The Bills continued their trend of losing in even games with a flat performance against the Cincinnati Bengals. It was an ugly second half of the game and the shocking thing is two areas the Bills were good last year, Special Teams and defense, have been horrendous this year and it was very evident against the Bengals.
Schwartz…Please Come Back
Rex Ryan is considered a defensive guru by many as his exotic defenses and aggressive tendencies are supposed to confuse QBs and get turnovers and sacks. Rex inherited a top 10 defense that led the NFL in sacks and was top ten in takeaways and the defensive line was one of the best three in all the NFL. Instead of adapting his scheme to the players, he changed the scheme entirely and what was a strength of the Bills is now a weakness as they struggle against the pass and struggle mightily to get pressure on the QB. This year they have had Jerry Hughes, Mario Williams and even Kyle Williams drop back into coverage from time to time to “confuse” opponents which is hilarious if you think about it.
Against the Bengals, Rex outsmarted himself as he was expecting a quick passing game, instead Dalton attacked the Bills downfield and they suffered due to many times only rushing three. This led to the Bills getting shredded by Dalton and even the running game taking them out. The Bills played a lot of zone which meant every other player not named AJ Green was able to get open and move the chains. The Bills clearly miss Aaron Williams as Bacarri Rambo and Duke Williams are just horrible in coverage. Rex’s insistence on running his scheme or else has clearly made an already great defense into a mediocre defense. Rex Ryan is the NFL version of Charles Kelly.
It Was Fun While It Lasted
The Bills had their best game offensively since the Miami game and were actually able to have some success in the 1st half. LeSean McCoy was back and even though he wasn’t 100%, was still able to make some big plays and give the offense a spark. He only got 17 carries but did get 90 yards and if he was 100%, he definitely would have got at least 25 carries. In the run game, the offensive line improved greatly over last week as they were able to open some holes and the receivers downfield were also doing a great job blocking. This was a welcome change over the past two weeks and with the Bills being a run first team, they will need to have similar rushing production each week. The only negative in the rushing game I could really fine was Boom Herron who on one play was in such a hurry to run, he forgot to get the ball first, leading to an awkward QB run that did nothing.
Tyrod Taylor was out with a knee injury which meant EJ Manuel started for the first time in over a year. He was very antsy in the beginning as his very first throw he didn’t put anything on it, leading Big Play Clay to make a diving catch and earn his contract. Overall he played decent, not great nor bad and wasn’t the reason they lost. He only made one really bad decision which was the interception. On that play initially it was the right play, but when he had to hold the ball an extra millisecond due to a jumping lineman, the corner read the play and was playing the ball. That was a play where he should have moved to the checkdown on the first down marker, or not underthrow it. There were two miscommunications, one on a back shoulder throw to Watkins who didn’t look at the ball until it already hit his chest, the other when EJ changed the play at the line to exploit one on one on the outside and Woods not on the same page. What EJ did a great job was attacking the middle of the field where he was 16 of 19 for a 8.36 YPA. However he didn’t really attack down the field like Tyrod did, as the majority of his throws were the 8-15 yard variety. There were some slight accuracy concerns as he was off target on a couple of throws and some the catches were slightly behind and the receivers were unable to do anything after the catch.
Watkins was great in the one drive he was involved as he was making catches like crazy until the evil turf took out his ankle. Once he got injured, the offense suffered mightily as they lacked a true playmaker besides Shady. The biggest concern I have noticed all year is how little trust Greg Roman has in either Tyrod or EJ as a passer. Roman for both QBs has primarily done a split field, hi-lo read offense with very little freedom pre-snap. Outside of Watkins, the majority of the other players are struggling to get separation as the route designs are not getting them open. If the pass game wants to get any better, Roman is going to have to give more freedom to his QBs to change plays at the line. There were numerous times all season where the pass play was doomed to fail based on the looks of the defense and the QB was unable to do anything about it.
Overall this loss was due to the two phases of the game many did not expect, the defense and special teams. The defense which is supposed to carry the team got gashed time after time and the playcall is putting players outside of their comfort zone. What was worse was the special teams as penalties put the Bengals in great field position and put the Bills in horrible field position. Dan Carpenter struggled on kickoffs and I hate to say it, I miss the kickoff specialist. As long as the Bills have Dan Carpenter kicking FGs, they need a kickoff specialist as Carpenter has no leg on kickoffs. Until the Bills draft Roberto Aguayo in the 1st next year, they need a Jordan Gay.