We're Not Out of the Woods Yet: Some Latent Thoughts from the Bills Game

Before I get started, I want to give big props to someone in the the GGN family who allowed me to access to their NFL Rewind account. I don't want to name names, because I doubt this person wants an onslaught of similar requests. But you, my friend, are oozing awesomeness. Sincerely, thank you. You have no idea what fun it is for a junkie like me to have this at my disposal. Like Wyatt intimated in one of his stellar posts, that "condensed verson" thingamajig is... [italian fingers kiss!!!].

Like a lot of you, I didn't really know how to react to the slaughtering of the Bills. Are we really that good? Are they really that bad? After watching that game a few times, I can safely say that the answer to both questions is Yes. Unfortunately, that doesn't tell us a whole lot about what this team is and what it can be. So I guess we'll just have to keep watching and see how it plays out. There were definitely good things to build upon and accentuate, but they will also be game-planned for going forward. And there were some bad things that can easily be cleaned up, but they're also some of the re-occurring problems that have been factors in sinking our canoe in years past.

The coolest thing that I took from carefully studying the game is that I am fully convinced that Tony Sparano is an avid reader of GGN. Its so obvious that it gave me the giggles. Its like somebody printed out all of the fantastic posts written here that detailed the flaws of Schotty's system and the brilliant suggestions of how best to use our personnel, and he went and used them as a sort of Declaration of Independence and Constitution. They are the basic tenets and core philisophies that establish the institutional framework for all that flows forth going forward. So keep writing sharing your brilliance. He reads this ish.

I was really impessed with the way we ran the ball. We stayed committed to it. It wasn't sexy, but it was efficient and effective. And because of that, we were in 3rd and manageable all game long. We ran the ball with some creativity, which was a breath of fresh air. And we ran it with authority. We attacked every gap and we ran out of a myriad of formations. We often deployed power plays where we pulled an OL or two up and through. It was good old fashion smash mouth football. And it was glorious. Some things need to get cleaned up, though. Brick has to do a better job. There were several occasions where he failed to sustain his block and his man blew up the play. Slauson got owned on way too many occasions for my liking; a couple of which where we had things blocked up nicely for what might have been a big play if not for his short-comings. Cumberland also messed up what could have been a big run by not staying on a LB. These are all things that can get better with reps and focus though, so thats encouraging. But then again, guys like Brick and Cumberland have a track record of not being very good run blockers. All in all, however, I think the run-game is going to be good this year. I think we can hang our hat on it as our bread and butter. There's going to be games this year where we get it rolling and just flat out steam roll teams. We're gonna get those guards and tackles pulling and knocking guys around, and we're gonna get the War Machine cranking and blasting down hill. We're gonna put it on some teams that have weak defensive fronts. I've read countless articles from GGNers pleading for dedication and creativity in the run game. Tony did too.

I'm really encouraged by what I saw with the Tebow package. I know it didn't get crankin against the Bills, and it failed to yield very much yardage. But we were literally one block away from at least two big plays. I mean BIG plays. Plays where we had everything set up perfect except for one guy missing a block and wrecking it. I really like the basic set up of it. We like to pull the guard and tackle from one side to the other, and get those guys in maul-mode with a head of steam. My favorite is when we pulled Moore and Howard to the left. We had McKnight motion from right to left and faked the sweep, and I think we had Greene fake a dive at the spot where the pulling OLs vacated (freezing the DLs there), then we get Tebow behind a convoy of two OLs and McKnight. We had it set up beautifully twice, but it got wrecked. Once by Slauson, who got owned on scrimmage and his man busted it up. On the other, Joe McKnight literally ran right past a DB and up field; and the DB made the play on Tebow who had two OLs out in front of him and nobody else within 5 yards. McKnight didn't even have to make a good block, all he had to do was get in his way, and we would have popped it. But he literally ran right by the guy. It was crazy. Any who... its gonna get going one of these games. I have no doubt about it. And, contrary to what some believe, you definitely have to dedicate preparation time for it. If the defense doesn't prep and stay disciplined with the ball fakes, and don't maintain gap discipline at certain places of emphasis, we're gonna get those OLs going down hill on LBs and DBs and we're gonna do some damage. And there's so many little variations that you can do within the basic framework that if you're not prepared, you can easily yield a big play. E.g. if your DE/OLB simply focuses too much on Tebow and gets sucked in a step, and we sweep McKnight right around the edge.

