The Buffalo Bills thought they could have come into the 2016 regular season and proved the doubters wrong. They had a clear opportunity to win against a team that many believe will be a fixture in the race for an AFC playoff berth this season, and they couldn’t capitalize on any of the opportunities that they had.
Where did it all go wrong for the Bills in their 13-7 loss to the Ravens? Seven observations from the Bills’ loss to start the 2016 campaign:
1) Tyrod with flash, but no substance
- Coming into the 2016 season, the Buffalo Bills believed in Tyrod Taylor’s progress through the offseason. They believed in it so much, that they signed him to a potential long-term extension that would make him the starting quarterback for at least the next few seasons. We saw bits and pieces of the excitement that Taylor can provide to an offense — especially with the incredible individual effort to spin out of two would-be tackles in the backfield, keeping his eyes down the field, and setting up Charles Clay for a 33-yard reception. That play single-handedly kept the Bills alive enough on offense to march in for their only score of the game. However, that was the last of the playmaking Taylor that we could see on Sunday. There were a few throws here and there that reminded us of his solid arm in throws to the sideline, but too often he left plays on the field. He didn’t take chances down the field to help push the defense out of crowding the box against the run, he flat out missed open wide receivers over the middle of the field in Robert Woods and Charles Clay — which was a problem of his in 2015 as well. While Taylor didn’t cost them the game, he certainly didn’t do enough to help them win it. If this offense wants to go to the places that they think he can, he needs to take far more chances down the field than he did on Sunday against the Ravens — namely, getting their star wide receiver Sammy Watkins involved way more than he was.
2) The wrong gamble at the wrong time
- The Bills played pretty well defensively in the second half — and really, they played well for the majority of the game, too. That is, except for the biggest play of the game: A 66-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Mike Wallace that ended up being the difference of afternoon. In what the Ravens said was supposed to be a run play, Flacco checked out of it immediately upon seeing Duke Williams lined up across from Wallace. In the words of Wallace:
“If you have a safety on me, he’s dead every time.”
Duke Williams didn’t even stand a chance. He’s done quite well over the summer to revive his career enough to be named the No. 3 safety on the roster, but for a player that has notoriously struggled in coverage, why on earth did anyone on the Bills’ defensive coaching staff think that was a good idea? Rex Ryan put it solely on him because the Bills doubled a different Ravens player, but your own personnel — let alone the opponent’s personnel — should be the one you understand more than anything else. It was the wrong call at exactly the wrong time, and Rex Ryan might have cost himself a victory by getting a little too aggressive with the wrong people on the field.
3) The game-winning play that wasn’t
- Despite all the offensive hardship — only 68 net yards in the second half — and the bad beat of Duke Williams, the Bills had a clear opportunity to steal the game, and it went straight through their hands. The Bills got great pressure on Flacco quickly during a play in the third quarter, and he threw an errant pass directly into the hands of Ronald Darby. All Darby had to do was catch the ball, and he had nothing but green grass, a few white lines, and the end zone in front of him — which would have given the Bills control of the game, we very well may be talking and writing about a win right now. Especially with how well the defense played down the stretch of the game — allowing only 83 net yards to the Ravens, a case can be made that that second score could have been enough for Buffalo. Of course, that would likely have changed the decision making through the course of rest of the game, but there’s no denying how much more of a chance they would have had. Darby has to make that play in that spot — or really any spot of the game.
4) Hughes is back, statistically speaking
- During the 2015 season, Jerry Hughes didn’t offer the type of sack production one would expect for a player with his type of ability. Even if his play on the field showed that he actually had a good season for Buffalo last year, the big stats were missing. Now that he’s freshly moved over to the left side of the defense, Hughes took advantage of a great matchup against right tackle and got into the backfield time and time again, ending the game with two sacks. Two sacks, being 40-percent of his sack production from a season ago, too. Some will point to his personal foul penalty in roughing the passer, but that’s actually a tough spot for Hughes, on a play that he believed Flacco was declaring as a runner. He still needs to be smarter on those plays, but other than that, Hughes was getting penetration in the backfield and even showing up with big plays in coverage, too. I thought he was the best Bills player on the field, for how often he was getting back to the Ravens backfield and disrupting the play.
