Sunday, September 16, 2012

Post-Mortem: Bills beat Chiefs, Bills 35, Chiefs 17

I'll say what i said at the half; what a difference a week makes. In the fourth quarter last week, Bills fans were hopeful at the strength of C.J. Spiller on the ground, hoping for an incredibly unlikely comeback and wondering what the hell happened to the team that had so much hype during the summer. In the week leading up to this game, the Bills were dealing with questions of the lackluster secondary, the multi-million-dollar prima donna bust in Mario Williams and questions of what's going to happen with Fitz after a less than lackluster performance at the Meadowlands.

This week, the Bills came out and did what they needed to do to the Jets; punch them in the mouth. Things were not perfect for the Bills early on. But things don't need to be perfect for them to get going. C.J. Spiller (15 carries, 123 yards, 2 TD, 3 catches, 47 yards) was an absolute beast for the Bills, gashing the Chiefs time and time again, crushing them beneath his runs. It more than made up for a lackluster start for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (10 of 19, 178 yards, 2 TD) who struggled early in the passing game before finally capping off a solid drive that started in Chiefs territory after a Matt Cassel fumble with a sharp touchdown reception by Scott Chandler. In Fitz's defense, while he wasn't as sharp as we'd like him to be, the important spot on that stat-line is what's not there; No interceptions.

The defensive line was much improved as well. Free agent acquisitions Mark Anderson and Mario Williams both came up large when the game was still in question, Anderson (3 Tackles, 1 TFL, 1 QB Hit) with a big early tackle for a loss while Williams (2 Tackles, Fumble Recovery) capitalized on an Alex Carrington sack, turning into the Bills third touchdown. But it was a complete game by the front line, as Kyle Williams (3 tackles, 2 sacks) had a great game and Marcell Dareus (2 tackles, sack) had a tremendous performance, especially considering the tragic loss of his little brother in a shooting during the week.

But, the defensive line doesn't get that push at all if Cassel can keep moving the ball fast enough to counteract them. The secondary, which was picked apart by Mark Sanchez in week one had a solid game, not giving up very much at all until the game was already decided. The best drive the Chiefs were able to muster in the first half, near the end of it, was spurred forward by a big (and ridiculous) penalty on Da'Norris Searcy on a nasty but unintentional jolt he gave Kevin Boss, knocking him out of the game. It sustained the drive, which finally fell apart with the lone useful Chiefs weapon, Peyton Hillis, getting stripped on his way into the end zone, effectively finishing the half and the Chief's chances of getting back into it.

This was not a perfect game for the Bills. Fitz's early play left quite a lot to be desired and will do nothing to stop the voices who were calling for Barkley watch to begin during the week. The tremendous chemistry that he developed with Stevie Johnson (2 catches, 56 yards, TD) seemed sorely lacking. Stevie was targeted five times on the day, but there were a couple bad passes by Fitz and a bad route by Stevie on what would be the second TD drive (Spiller) with Stevie freelancing on a quick-hit play, making Fitz look bad. Spiller's touchdown certainly makes that seem less villainous, but it's one of those performances where you wonder what would happen against a better team.

All and all, it's a much better outcome this week for the Bills. Sure, it's easy to say that a win is better than a loss, but just as the 48-28 score was not nearly as close as it looks, so too was the Bills 35-17 win this week a lot more of a rout than it seems. But there were still a number of warts on the Bills performance. Fitz needs to improve and sit down with Stevie and figure out how they're both going to do what they need to do.  But, a win is a win and (with the 1-0 Jets still yet to play) the rest of the AFC East is also at 1-1. It means statistically we're all in the same boat. It's just a matter of performing.

Bring on the Cleveland Browns.


  • Leodis McKelvin had an impressive 88 yard punt return for a touchdown, making a lot of people remark on how much this was a mirror image of last week's game. Second longest in team history. 
  • C.J. Spiller's 2012 campaing marks the fifth time a running back in Bills history has run over 100 yards in the first two games of the season. The other four were Fred Jackson, Thurman Thomas and O.J. Simpson twice.
  • Bills defense recorded 5 sacks (Dareus, Carrington, Sheppard and K. Williams [2]) is the most in a game for the Bills since playing the Redskins in TO last year. 

