Fitz has regressed: When new QB coach David Lee was brought in, we were told he was working hard on fixing some of Ryan Fitzpatrick's mechanics. Fitz talked a lot about how he was accepting of the coaching and appreciative of it. Well, six weeks into the regular season and ten games counting the preseason later, none of that work is showing up. At least not in a positive way. In fact, it looks like Fitzpatrick's mechanics are even worse, and it's showing both on the field and statistically. Not that completion percentage tells the entire story about accuracy, but it is a window into QB play. Fitz's completion percentage was 62.0% last season. It's down to 57.9% through six games this season. That's even lower than his career average of 59.1%. Also, his interception percentage is the highest (worst) it's been since his rookie year, throwing a pick every 4.4% of the times he attempts a pass (it was also 4.4% in 2009, his first year in Buffalo, when he started ten games). By the way, heading into Monday night's game, Fitz is 27th in the NFL in completion percentage and 30th in interception %. Both of those numbers are unacceptable for a veteran starting QB in this league. And both are numbers that won't lead to many wins. But if you're looking for a change at the position anytime soon, you're going to be disappointed. Tyler Thigpen isn't going to give this team any more of a chance to win. And we can all scream about Tarvaris Jackson not getting reps in practice and not being activated, but that doesn't look to be happening any time soon. Especially at 3-3, there won't be any changes. If they were 1-5, management and coaching may pull that plug and start to move on already. But the season is salvageable and everyone in the division is tied. So, like it or not, it's Fitz or bust right now for Chan Gailey. So far it's been a lot more bust.
Byrd is the Word: Jairus Byrd's two interceptions were both critical to the outcome of the game. Especially the one in overtime, obviously. But aside from how big those plays were, it was great to see a Bills safety FINALLY make a game-changing play at a critical moment that helps win a game. It's something that has frustrated me because it's been an issue since Donte Whitner was in the back end of the defense. The most successful teams in the NFL in recent years have had safeties that not only make plays, but make plays that change games in their teams' favor. But not the Bills. Donte Whitner was the king of not making plays when the Bills needed them the most, and making plays when they mattered the least. George Wilson. Bryan Scott (who is now a linebacker). Da'Norris Searcy. Pick a name out of a hat. Some plays have been made. Interceptions. Big tackles. Sacks. But not at critical moments that changed games and led to wins. And more often than not, we've talked about how the Bills safeties were abused by opposing teams' tight ends, receivers, and even running backs. Not Sunday. Jairus Byrd made two plays. And a safety finally made one that mattered.
CJ, Fred, CJ, Fred: I love the fact the Bills have two very good running backs. Two guys who can not only run hard with the ball and make big plays, but also catch the ball out of the backfield and contribute on all three downs. But CJ Spiller is showing and proving more and more every week that he is the talent the Bills envisioned when they selected him ninth overall in 2010, and that he's the running back that gives the team the better chance to move the ball and score touchdowns right now. So that needs to happen more. Spiller made cuts and moves Sunday like he was back at Clemson playing other college kids on defense. But these are NFL linebackers and DBs he is making look foolish. That's hard to do. It's a cliche to say "he can score from anywhere on the field," but with Spiller, it's literally true. And that threat exists as soon as that hole opens and he squeezes through. Again, Jackson is very, very important to this offense, and maybe even more important to the team overall with what he brings in leadership and reliability (recent fumbles not withstanding). And he needs to carry the ball and get touches in the passing game. But Spiller needs more of them. At least until defenses start focusing on and stopping CJ (if that happens). And for those who call WGR and write about how the Bills should just trade one of them (that call used to be about Spiller, but of course now it's about Jackson), that's foolish. We've already seen both of them get hurt this season. There are ten games left. They need two good backs. Having them both healthy is ideal, but that's probably not going to be the case the entire season, every game.
Joe D's Group: Offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris did it again. He took an offensive line put and held together with duct tape and wire and string and got them ready in a quick week and got them to perform well, considering the circumstances. Of course, it's not all on D'Alessandris. Gailey deserves credit here, too. And of course, the players deserve the majority of the praise for getting ready, knowing their assignments, and (for the most part) getting the job done. They're the ones who had to do it on the field, and looking at the numbers - and the final result - they did. The Bills averaged 5.0 yards per carry running the ball. Ryan Fitzpatrick (and Brad Smith) were sacked only twice despite dropping back to pass 35 times combined. And considering this was on the road in a very close game late, that's a very admirable job by the unit overall. We know what Andy Levitre and Eric Wood can do and have been doing all season. But Chris Hairston filling in at left tackle, Chad Rinehart filling in at right guard, and normal starter Erik Pears, who's been about average most of this season, all deserve a lot of credit for not only playing well, but communicating to each other and working together in a tough situation. Of course, this team needs to get Cordy Glenn and Kraig Urbik back as soon as possible. But knowing the next game is at home and then the bye comes after that, I feel a heck of a lot better about the OL depth for one more game than I did before Sunday.
Play-calling: I'm not one to harp on play-calling much. There are always plays in every game that we can look back at and complain about. And I generally believe play-calling is the easiest thing to complain about or praise because everyone sees it and the result so clearly (without knowing the exact call and assignments and audibles). Also, every play is designed to score a touchdown. Every one of them. All eleven defenders are accounted for when the play is drawn up. In a perfect scenario, if every player makes their block, a play should score a touchdown - or at least get a big gain (of course that doesn't take into account bad throws or dropped passes). It just comes down to executing those called plays. As Marv Levy used to say, play-calling is overrated. Execution is under rated. HOWEVER, this was clearly the most demonstrative I've ever been after a game regarding play-calling. Especially the Brad Smith pass call. I've heard Chan Gailey's explanations about why he called it. They saw the middle of the field was being left open and wanted to put the nail in the Cards coffin. I believe him. But I still don't like it. The Bills were running the ball well. They had the Cards on their heels. There wasn't much time left. Wildcat was fine there. It had been successful earlier in the game. But then let Smith run it. But better yet, how about just handing the ball off to CJ Spiller or Fred Jackson? Let them gain positive yardage and keep the clock moving. It was an awful call. It was one of the only times I've ever felt a play call could be a fireable offense for a coach after the way it turned out (the interception). Luckily for Gailey, things found a way to work out for his team in the end. He now says if he had to do it over again he'd run the ball. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, but let's hope he remembers that the next time they are in that situation. Heck, let's just hope they're in that situation again soon.
Kevin "Steve Young" Kolb: The defense played pretty well for the most part. They were put in some bad situations, but the bottom line is they held Arizona to 16 points and harassed and sacked their QBs most of the day. But an alarming trend and number was the way Kevin Kolb ran all over them from the quarterback spot. He wound up with 66 yards. He had 34 the entire season coming into this game! And it was big runs in big spots that really killed the Bills. looking ahead, they don't play many "running" QBs, but you can bet offensive coordinators on the Bills schedule took notice of how much room Kolb had all game long and how he took advantage. And those teams will try to take advantage the same way. Here's your weekly "fix it!" to Dave Wannstedt: find a way to stop the QB from running on you. Or it will keep happening and only get worse.
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