This week's overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons can be heaped onto the pile of missed opportunities for the 2013 Buffalo Bills. You know about the two fumbles that cost the team dearly, but there were bigger issues on the day. Jeremy White's All-22 looks at EJ Manuel's lock-on looks, Kiko Alonso's struggles, and CJ Spiller's return to brilliance.
Stevie Johnson fumbled. Scott Chandler did too. I'm not going to bother showing you what happened on those two plays. You saw it. You'd like to un-see those plays (or at least that's my guess).
Both fumbles came on crossing routes, and a play that worked for the Bills all day long.
A staple of the Bills passing offense (and likely many for that matter) is to give Manuel multiple options over the middle of the field. I've felt that his strength is making this throw, regardless of the defense. He's shown an ability to allow targets to clear to the second level, and also to put the ball on target over the middle.
Manuel even has TJ Graham here as an option on a deep ball if he wants it. This play is a 3rd-and-1 so he takes the easy compltion to Johnson to pick up the first down.
The crossing route from Johnson, with Chandler at the second level is also the play the Bills ran on the Johnson fumble (so...NOT this actual play). It was a matchup they identified early when Atlanta was in man coverage. Kudos to Fred Jackson too. It's not the sexiest part of the RB job, but it's vital to a team's success. Think about how big that oncoming defensive lineman is, and Jackson bumps him right off line allowing EJ to make the play.
Manuel made some good reads on the day. With a rookie QB the All-22 ends up playing out with some good, some bad. Best throw of the day came on a deep ball to Robert Woods that EJ was able to drop between a pair of defenders.
When the DB bluffs man and then drops back into a zone, Manuel and Woods make the connection to a soft spot along the sideline. It's a very good throw and a gutsy catch from Woods who likely knows that he's going to get popped.
Manuel played well enough to win the game, particularly if you consider the final drives of regulation and overtime. However, he was a part of an offensive attack that did very little in the second half of the game. Take a trip back with me....let's trace where the Bills went wrong.
Falcons Kick FG to win >> Chandler Fumbles >> Stevie fumbles >> D gives up late TD >> Offense fails to close the game.
If you go back to the Bills possession that came before the Atlanta TD, you'll see...well...not a whole lot to like. CJ Spiller lost three yards on first down, putting the Bills in 2nd and long deep in their own territory.
As the play develops the Falcons drop back into coverage it appears to be a fairly standard Tampa 2 zone (This is a Cover 2 zone where the middle linebacker drops to take away the deep middle.
As Scott Chandler turns to face Manuel, he's available for a decent gain here. It's 2nd down and the Bills could really use half that distance to make a 3rd and manageable situation. Problem is, Manuel is locked on. He looks at Robert Woods right from the snap and never leaves him. Woods is the only receiver to the right side of the field, so Manuel doesn't have another option that would flash into his field of vision.
Manuel never looks...fires wildly out of bounds and the Bills are stuck in 3rd and long. They'd follow with a delay of game, a short pass to Fred Jackson, and a punt. The Falcons scored on that next possession. Some plays are more glaring than others, but there are often dozens where you could do better.
Another look at points left on the board for the Bills comes earlier in the game. The Bills are in the red zone looking to come away with a TD (which has been a problem at times this year). It's 3rd-and-long, and Atlanta drops into their zone coverage. The underneath routes of Stevie Johnson and Scott Chandler aren't available. Manuel takes the dump off, and the check down means the Bills settle for a field goal.
Did you see it? The line holds up, there's time to throw, but nowhere to throw the ball. Well...maybe there's one spot.
It's a tight spot in the back corner of the end zone but TJ Graham flashes open. If you look closely you can even see the Falcons DB look back to see where Graham is. Is he open? He seems to think so. Safety isn't going to get there. DB isn't in position. Ball gets checked down and the Bills take their three points.
EJ's day wasn't anything spectacular. Watching on the All-22 I got a feeling of wanting a little more from him with progressions. There are four weeks left and he'll likely be the focus of all four of the remaining breakdowns.
The Falcons were able to carve up the Bills defense with long runs between the tackles and around the edge as well. There are a few things that pop out when looking at the tape. First up, we'll take a look at Kiko Alonso.
Alonso might win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and could possibly go to the Pro Bowl depending on how things shake out. He's been a great addition to the defense, in large part for his ability to track running backs like a heat seeking missile. Watching Alonso from the endzone camera all season long has been a treat. You watch the back, and you see Alonso mirroring his movements to meet him in the hole. It happens all the time.
It didn't happen in Toronto.
Frequently Alonso would be lost in the shuffle. He'd jump into a hole, only to see Steven Jackson jump back to another lane.
Alonso has jumped off the tape all season long for his ability to shed blockers and get to the running back. He seemed to struggle to make those same plays in Toronto, and the field conditions may have been part of the problem too. (There was a play where Alonso was dropped with a Jackson cutback but it didn't count because of a holding penalty, so I didn't include it). I don't think it's a cause for major concern, but it's certainly a part of what went wrong Sunday.
The Falcons ground game wasn't exactly death by a thousand cuts. The big plays packed a punch. On 3rd-and-1 the Falcons run short yardage off the left guard, and Jackson ends up in the end zone, untouched.
The play goes away from Alonso, who again gets caught up in the traffic jam. Filling the hole are both Jim Leonard and Aaron Williams. Williams takes on the FB, leaving Leonard alone.
Atlanta was successful between the tackles for tough yards, and they were able to bounce it outside as well. Another long TD run came on a toss sweep to the left side. This is a power run play executed flawlessly.
At the snap the center cuts the legs of Marcel Dareus while Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez seal off the left side of the line.
This springs THREE blockers as a cavalry for Antone Smith. Three blockers, three defenders and one ball carrier. The Bills are in trouble as the play develops.
Alonso and Aaron Williams over commit chasing the play, and the cutback does the rest.
This is my second favorite CJ Spiller game. First is still Arizona from last year, but the game tape is quite similar. Spiller is fast. He's shifty. When he's at his best, he sets up moves, with other moves. It's awesome to watch.
On the Bills opening possession Spiller ripped off a 77 yard run, the longest of his career.
Kraig Urbik's ability to hold his block springs Spiller initially. As he dances through the hole into the second level, it's important to watc the safety coming to help.
This is what CJ Spiller does.
He beats the safety to the spot, and it's off to the races. The goal is always to get Spiller into space to deal with DBs, and it's clear why. He has great change of direction and small jab steps that set up bigger cuts. The TD run shows this well....
He reads the block from Johnson and it's a double-move. (I hope it translates with my VINE effect I tossed in there. It was worth a try, right?)
Hope you've enjoyed the looks...
Jumping off the tape this week - CJ and Tony Gonzalez (he was a beast).