The way we executed our passing game is what has me absolutely convinced that Sparano reads our stuff. It was uncanny. Nothing crazy. Just simple things that we've been screaming about for years. Things like moving Keller around. I saw Keller all over the place in that game. He was line up in-line, in the slot, motioned out of FB... He was everyhwere. And he was used in tandem with Cumberland A LOT. It was delicious. How many times have you read a post here asking for this? I know its a lot because I wrote a bunch of them myself, along with about fifty other GGNers. Its so simple, yet so effective. He's a weapon, and defenses pay attention to him. You can see how hard it is for defenses. Where's Keller? Which side is the strong side? Who has him? And he'd be in one place, then another, in tight, in the slot, next to Cumberland, and then at fullback, then motioned from this side to that side... And every time he released into his route he took at least a safety and a linebacker with him. Tony isn't stupid (he reads GGN!!!), he used that to his advantage. He weaponized it. He also had Cumberland working drag routes and routes up the seam. Simple, common sense stuff. It wasn't magic that caused our receivers to have so much space to work in with solo match-ups. It was two athletic TEs drawing LBs and safeties away from our receivers on the outside. And he did simple things to free up the receivers too.

How many times have you read a piece on GGN begging for more utilization of bunched receiver sets? A lot. Well, guess what? Tony read those too. Quite a few times I saw Tone and Kerley in a twin set and running a simple crossing route. Of course, those sets cause some anxiety for DBs. They're tough to cover if you're not prepared for them (preparation time dedicated to stopping the Tebow Package perhaps). Tone often would line up on the outside and break inside, with Kerley doing the opposite. We ran a variation of it for the Kerley TD (except on that play Tone faked a WR screen), we ran it to pick up a big first down, and we could have hit it late in the game for a huge play (but Sanchez missed it). Unfortunetly, on that last one, Sanchez locked onto Tone and tried to stick it in there to him. I think it might have been the only bad read-throw that he made that game, flick pick notwithstanding. They ran the cross and both DBs stayed on Tone and Kerley was WIDE open to the outside. It was a bad bad miss. I mean he was wiiiide open and nobody was there to stop him from turining it up and going to the house. He also missed Tone on a crossing route earlier in the game, but I chalk that up to just a miss. It was just out of his reach. It happens. All in all, though, I really really liked the way Sparano utilized formations to get his personnel in favorable match-ups all game long.

The defense simply has to sure some things up. Couple guys got smoked off scrimmage on double-teams, which will happen a lot less frequently when Po'uha comes back. Sione draws and stymies a lot of double teams. And, obviously, guys have to clean up the tackling. One of Spillers huge runs should have actually been a tackle for loss, but Kenrick let him go in the back field. Big cap tip to Spiller, by the way. He's a lot stronger of a runner than I thought he'd be. Fred Jackson will not have a spot to come back to if Spiller stays healthy.

All in all, the ball bounced our way against the Bills. A punt return and a pick 6 put this game to bed before it had a chance to even be a game. We were lucky to recover two of our own fumbles. We were also pretty lucky to cause and recover (Landry and Bell) a Buffalo fumble after they hit a big play. But at the same time, our offense went up and down the field at will against the Buffalo defense. And our defense completely dominated the Bills' offense sans garbage time. Are we that good or are they that bad? I don't know. But I do know that they had absolutely no idea what they would see from our offense that day. Their defense went into that game blind. Now lets see how our offense does against better competition and more preparation in the coming weeks. Lets see if we can isolate and execute in situations that are a little more pressurized. Its easy to execute and take shots when you have a quick 14 point cushion. Lets see how they do when we're down 7 and we LOSE a fumble or miss a throw. Lets see if the defense can keep harrasing QBs and creating turnovers. Lets find out how good this team really is.

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