Bills/Chiefs at the Half (Bills lead 21-0)

What a difference a week makes, eh?

Last week, the Bills were getting demolished by a Jets team that we were hoping to prove ourselves against. This week, the CJ Spiller show is on the air, in the air and on the ground. It's not a perfect game, but the Bills are looking rather impressive. Spiller is making the Chiefs defense look like they were just promoted from Pop Warner. As WGR550's Jeremy White put it on Twitter after the second Spiller touchdown, "CJ Spiller is the kind of back that scores touchdowns at the snap."

But it isn't just on the offensive side of the ball. The Bills defense has been stout today. They've only allowed one sustainable drive, the last of the half. It was buoyed by a long catch by the tight end Boss with a 15 yard personal foul call on a gnarly looking impact between the falling Boss and Da'Norriss Searcy that seemed to knock Boss out. Even then, they were able to come through at the goal line, forcing RB Peyton Hillis to fumble into the end zone, giving the Bills the ball back to finish the half, leaving them up by three touchdowns and set to receive the ball to start the second half. 

It is, essentially, the opposite of what we saw last week. And while I'm excited, the part of me that was trying to keep my head up after (and during) last week's debacle in The Meadowlands remembers well the start last year against these same Chiefs and how the season ended. 

Fast Facts
  • CJ Spiller had already been leading the league in rushing going into Week 2, is having a tremendous game, in the air and on the ground. So far, 11 carries for 92 yards and two touchdowns in addition to 3 catches for 47 yards.
  • Fitz has looked a little shaky, but he has done well enough not to lose. No interceptions is a huge improvement, plus a red zone connection with Scott Chandler for the third Bills touchdown.
  • The new defensive line has been stout. Mark Anderson had a big stop in the backfield, Mario Williams recovered a fumble after a big sack by Alex Carrington (yeah, I forgot he was still on the team too) and after the death of his brother in a robbery attempt, Marcell Dareus has two tackles for a loss, including a big sack of Matt Cassel

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Week 1 Post-Mortem: Jets exploit Bills, win 48-28

Many of the questions that we thought had been answered for the Buffalo Bills are questions again. All the questions we had are still questions. Let's take a look at the Buffalo Bills opening game of the 2012 campaign.

The Good: It is very hard at this point to see the bright side of today's game for the boys in blue. Even the impressive stat line for C.J. Spiller (14 carries, 169 yards, TD) is overshadowed by the fact that he had those touches at the expense of an injured Fred Jackson (6 carries, 15 yards). WR Stevie Johnson (4 receptions, 55 yards, TD) looked good when he got the ball, though his most impressive play was a 29 yard TD in garbage time where he was never touched. Scott Chandler (4 receptions, 38 yards, TD) had a solid game as a safety valve and Donald Jones (5 receptions, 41 yards, TD) was sure handed and, like Chandler, had a solid game. Also, until the last drive, the defense only gave up 89 rushing yards, which is a bright point considering how this Jets team ran all over the Bills the last five times they won.

The Bad: I don't know where to start here, except that it's a little easier because there was a lot of ugly in this game. While the highly-touted defensive line was helpful when it comes to the above-mentioned rushing success, there were no sacks. More importantly than the fact that there weren't sacks, Mario Williams, the highest-paid defensive player, in the NFL was invisible. His stat-line will go down as 1 tackle and possibly 1 hurry (or pressure, or whatever they're calling that stat this year). The linebacking corps also will get a mixed review today, again because of the combination of how (relatively) well they did against the ground game and the fact that the Jets had no trouble finding short routes. I know that can't be blamed completely on them, but they played their part and we didn't hear a lot about them, because by the time they were making tackles, the game was so lopsided that they weren't getting mentioned.

The Ugly: Let's start with the things out of the control of the team. Fred Jackson was hurt early in the game. Before the injury, his game wasn't great, certainly not the M.V.P. candidate numbers we saw before he was injured last year. It looked ugly, but doesn't seem like it was quite so bad. David Nelson (2 receptions, 31 yards) sounds like it could be a much more serious injury from what Chan Gailey stated after the game, but we'll wait and see how tests come back this week. Overall the Bills gave up four turnovers for a total of twenty-four points for the Jets. Finally, on the play that probably was the knock out blow for the Bills, there was a punt return for a touchdown.

