The Rockpile Review: Eagles Shot Down in Buffalo

Editor’s Note: We’ve agreed to begin hosting the “Rockpile Review,” a weekly mainstay written by “Shaw66” at the Buffalo Bills Message Boards for years. It will continue to appear in its normal place at the BBMB, but will now reach a new audience through the Bills Mafia Blog as well.

Shaw66 has been a Bills fan since attending the the first game at the Rockpile in 1960. He’s new to the Bills Mafia, but he’s been a leader of the Ball Burglar’s gang since it was formed in 2004. (What is the Ball Burglar? Click here to find out.) He claims he can barely spell “Twitter,” but he can write.

Shaw66 brings a long-term perspective few in the #BillsMafia movement have, so view this as an opportunity to perhaps have your horizons expanded a little. While the tone may be slightly different than our other bloggers “on staff,” Shaw66 still brings an attitude that is consistent with what #BillsMafia is all about.

Eagles Shot Down in Buffalo

It’s hard to believe, but it’s there in newspaper, in black and white, every Monday morning. The team that couldn’t find a way to win much of anything just a year ago now finds a way to win, week after week.

The formula is becoming familiar, a formula designed to cause heart failure across western New York, but it works. Give up lots of yards, be good at taking the ball away from the opponent, have just enough tricks in the offensive game plan to put some points on the board, be good on special teams. And then hold on for dear life as the clock runs down – intercept a Hail Mary, kick the game-winner on the last play, induce the opponent to give you just enough downs to run the clock out.

Call it living on the wild side. Call it living on the edge. Call it whatever you want. It’s working.

Make no mistake about what happened on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. This was NOT a game where the hapless Eagles made mistake after mistake and gave the ball away so often that they couldn’t recover. This was a game, just as in weeks before, where the Bills were better prepared to win the game than their opponent.

The Bills were as physical as they’ve been all season.
Tthe Bills were as physical as they’ve been all season.

The Bills were ready for the Eagles, and they beat them.

First, the Bills were as physical as they’ve been all season. Perhaps hurting from their disappointing loss to the Bengals, perhaps simply driven by their coaches, the Bills turned up the intensity on both sides of the ball, and they BEAT the Eagles. They ran on the Eagles. They pounded the Eagles on special teams. And they beat them on defense. It was an old-fashioned, physical showdown, and the Bills came to play.

There was plenty of speed on display, for sure, but every time some speedster took off on the Bills, he got hit. Michael Vick’s best run of the day ended with him being driven off his feet as he headed for the safety of the sidelines. Jairus Byrd never missed an opportunity to hit someone. Most kick returns ended with gang tackles. The Bills came to play.

It wasn’t just hitting that made the difference. It was timely hitting and ball hawking. Some may think the Eagles simply gave the ball away five times, but that isn’t what happened. The Bills were prepared to take the ball, and they did. Michael Vick threw interceptions because he was getting hit by blitzers coming from angles he hadn’t seen on film. The Bills attacked in different ways, seemingly never the same way twice, and he was uncomfortable all day. The Bills created that discomfort, and that discomfort gave the Bills the opportunity to get the ball.

It wasn’t simply blitzing Vick. It was smart defense. Byrd went after the ball and caused a fumble. Florence, no doubt benefiting from film study, left his man and went after the ball that Barnett eventually caught to save the win. Simply a great play. Corner made an outstanding athletic move to make an interception.

The Bills took this game. The Eagles didn’t give it to them.

Some say a looming problem with the Bills is that they’re giving up too many yards on defense, and they are. Yet somehow the Bills look like they have a pretty good defense. How can that be?

One answer is that the Bills have played some of the best offensive teams in the NFL. The Pats lead the league in total yards, the Eagles are third, the Raiders are 8th. The Bengals are 17th and even lowly Kansas City is 19th. So the yards are perhaps a little deceiving.

Jairus Byrd is emerging as a force.
Jairus Byrd is emerging as a force.

Another answer is that the Bills are still figuring out how to play this defense. Byrd is emerging as a force. He seems to be everywhere, and seems always to make the play. Barnett too. Carrington makes plays every week. And the Bills are packaging players in all sorts of combinations to combat the weapons they face. Sheppard’s getting snaps and playing with energy. Moats appears to be willing himself to more playing time.

