Estimated reading time: 7 minute(s)
The NFL is a cruel league. You hang an L on your record in a game you should win, and it haunts you all season long. It stares at you as reminder of what could have been, what should have been. In the NFL you have to win the games you should win, and you need to win some of the games you shouldn’t win. The Bills lost an important opportunity against the Dolphins.
1. The offense clearly lost this game.
The NFL in 2008 is an offensive league. If all your offense can put on the board is 16 points (the Bills averaged 15.8 a game in 2007), you aren’t going to win enough games to compete for a championship. Three field goals and a touchdown against the Dolphins just does not do it. 17 points against the Cardinals didn’t do it.
The refrain from 2007 is now starting to sound equally true in 2008: The Bills would win if the offense would produce.
Why don’t the Bills score more? Hard to say exactly – some thoughts are below.
2. The Bills passing game clearly lost this game for the offense.
The NFL in 2008 is a passing league. One touchdown pass a game – all the Bills are getting in 2008, and more than they got in 2007 – doesn’t do it. 6.4 yards per pass attempt doesn’t do it. With only a few exceptions, in the NFL, if you aren’t throwing it effectively, you aren’t winning.
The Bills passing game gave up a safety, an interception and a fumble. That alone was enough to lose the game. But the Bills aren’t getting enough big gains out of the passing game. The Bills aren’t getting receivers into the end zone. The Bills were playing against one of the most porous pass defenses in the league, and they made those defensive backs look like Pro Bowlers.
We’re back to the 2007 questions – is it that we don’t have receivers who can get separation, or is it the patterns? I don’t know. All I know is that the Bills have to pass better than that.
3. Quarterback is the most important position on the team. Trent Edwards didn’t get it done. For the first time in 2008, he looked like a second-year quarterback. We’ve been saying for 10 months that we have to expect some games like this from Trent because, after all, he IS a second-year quarterback. But he’s been playing so well, I began to think he was mature beyond his years. No such luck. You can’t fool Mother Nature – there is no substitute for experience.
He probably lost the game on one play – the quarterback sneak. What was he doing? He has to know what happens when a ball carrier sticks the ball out there like that. At the goal line, maybe, because the play ends once the ball breaks the plane. In the middle of the field, never. Not in the middle of the defense like that. Total bonehead play.
The safety was nearly as bad. His job in the end zone is to avoid the safety. Get back, make a decision, unload it. That was two points and field position that resulted in a field goal. After that, it was a two possession game. Bonehead play.
The interception was unfortunate. He stood in, made the throw, and misjudged by just a split second when he would get hit.
Is Trent beginning to suffer from the same love affair with Lee Evans that troubled JP? Lee had seven catches and five more that he threw to Lee. Again, I’ll ask, is Lee the only receiver who can get close to open? Or is Trent locked on Lee? I don’t know. (I watched in a sports bar with a lot of noise and no audio, so I didn’t hear and didn’t notice that Reed left the game. I’m sure that made a difference.)
Trent’s vaunted accuracy failed him, too. He missed on several balls that he should have thrown better.
This was not the Trent Edwards we’ve seen earlier this season. If what see saw against the Dolphins is what we’ll see the rest of the season, the Bills will struggle. A passer rating of 77 doesn’t get teams to the playoffs.
4. When the Bills were winning games earlier this season, they did it in part by minimizing the mistakes. Not against the Dolphins. Neill’s snap over Moorman’s head. Royals’ fumble. Dockery’s hold (although it may have saved a sack). Preston’s unnecessary roughness.
5. As much as I like Fred Jackson, I do not understand why Marshawn Lynch is not in the game in the red zone. The man is a scoring machine. I don’t know how he does it, but he does it. I’m sure the coaches have some reason, and I’d love to hear it. All I know is that I’ve never seen a ball carrier who can pick up the scent of the end zone better than Marshawn Lynch. Put him in the game and give him the ball. Put him in the game and run play action. Put him in the game.
The running game was pretty good. Unfortunately, this is a passing league. (The Bills topped the run; the Dolphins stopped the pass. Dolphins won.)
6. During the week I heard some commentator say that the Colts defense was built to play with a lead. The Bills run the same defense. It’s a good defense. They played well enough against the Dolphins, especially in the points column. But this defense is NOT going to win games for the Bills week after week. It couldn’t win the game against the Dolphins.
The defense gave up two drives for touchdowns, and the Bills offense gave up a safety and three short fields for field goals. If the offense had held on to the ball, and if the offense could have scored one more touchdown, the Bills win.
7. The Bills’ efficient tackling abandoned them at times against the Dolphins. Greer, particularly, was missing the open field tackles he made last week against the Chargers.
Over all, however, the Bills did a good job taking ball carriers down. As good as Brown and Williams are, the Bills stopped them. Of course, it may have been that the Bills were so concerned about stopping those two that the Bills couldn’t stop the pass. That was certainly the case on the first touchdown, where Whitner and all his teammates bit on the play fake.
The Bills stopped the run. Unfortunately, this is a passing league. While the Bills were stopping the run, they fell asleep on the pass. Which leads me to another question …
8. How in the world could this defense make Ted Ginn, Jr. look like a Pro Bowl player? Really. McGee gets torched on the first play of the game, torched so badly that when Pennington – in classic Pennington fashion – underthrew the ball, McGee STILL couldn’t get there in time to break it up. 7 for 175, when the best he’d been able to so far this season was 7 for 55? 2 for 17 against the Jets? He puts up 175? Are you kidding me?
It looked like pure speed. I don’t think the Bills have a defender who can run with him. Maybe it was a break-out game for the guy. Maybe the Bills just thought they could handle him man-to-man; maybe every other team managed to cover him man-to-man. Maybe the Dolphins were running some new schemes. Whatever it was, the Bills coaches miscalculated somehow.
Ginn was the difference for the Dolphins offensively. Hold him to 100 and the Bills win, even with their offense sputtering.
9. Lee Evans was just short of brilliant. He didn’t get much separation on a few routes, Trent threw it anyway, and Lee couldn’t make the catch. But he’s clearly a challenge to cover man-to-man. He gets open, he catches the ball, he fights for yards. Impressive.
Hardy’s doing a little more each week. Reed made a spectacular run after catch for a first down – the Bills will miss if he’s gone for a while. Roscoe didn’t do much. I’m the one who will argue forever that tight ends aren’t that important, but even I have to admit that Royals has been a liability. All you need your tight end to do is get open once in a while, catch the ball when it arrives, and hold on to it. Royal’s second fumble in three games, plus a drop, suggests the Bills need another solution.
10. This was a killer game Sunday. Lose a division game on the same day the other two teams in the division win. The Bills are tied with the Patriots, a team that was in full view in the Bills’ rear-view mirror only a couple of weeks ago. The Bills have the worst in-division record. If they want to control their playoff destiny, they need to start with a win against the Jets next week.
Maybe the Colts will do the Bills a favor and take down the Pats next week. But if you want to win anything in this league, you have to win it yourself – you have to keep the ugly Ls off your record..
Memo to coaches: It’s a passing league.
If you’re looking for more on the Bills and Dolphins, check out the podcast at www.BuffaloBillsReview.com.
See you next week.