The Disastrous: Ryan Fitzpatrick's numbers may be deceiving. Fitz went 18 for 32, 195 yards with three touchdowns and interceptions. It sounds like an even game, but was an absolute horror show. The touchdowns all came after the game was essentially over and the interceptions looked like the worst of Fitz's interceptions last year; badly thrown balls that make you wonder what he was thinking. As bad as the pick six in the second half was (or that the Scott Chandler first down that should have been a pick six if it could have been held onto by the first defender), I focus on the Darrelle Revis pick. Fitz through the pass he was the worst at to the receiver he trusts against the best cornerback in the league. Missing with that pass is criminal. A good quarterback knows what he can do and doesn't make that mistake against the best guy in the league. And while we're on the topic of coverage, the Bills secondary was brutal today. At the end of the second half, the best thing I could come up with was, "Well at least Aaron Williams was close enough to interfere with his guy on third down."

* * *

All in all, it's a bad day for Bills fans. As bad as Fitz was, and he was as bad as we've seen him, it was really only one game. We'll see what comes out in regards to the injuries for Jackson and Nelson, but while today was a shot at the swagger the fanbase had after the big free agent signings and the national football pundits being positive about the Bills' chances at the post season. Also, and as bad as the secondary and defensive line were, they didn't necessarily make Mark Sanchez look good (as terrible as they were when the game felt like it was already over); Mark Sanchez had a very good game, and he had a number of good passes that didn't need to have bad coverage to be completed. Some of them were very good.

Also, remember, next week is the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bills have plenty of chance to improve, and while they looked like a hot mess today, the wheels have note quite fallen off yet.  █

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Jets/Bills at the Half (Jets leading 27-7)

This was a game where I was expecting the Bills to come out, punch the Jets in the mouth and show the pundits who picked them in the preseason that their faith was not ill-given. The defense was supposed to be vastly better. We were hoping that a healthy Ryan Fitzpatrick, given a full off-season and the mechanical enhancements of QBs coach David Lee was going to mean a significant difference on the offensive side of the ball, especially with a healthy Fred Jackson and Stevie Johnson on the field.

The first series seemed good. The defense was bending, only gave up one first down and got a turnover. And then the wheels fell off. Fitz has been terrible, ending two drives on bad INTs, and C.J. Spiller put the ball on the ground after his best throw of the game, setting up a two-minute drill for Sanchez. Fred Jackson's numbers were bad (Six touches for fifteen yards) and was injured after his best run of the day. The loan bright spot was Spiller, with an incredible run that was aided by bad tackling.

And the defense. The defense has been a hot mess. They can't get off the field on Third Down. More importantly, the secondary battle looks like men against boys. On a lot of the plays, it doesn't look like there are defenders even on the play until after the pass is caught. It would be easy to say that they're making Sanchez look good, but a couple of his passes, the ones that were actually defended (weren't many) have been very well placed. For a defense that was gashed last year by opponents running game, they've only allowed one good run (and have contained the Wildcat efforts of Tim Tebow). But for a defense that was supposed to be so fierce against the passing game and was supposed to rattle Sanchez and the Jets faithful, this has been a terrible performance from the Buffalo Bills.

Oh, and when the Bills didn't turn it over, they gave up a punt return for a touchdown.

Fast Facts

  • On six possessions, the Bills have one touchdown, three turnovers (resulting in seventeen points for the Jets), a punt that was returned for a touchdown and a kneel down at the end of the half. The Jets have scored on ever drive since Sanchez ended the first with an interception.
  • The Jets are 3 for 4 on third down. The fourth was a questionable spot by the replacement refs and was still turned into a field goal.
  • Despite the interception by Revis on the first Bills drive, Stevie Johnson is the leading Bills receiving threat. At the half, he's caught three balls for a total of 26 yards. Spiller had 30 yards on one catch before putting it on the ground. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Rome Wasn't Built in a Day

It's amazing to think about the waiting game that we as Sabres fans were playing during the Suter and Parise sweepstakes that went on beginning July 1st. The whole league was really. The choices of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise were going to set the market and allow for the trading to begin. Sports pundit logic followed that once Suter and Parise's deals were done, Rick Nash would get traded. Then once the most available trade bait was off the table, the slightly less available Bobby Ryan would be able to be traded for by the Buffalo Sabres (or anyone else in the league, but let's be serious, we're more interested in the Sabres here).

