Sunday, October 12, 2014

5 Things: Patriots 37 Bills 22

1. There was a big question early in the season after the Patriots started 0 - 2 if this was the year Tom Brady was finally finished, that his decline as one of the greatest to ever play was eminent. Yeah, about that. Facing a very good Bills defense in the second half, and without top rusher Stephen Ridley and nothing but a bunch of question marks for receivers, Brady put up 24 points, including a couple of pinpoint throws down the field. Oh, and did I mention that he lost one of his starting offensive linemen (Dan Connolly) from a line already filled with question marks? Brady is still great. Which means the Patriots will probably win the division. Again.

2. I became a Bills fan in 1988, when the Dallas Cowboys fired legendary coach Tom Landry. I've been one ever since. These 14 years and counting of the Bills not even making the post-season, after such startling success in the nineties, has been failure on something approaching spectacular levels. In a league like the NFL, 14 years without making the playoffs is like 40 in Major League baseball. It's just mind boggling. So today's game, with a chance to grab the division lead, and the gap in talent much closer than it's been in years, the Bills laid an absolute egg in the second half. Brady is now 23 - 2 all-time against the Bills. I doubt that's going to change very soon.

3. It isn't that the Bills do not have talent. They do. The problem is that the places that lack talent means they employ players who are SO below replacement level they bring down the team. Duke Williams, for example, is a tremendous special teams player. But he's a terrible safety. His two penalties today were of the "what the hell was that" variety.

On the offensive line, Erik Pears has been awful at guard for them. He was today, as well. Most casual fans do not understand guard play, the offensive linemen who line up on each side of the center. Here's a quick tip to help you understand if you're getting good guard play. Your ability to rush the ball, and your ability to protect the quarterback up the middle. Well, the Bills haven't been able to garner a consistent rushing attack all year, and that's with a duo (trio?) of talented backs. Eric Wood is a solid center. Pears gets thrown around and beaten so often, plays are wrecked before they even begin.

In the back end, McKelvin should not be playing. As a nickel back in certain situations? Maybe. But he got exposed today, as did Graham back at safety. The one touchdown was a direct result of his being out of position.

When one player on a unit is horrific, the talent level around them almost doesn't matter. All about the weakest chain.

4. Lack of offensive creativity. At some point, they have to figure out how to get CJ Spiller going. The line isn't good enough to open holes for him (like Dallas does for DeMarco Murray) but he's too good a playmaker not to get him involved. Put him in a Percy Harvin role. Get him the ball in space. Otherwise, you'll be starting drives 2 and 11 or 2 and 13 like they did today.

5. Speaking of the offensive line, watching Dallas beat Seattle today should be a lesson. The Cowboys have three top picks on their offensive line. Zach Martin, their 16th overall pick this year, played four years at Notre Dame. (I might have missed two of them.) He's a guard, the least glamorous position in football, and he's changed everything for them. They run the ball with authority, and they protect the quarterback. The Bills haven't had consistent guard play since they let Andy Levitre go to the Titans a few years ago. Now that they have a new owner, maybe they need to start paying more for a position that is vital to winning but gets no publicity. It's great to have Sammy Watkins on the outside. But if you can't run the ball, and your quarterback doesn't have time to throw it down the field, then it doesn't matter how good your skill guys are.