Same story with passing game: Let me make this first part clear: I thought Ryan Fitzpatrick - when he attempted to pass - didn't make careless decisions and also threw the ball well once he decided who he was going to throw to. He didn't play a bad football game at all by any QB standard. But, again, here we are on a day after a game having to talk and write about the inability for this offense to not only get the ball down the field in the passing game, but to even make attempts to do it. The difference in this game was the Texans had three touchdowns, the Bills had three field goals. And a big part of the reason for that was because the Bills didn't take shots into the end zone, even when taking that shot didn't require having to throw it really deep. The Bills have actually been very good in the red zone this year, with an over 60% conversion rate. But Sunday, when the field got shorter, not having that ability or threat hurt them, because Houston covered the short passing game very well inside the 20. The Bills had no answer (well, except to try to run the ball, but more on that in a moment). Overall, here are the numbers that speak a lot about the Bills identity on offense.
The Texans Matt Schaub had 19 completions for 268 yards (a 14.1 average per completion). Ryan Fitzpatrick had 6 MORE completions (25) for 29 LESS yards (239) (9.56 avg/completion). That is an incredibly huge gap by NFL passing standards. In fact, to put it into context, Fitzpatrick's yards-per-completion Sunday was 9.56. The worst yards-per-completion in NFL on the season (for 34 QBs overall) going into this weekend was Matt Hasselbeck.....at 9.9! So, Fitz and the Bills were almost a half a yard (a huge number for this stat) less than what the overall worst yards-per-completion average is in the NFL for any team overall over the first nine weeks, even with 25 completions and a 66% completion rate on the day.
It's not too hard to do: After the game, Ryan Fitzpatrick said to the media: "we have to find a way to get CJ (Spiller) more touches." Well, here's a way to do it. Shocking concept, I'm sure…..turn around and hand the ball to him (or Fred Jackson, for this matter) . He's standing less than three yards away from you! Of course, to do that would require Chan Gailey to actually call a play that required the ball to be put into CJ's hands via a run, and, once again, that didn't happen enough. Not nearly enough. Spiller and Jackson each had only six carries. In the second half, when the game was 7-6 coming out of the locker room and the Bills had the ball for the very first possession, Spiller had TWO carries for the entire half. Jackson had ONE! My colleague Howard Simon tweeted Sunday an amazing - and incredibly frustrating - piece of information: "Last carry by a RB for Bills came w/ 8:23 left in 3rd qtr in 14-9 game." There is only one legitimate excuse for this happening, and that would be IF the offense was making plays down the field in the passing game. And, as I just wrote, they aren't. So there is no excuse. I tweeted at halftime that the second half of this game could literally either define or re-define Chan Gailey's coaching tenure in Buffalo. Well, it did define it. It defined it perfectly. Because THAT was the very definition of many of the Bills problems this season. And the definition of Gailey's play-calling through the first eight games.
Rookie regression?: Right about now is when some rookies start to hit a bit of a wall in the NFL. Especially those who've played a lot. They're not used to playing a sixteen game season, and even though it's only half-way through right now, the mini-camps and training camp and practices and later hours all count. It's natural. I'm not sure if TJ Graham is hitting that wall, but he appears to have regressed a bit the last few games. In his first four games, he had 10 catches for 93 yards. In his last three, he's had 4 catches for 16 yards. He also had a big drop in the Arizona game. Of course, the fact that Gailey isn't calling deep shots down the field (or Fitz isn't taking them) can be part of the issue, because Graham may be/should be that guy who would be targeted. However, just watching him play, Graham appears to have regressed over the past few weeks. It will be interesting to monitor and see if this keeps up or he becomes more involved in the offense again.
Stephon Gilmore is another rookie who has played a lot. And although I don't think he's regressed in that same sense, he looked like a rookie against the veteran Andre Johnson Sunday. Some of it wasn't his fault, because his defensive coordinator had him playing so far off Johnson even when the situation called for tight coverage, making it an easy catch. But he also got beat on rub-routes, allowing too much separation, and also missed a couple big tackles. I like Gilmore as a player and think he'll be very good in this league. But it certainly wasn't his best day Sunday.
Defense did enough: No, the turnovers weren't there. No, the big stop at the critical moment didn't always happen. But, if you allow only 21 points in this league, you should generally win. And if you allow only 21 pints to a team averaging over 30 a game, you REALLY give yourself a better chance to win. Going into this one, if you told me the Bills would hold the Texans to 118 rushing yards and only a 36% 3rd down conversion rate (4 of 11), I'd definitely have taken that and taken my chances with the Bills winning. It should be enough. Obviously, it wasn't.
Mario Watch: I thought Williams played a good game. Not great, but good. He had the one sack, but also made a few plays to disrupt the Texans offense and cause Schaub to have to make a couple errant passes.
More Moore: Kyle Moore had a very good game. He's a free agent after this season, but I'd like the Bills to re-sign him. This offense seems to fit him well and he made plays Sunday - again - some not seen on the stat sheet. Like Mario, he had a sack, but also caused disruption in the passing game.
The Kelvin Scale: Kelvin Sheppard had what I thought to be his best game of the season. He was more physical than I had seen before and really made some big stops in the hole in the run game. That was very nice to see. The Bills need him to play bigger than he has, and he did Sunday, and it helped the run defense a lot.
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