After a long wait, the first domino fell; Suter and Parise were both signed by the Minnesota Wild. But then a funny thing happened; absolutely nothing. The Nash deal didn't happen, nor anything else on a large scale. Even Shane Doan has yet to decide on what team to sign with, torn between his desire to stay in Phoenix and his need for stability. With the market stagnant, the Sabres did what it seems like everyone locally was waiting for them to do and moved Derek Roy to the Dallas Stars in exchange for the gritty Steve Ott

Then came word of a massive contract offer from the Eastern Conference for Shane Doan with some conjecture that it is possible that the Sabres had made that offer. It sounded ridiculous, utterly and completely so, until the other shoe dropped; A report from Elliott Friedman of the CBC stated that the Sabres had offered the Wild's wonder twins up to $100,000,000 to play at the First Niagara Center. A move that would brashly make use of the deep pockets of owner Terry Pegula and let Darcy Regier figure the rest out. 

This changes everything. It may not seem like it does, seeing as the aforementioned whales didn't land with the Sabres. It means that no one on this team is safe. Don't get me wrong; in my head I have a list of players (namely Myers and Ehrhoff) that are essentially untouchable. But let's imagine for a moment that Ryan Suter and Zach Parise are Buffalo Sabres. Then we have an overwhelming abundance of quality defenders. Then, all those deals for top superstars, the ones that start with "We want Tyler Myers," the ones that we all figure Darcy would immediately hang up on, may become possible.

Can you imagine, for a moment, the Sabres starting the season with a line of Thomas Vanek, Ryan Getzlaf and Zach Parise? 

This all means that the Sabres can do just about anything. It reaffirms thoughts of making big deals and making this team something that we can not just hope, but expect to be in the conversation to challenge for Division, Conference and Stanley Cup Championships. And for that, I can be patient. I don't want to make a deal for the sake of making one. I want there to be a big deal. I expect a big deal. But I know that Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither are Stanley Cup Champions.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Why I can't blame the Philadelphia Flyers

The sports world (well, the hockey world at least) is abuzz at the Philadelphia Flyers' audacity in signing Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber to a ridiculous offer sheet that threatens to cripple the team however it turns out. It's either a financial crippling, making the centerpiece of one of the smallest of the league's small market teams pay through the nose for the man who has been their leader since he suited up for them or a publicity nightmare where (no offense to Pekka Rinne) the two best players on the team have left in the same summer. It also renews league-wide resentment towards the Flyers, who are either being resented for being the biggest of big fishes when it comes to making a splash in the summer or just a somehow less-honorable version of corporate-level Broad Street Bullying.

But I'm not buying it, and I'll tell you why.

What bothers me about the whole issue is the immediate flashback that most Buffalo sports fans will have to that terrible summer, when Kevin Lowe forced the Sabres to swallow the Thomas Vanek contract. The problem with that is that while Kevin Lowe was universally reviled for his actions in targeting both Vanek and then-Ducks rising star Dustin Penner (and G-d did I love Brian Burke for ripping him a new one after it), there's a question of vulnerability of the players targeted that is completely ignored. And because of that, and the situation, I don't think this is a fair comparison; in this case, Lowe took a swing at some low hanging fruit that was available at the time. He drastically over paid (not that the Vanek contract seems completely insane five years later) and in the end got one of the players he wanted. Good, young, developmental guys that had the possibility to be something great in this league.

And that is where my eyes are forced to look back a few weeks earlier in July.

In Buffalo, looking at that terrible Summer, there is still the argument over who we hated the most. Was it Chris Drury for taking the same money to go to play in Ranger blue for the same money we offered him? Was it Philadelphia for making a ridiculous offer to Danny Briere when the majority of us had already given up on him to chase Drury? Was it Lowe for making the Sabres eat the poison pill that was the Vanek contract when they were so low?