The offense continues to be worrisome. The Bills weren’t able to get deep again this week, and as the game wears on, the defense keeps closing down the passing lanes. It seems to become impossible for the Bills to throw the ball more than five yards down field. Everyone is playing zone against them, and seven guys can cover a zone pretty well when it’s only 20 yards deep.

Fitz threw another INT to the linebacker in an underneath zone, and the Bills were lucky to survive the mistake without giving up points. It’s a rookie mistake, but it happened in part because the Bills simply haven’t been running routes deep enough to create enough open space for that throw. And now, with Jones down, it isn’t clear that the Bills have anyone who can run those routes. Maybe Smith and Spiller will see their roles changing a bit.

Still, there’s not much to complain about with Fitz. He knows where to go with the ball, and he gets it there. He was masterful both on the QB sneak on third and five, and on the fourth and one, drawing the Eagles offside. In both cases, he (fake) audibled, pointed out defenders, moved around like he was a bit confused, giving the Eagles just enough confidence in the edge they thought they had to be caught off guard. Fitz doesn’t fluster.

The offensive line did its job, again. How about Hairston?

One of the hallmarks of the success of Bill Belichick is that for ten years, whenever he lost a player to injury, some guy with no experience would step in and the team would move forward as though nothing had changed. And we’re seeing that phenomenon in Buffalo. Rinehart covered for Urbik, now Hairston for Bell, and nothing changed. Sheppard and Moats and Rogers are getting serious minutes on defense, and they are not glaring weaknesses. It’s good athletes and great coaching.

Fred Jackson continues to amaze. He has some unique skills, and Gailey puts him in position to use them. Fred’s no power back – he isn’t going to run over anyone. He’s no speedster. But give him enough space and only one man to beat, and he is remarkably difficult to tackle. And if you run a spread offense so the DBs and linebackers are running all over the field, trying to cover receivers, and THEN you give Fred the ball with one man to beat, look out. When that happens, and that’s where Gailey is trying to get Fred with every touch, after he beats the first guy, there is a LOT of open space. Fred knows what to do with it.

Great win.

The noise is back at Ralph Wilson Stadium!
The noise is back at Ralph Wilson Stadium!

And a great day at the Ralph. It began with 150 current and former Jills on the field, dancing in formation. I just grinned to think about how long all this has been going on, this show that keeps us coming.

If you went to a game at the Ralph in the past few seasons, and if you haven’t been back yet this year, it simply is not the same place. In 2011, THE NOISE IS BACK!!! The Twelfth Man isn’t consistently loud yet, not on every play, and especially not when the Eagles or the Pats are chewing up lots of yards at will late in the game (that’s downright scary), but it’s loud enough, and it’s getting louder every week.

And the joy is back. SHOUT! doesn’t sound like some silly relic that the Bills are holding onto for some unknown reason. The points go up, the music starts, and it’s OUR song, and we’re going to let the visitors know that this is our place and they’d better get used to the music, because they’re going to be hearing it a lot.

The stadium was full of blue and white, bathed in bright sunshine. The wind and rain and snow are coming, and because the fans are just a little bit crazy, we’ll welcome it. The visitors will need to get used to the wet and the cold AND the song, because that’s Buffalo, baby, and you better come ready play.

I talked to two guys whose seats are in front me. Every game, they’re part of a group of four – an older gentleman, a couple of guys around 50, sometimes a third guy, sometimes a kid. For the Pats game, all three men were there, and they looked alike. Yesterday I asked if they were brothers. They told me yes. Three brothers and their father. I asked the guys if they came to games when they were kids – sure, they said, their father has had tickets since 1960! A father and three brothers invested in 52 years of Bills football, 52 years of ups and downs, thrills and Jills, disappointments and wins. Now the guy is bringing his grandchildren to the games.

His patience is being rewarded.

GO BILLS!!!

The Rockpile Review is written to share the passion we have for the Buffalo Bills. That passion was born in the Rockpile; its parents were every-day people of western New York who translated their dedication to a full day’s hard work and simple pleasures into love for a pro football team.

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