CJ’s impact is even more than meets the eye: We all know and understand how much the Bills will miss CJ Spiller for whatever length of time he may be out. Losing him hurts both the running game and passing game overall, of course. But the one area Spiller’s absence really showed up after he went out Sunday was the Bills inability to convert on 3rd down. Before Spiller got hurt, the Bills were 12-for-22 on 3rd downs (54%) for the season, which is terrific by NFL standards. After Spiller left Sunday's game, the Bills offense was 3-for-13 (23%), which is awful by NFL standards. Spiller creates mismatches on 3rd downs in the passing game Ryan Fitzpatrick can take advantage of. He also has the ability to pick up the first down when the Bills need three or four yards by running the ball out of the spread offense. But his biggest contribution on 3rd down is just being on the field. Defenses know he’s always a threat and either leave a linebacker or safety closer to the line of scrimmage than they normally would in that situation or often choose to use a DB as opposed to a LB on him when he splits out on 3rd down. That leaves another player, like TE Scott Chandler, with the mismatch. No matter who it is, Spiller’s impact on 3rd downs can’t be understated and is something the Bills will have to find a better way to compensate for without him.
McConfidence! There is no player I can ever recall in a Bills uniform more effected (or is it “affected” in this case?) by his own confidence – or lack of it – from one play to the next than Leodis McKelvin. He certainly doesn’t do a very good job of adhering to the old adage “cornerbacks need to have a short memory.” McKelvin is a good punt returner. But he’s even a better punt returner when he’s either not playing much on defense or even not playing at all. And when he IS playing well on defense or returning punts? Look out. The last two weeks he’s been terrific as a punt returner, averaging an incredible 30.2 yards a return and of course scoring a TD against Kansas City. He hardly played any defensive snaps in either game. Instead of getting beat down the sideline or in the end zone on a jump ball (like he did against the Jets in week one and often last season) and then thinking about it and letting it creep into his special teams play, he’s been able to just concentrate on his return duties. And after another strong game in that department this week, when he was finally inserted into the game late on defense to help preserve the win knowing the Brows would be throwing, he came up with an interception.
Mr. Jones: One of the most inconsistent players on the team last year has been one of the most consistent through three games so far this season. And Sunday, wide receiver Donald Jones not only came up with several key receptions for the offense, he held on to a couple of them after getting drilled by a defender. Last year, Jones dropped passes he should have caught and rightfully took a lot of heat from fans. So far this season, he’s been very steady and reliable for Ryan Fitzpatrick. The more Jones continues to demonstrate he’s a part of the offense – and if he continues to make plays in key spots – the more teams will have to give Stevie Johnson just a little more room.
Doing too much laundry: As a caller pointed out to me on the Overtime postgame show, if the Bills commit 10 penalties for 75 yards against teams not named the Cleveland Browns, it will hurt them a lot more than it did Sunday. He was right. That’s too many penalties. That’s far too many yards to give away. Luckily, those penalties didn’t hurt the Bills as far as the final score was concerned. But chances are that won’t be the case if it happens over the next several weeks when they face teams like New England, San Francisco, and Arizona. They have to clean that up.
No other Choice: When you’re down to your 3rd running back becoming your primary ball carrier for basically an entire game, things will most likely find a way to go awry. But Tashard Choice did a great job of making sure that didn’t happen to the Bills Sunday. Sure, Choice had 91 yards rushing, averaged 4.6 yards per carry, and was just a yard shy of 100 total yards from scrimmage in just over three quarters of action. But the fact he looked so comfortable and confident in the offense was also a big key in helping the team to the win. Choice knew his assignments, didn’t make any glaring mistakes, and was generally just solid all-around. There’s a lot to be said for guys in that position being prepared and ready to go when they are pressed into duty. And even though Bills players and coaches want to get Spiller and/or Fred Jackson back as soon as possible, I’m sure they all feel a little better about having Choice back there than some of the backs other teams would have to turn to in the same situation.
Stats Smats: I don’t care what the NFL stat-keepers said after the game. That Ryan Fitzpatrick whiff-pass-fumble was NOT a sack and shouldn’t be counted as one. They need to change that, and I’m guessing they will. But even if they don’t, I’m still considering this offensive line as still not allowing a sack on the season. Three games in. That’s pretty darn impressive.
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