No. We hated the Sabres the most. We hated that Darcy Regier couldn't put the deal together for these guys. We hated that 'if we had just told Briere we'd take what was on the table for his long term deal, which was less than we offered him or Drury, he'd still be here.' We hated that Drury was upset that Briere was treated shoddily. We hated that we were watching a team that had the heart two summers previous if not the health to bring the Cup to Downtown Buffalo and had the skill if not the grit to do it the following year disintegrate.

So, as much as I hate the Flyers, I couldn't blame them for Briere and I can't help but blame Nashville for the mess they've gotten themselves into.

Look, I get it, they're a small market team that's fought, that's clawed tooth and nail to carve a rabid fan base out of Volunteer and Titan territory. We should want a guy who has so much grit and heart and pure "it" to stay in that town and help make that team what it could be if he just held on.

But here's the thing; Weber was a restricted free agent. People have been talking about the possibility of Weber being moved for over a year, be it the previous deadlines or now. You could have moved him for a player and some picks and remade your team. Or maybe, just maybe, you could have enticed him to stay. Not just enticed, but locked him in utterly and completely. You could have done something amazing, what the Sabres failed to do (because if you have Weber locked in long term before, maybe you get Ryan Suter and then you're looking at a Zach Parise or some other player up front.

You build yourself a dynasty, like they are growing in Pittsburgh. You make the guy who is the best player on your team and possibly the best player in the history of a team that had Mario Lemieux on it in Sidney Crosby a hero. You sign the OTHER guy who is a true superstar in Evgeni Malkin to a long term deal that doesn't cripple the team and hold on to a guy like Marc-Andre Fleury who can keep the roof from blowing off at the other end of the ice. And when you have a player like Jordan Staal  who you make an incredibly lucrative offer to and doesn't really want to go, you send him out and get a boatload in return.

At the end of the day, when the best player in the history of your organization's contract is coming up, you have three choices; lock him up, trade him away or run the risk of playing the blame game the way that Sabres fans did in '07 and Preds fans are going to have to do now.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

On Realism and the Fickle Fan Base

I'm hearing a lot of "Hockey Heaven is a lie," "Terry Pegula was scared off by the Rangers, what the hell!?" and "I was going to come back to watching hockey, but now I'm not because they gave up on Richards" from fans on and in other places.

It is not the defeatist in me talking when I say this; The Sabres weren't going to get Brad Richards. I know we wanted him and that anything seemed possible. And it still is. But not every player wants to come to Buffalo. Some people want a big city. Some people really want to play with their favorite coach or want a ridiculous amount of money that is going to make it impossible to make the rest of the team function without gutting it.

And that's okay. If Richards doesn't want to be here and wants a ton more money than is realistic, Toronto, Los Angeles, Calgary and (the team I bet he will end up with) New York can have him. And if you have any concerns about us second guessing ourselves and whether he is going to be overpaid, wait until you see the contract that Tim Connolly will get signed to not long after the Richards deal is official.

But that is all okay. If we go to war with this team (lines below) we're much better than we were last season if we can bring it together at all. We should have beaten Philadelphia last year and we could have beaten Washington. Now we've greatly upgraded our defense and traded out Connolly for Ville Leino.Despite what Darcy Regier has said about being done, I don't believe it. I think it's a smoke screen so that we don't overpay for another center.

And if it's not, well, it's year one of a three year plan. I'm not settling. I'm looking at what's been done and think that we have a team that's a Cup contender (though not necessarily a Cup favorite yet, need to see what what the team looks like on the ice before I go that far). I believe, as I did during the time leading up to the Regehr trade, that defense was far and away the best place to put our money (rather than focus on an overpriced center). We have one of the top goaltenders in the league and we've made our defense better by an order of magnitude. We'll be fine.

No wonder Ryan Miller goes into hiding in the off season. After all the good stuff we said about our town in the lead up and the wooing of Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff, we've become hyper-negative. So everyone, take a breath, and quit your bitching. We've improved the team a lot, and if you think failing to overpay Brad Richards means that the team isn't doing all they said, you're barking mad.

But, if you want to get off the bandwagon now, just remember that we're not going to let you back on just because Darcy made a move, and we sure as hell don't want you at the Party in the Plaza or the eventual parade where we ask which gawky white guy is going to rap about winning the Stanley Cup.