The long wait has finally ended, folks. The NFL regular season is alive and kicking for another year. After what has been a fairly tumultuous offseason with roster turnover aplenty, we finally got to see the on-field manifestation of new Bills head coach Sean McDermott’s much-lauded process in a game that actually mattered.
The opening game of the season couldn’t have been more favorable to the new man in charge with a home fixture against the already dismantled New York Jets. The Buffalo Bills came out victorious 21-12 and, due to the New England Patriots loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and Hurricane Irma, Buffalo sits atop the AFC East. We can all still dream for now!
We’ll take you through the good, the bad, and the Shady of the action in Week 1.
On offense, the 2017 Bills will go as far as quarterback Tyrod Taylor is capable of taking them. In his first start under new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, there were a few positives to take. Taylor looked more composed in the pocket, didn’t bail out of said pocket at the first sign of trouble and managed to utilize the middle of the field in a more efficient manner. His tight window completion to Jordan Matthews in the first half being a great example of this.
The vertical passing attack looks as uninspiring as many believed it would. Against a better class of opposition, it will be a vital cog in helping Taylor keep the team competitive. The integration of the inactive Kaelin Clay needs to happen quickly.
While the roster looks almost bare bones in some areas, it does contain one superstar in LeSean McCoy. ‘Shady’ was at his supreme best in Week 1, ripping off a number of long runs and proving to be a dynamic post-catch weapon in the passing game. The Shanahan/Kubiak West Coast schemes have typically encouraged targets to members of the backfield so it shouldn’t be unexpected to see his six-target day replicated most weeks.
The most heavily-targeted player in Week 1 was tight end Charles Clay. It was encouraging to see nine attempts go his way but Clay needs to do a better job of his primary job; actually holding onto possession. It feels a bit cheap to talk about cap hits and salaries but, as the tight end with the sixth-highest average salary in the NFL, fundamental issues like drops will cast a shadow over any performance.
Continuity on the offensive line is always a good thing and the Bills returned the same five starters for the second consecutive season. The right side of the line struggled to get a consistent push in the run game but with the rotation of John Miller and Vlad Ducasse in preseason, perhaps the lack of cohesion could be expected early on. In pass protection, there were a few individual errors that caused Taylor to adjust accordingly but the pockets were clean enough to execute on the whole. Cordy Glenn only played 56 of 77 offensive snaps with rookie Dion Dawkins spelling the recently-injured stalwart at left tackle.
The plan on defense seemed to concentrate on stopping the run and forcing Josh McCown to throw the ball a lot. It worked.
Against the run, the Bills defensive line looked stout, showing the capability to get off blocks and freeing up pursuit lanes for the linebackers. In total, the Jets were held to 38 rushing yards on 15 carries. In terms of pass rush, there wasn’t a lot of pressure to write home about. McCown was intent on getting the ball out of hand as quickly as possible and that affected pressure statistics. When the rush did get through, it had a dramatic adverse effect on McCown’s ability to be a competent game manager.
Pressure was key for the Bills defense today pic.twitter.com/BOawtIIKzv
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 10, 2017
A trend that we should expect to continue in the trenches is rotation. Jerry Hughes played the most but saw action on just 79-percent of snaps. Every active reserve lineman played at least 11 snaps with Ryan Davis leading the way with 21.
Throughout the offseason, there was a lot of grumbling (myself included) about the situation that the Bills have found themselves in at linebacker. Week 1 cleared up any doubts about the direction the team are going in with Preston Brown and Ramon Humber playing all bar one defensive snap between them.
Humber undoubtedly caught the eye, registering 13 tackles in his what was just his 20th start at the age of 30. While not noted for his athletic ability, Humber looked capable of being a three-down, sideline-to-sideline backer. The entire linebacker group rallied to the football quickly and clamped down on yardage after contact. Lorenzo Alexander started at strong-side linebacker but was limited to 25 snaps due to the Jets throwing the ball out of three-receiver sets often. Some of his snaps came as a pass rusher in nickel packages.
A completely revamped secondary will undoubtedly take a little bit of time to settle in. The new boys in the defensive backfield did have a helping hand with their first test being an impotent Jets passing attack. Despite the talent level on show from the ‘Mediocrity from The Meadowlands’, the secondary held up well, making some impact plays along the way.
Rookie first-round pick Tre’Davious White and E.J. Gaines held up well on the boundary. The pair saw a combined nine targets, allowing five to be completed for a total of 45 yards. White also dropped an interception chance. Leonard Johnson’s place as the team’s primary nickel corner was confirmed, playing 46 snaps during the game.
At safety, a solid game for Micah Hyde was overshadowed by a fantastic individual performance by former Cleveland Browns safety Jordan Poyer. Poyer, who signed a four-year, $13 million deal during the offseason, could prove to be excellent value for money if Week 1 was a sign of things to come.
Poyer had three tackles, a sack, an interception and a pass deflection during his Bills debut. Along with showing versatility, Poyer played the game fast and free from doubt. His tackle on Jets tight end Eric Tomlinson in the flats being my personal favorite, chopping down the 263-pounder with consummate ease.
While it’s hard to judge a team after a single game against possibly one of the worst teams in the league, there’s a definite feeling that things have changed from the Rex Ryan era. There seemed to be a better discipline amongst the players, both in terms of personal conduct and schematic understanding. It was simply a relief to see 11 players on the field for all 58 defensive snaps.
It’s no secret that I’ve been critical of a number of offseason moves (and I know that I’m not alone in that regard) but I feel as though “the process” had a solid outing on the field. That’s truly where all of this counts. It’s going to take more than a nine-point victory over the New York Jets to convince me entirely but, just for the next few days, I’ll trust in the process. Sean McDermott has earned that much.
Editor’s babble: We’re thrilled to have Stephen Culley back with us to share his scintillating analysis for our blog. You can follow Stephen @StephenCulley.