting was good on only three punts, kick coverage was average, punt coverage was fair, kickoff returns were fair, and punt returns were very good.. Clements had one excellent punt return setting up the Bills' first touchdown at the Titans' 26 yard line putting the Bills' up 10-6 just prior to the half.

Coaching: B+ The "coaching idiocy" question of the day is, "why on 3rd and a short two at the Titan 4 yard line, on a drive where Henry is averaging 12 yards-per-carry, does the coaching braintrust call a sweep for Henry?" Henry has strengths, but sweeps and end runs are clearly not among them. So why then do the coaches, Gilbride presumably, thus answering my question, call Henry's weakness in light of exceptional run blocking and good running up to that point! See ya Kevin!

Summary:

This game revealed that the Bills' defense is really not as solid as the statistics suggest, statistics that have come at the hands of largely bottom 2/3 caliber offenses. Coupled with games vs. the Colts, Chiefs, and Eagles, the four teams that the Bills have played who ranked amongst the top 12 scoring offenses this season heading into week 15, have eaten the Bills' defense alive.

Instead of putting out articles about how marvelous the Bills' defense is, the organization may want to start looking at how they are going to correct the things that are currently wrong with the defense this offseason. They uncoincidentally happen to be the same exact things that were wrong with it heading into this season.

Once again, the passing offense was flat in spite of "window dressing" stats that without further analysis may suggest otherwise. The difference between this game and most of the others vs. very nominal opponents is that the defense went flat also bringing the Bills to 6-8 and mathematical elimination from the playoffs and a good likelihood of finishing in the basement of the AFC East this season.

Both the Jets and Bills are 6-8 but the Jets started 0-4 without Pennington and are 6-4 since then whereas the Bills started off 4-3 and are 2-5 since then on a downward spiral and unable to put up points offensively and generally speaking. Both teams have the same remaining opponents but the Jets face those two opponents under more favorable circumstances.

They face the Patriots in NY next week followed by Miami on the road. The Bills face Miami in Buffalo next week which may be good, but then must travel to Foxborough for a game that promises to serve as a revenge match for the Patriots which I simply cannot see the Bills even coming close to winning given the circumstances surrounding that matchup.

Next week vs. Miami are the Bills best chances for another win and their only realistic chances of another win this season. They will however be facing a Miami team likely vying for the final wild card playoff spot. If they fail to win either game then they will have finished 2-7 down the stretch, which would not be a good thing heading into next season. Yet, and alas, if I had to wager one way or another, I would unfortunately have to go with the Bills finishing out the season with two more losses against possibly playoff bound Miami and division clinching New England.

Here's to hoping that neither game is a tremendous blowout, that the Bills play with some poise and heart, that the offense can put up some points against the third and fourth ranked scoring defenses in the league, and that some positives can be found amongst an otherwise underachieving season. As Bills fans, hopes can now turn to the offseason and the NFL draft, which is only four months from now.

Comments: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net


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