5) O-Line uncharacteristically struggles
- The Ravens’ game plan on defense was pretty simple: They were going to load the box to try and take the running game away from the Bills, considering that Buffalo was one of the top rushing teams in the 2015 season. That mission was very much accomplished, frustrating LeSean McCoy on all but just a few attempts. The more concerning part was about how quickly the offensive line was letting the Ravens get into the backfield, therein ruining some of the rushing attempts before they even began. It didn’t help things that Cordy Glenn left the game with an ankle injury, but we saw Jordan Mills, John Miller, Cyrus Kouandjio, Eric Wood, and even Richie Incognito struggle at times. Considering how well the left side of the offensive line played in 2015, Sunday’s game against the Ravens probably won’t be the norm. Even still, it was surely a disheartening way to start the season for the running game.
6) Lorenzo Alexander continues to surprise
- When the final cuts came down at One Bills Drive, the biggest surprise of them all was the decision to let Manny Lawson go — considering the fact that many believed he would be starting for the Bills while they were without first-round pick Shaq Lawson. Likely for a number of different reasons, Manny Lawson was cut loose and the job was given to Lorenzo Alexander after an encouraging preseason. Alexander, mostly going against rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley, had a solid performance for the plays that he was on the field. He was getting penetration into the backfield against both the pass and the run, but the Bills did not keep him in there for extremely long periods of time — likely to keep him a bit fresh. Even still, Alexander had a noticeable and positive impact on the game on numerous occasions.
7) Interesting substitutions all around
- The Bills, on offense, defense, and even special teams made substitutions all throughout that were fairly unexpected with how things had been going in the preseason. On offense, we saw less of Marquise Goodwin than was initially expected, especially when the Bills went to three wide receiver sets. Instead, Greg Salas saw a fair amount of time on the field and even had more targets (1) than Goodwin against the Ravens. Perhaps it has something to do with Goodwin coming back from a concussion recently, but that development was unexpected at the least. On defense, despite how well Alexander was playing, the Bills used Lerentee McCray at right outside linebacker way more than was originally expected. McCray just came to the Bills during the final week of the preseason, and was getting quite a bit of time on the field. The same went for Ramon Humber, who joined the team around the same time and saw some time at outside linebacker as well, while Brandon Spikes replaced Zach Brown for a little while. Even Jonathan Meeks got into the game on defense, too. It was a lot more than just your average sub-packages on defense. Then on special teams, Reggie Bush got exactly one punt return attempt in which he fair caught the ball, and then the Bills brought in Brandon Tate to return the next one. Tate impressed on his lone opportunity, returning it for 21 yards when the Ravens weren’t expecting it, which may cause the Bills to re-evaluate their punt return situation.
Bills MVP: OLB Jerry Hughes
- Regardless of the penalty, Jerry Hughes was the most dominant player the Bills had on the field on Sunday. He was consistently forcing the issue off the edge.
Bills LVP: HB Reggie Bush
- Three carries, negative-four yards, and a lot of yards run to actually get those negative-four yards. He was not an ideal option as the number two running back on Sunday.
Sunday’s Injured Players: LT Cordy Glenn (ankle), TE Jim Dray (ankle), DL Jerel Worthy (unknown)
GIF of the Week:
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) September 11, 2016
- Despite suffering a loss that easily could have been avoided with just a little more offensive production, the Bills still have some things they can take away from this game in a positive light. For one, the defense played far better than expected — especially in the second half, and allowed that one gaffe to cost them. Most times, only allowing 13 points in a game is what dreams are made of for an offense. This game was certainly not like most times. The Bills offense sputtered all the way through the game, and didn’t show an ounce of aggressiveness during the game. That part needs to change, if the Bills hope to make themselves relevant in the AFC playoff race. The Ravens played them a certain way — loading the box against the run and drifting their safeties deep, and the Bills have to battle through that blueprint as an offense. If they don’t, we’ll see more of what we saw on Sunday. However, I expect Greg Roman to mix things up a bit more and force the issue against the New York Jets, especially considering the success the Bengals had throwing the ball outside the hashmarks on Sunday. The good news, it’s only the first game of a long season. The bad news, the Bills have four days to figure it out. All hope is not yet lost, but they already have significant questions about their team just one game into 2016.