-It didn't take long to see the play of the game. It was the second play from scrimmage-Bobby Rainey's 80-yard touchdown run on 2nd and 10. The Bills lined up in their version of the '46' defense with eight men in the box, seven of them at the line of scrimmage. It's a defense designed to pressure the offense on what Buffalo no doubt thought would be a pass play by the Bucs. But with eight in the box, the '46' can also be an effective changeup defense against the run.
The issue on this play was that the '46' leaves little margin for error behind the line of scrimmage. Once Bobby Rainey cleared the line of scrimmage with a little half-step to his right, the Bills were in trouble. MLB Kiko Alonso jumped too far to his left and with Alan Branch in front of him covered up by the center, Alonso was put in a bad spot. Rainey slid off Alonso's tackle attempt. Buffalo had one single-high safety, Jairus Byrd, who followed the offensive motion to his left. Once Rainey cut to the defensive right, Byrd was out of the play and had no chance.
On Monday, Head Coach Doug Marrone said the defensive mistakes behind the line of scrimmage resulted in Rainey's long touchdown run.
"At the second level we need our linebacker to get over the top," he said, "and to stop the touchdown we need to get someone in the secondary to go ahead and make that play."
Rainey showed good speed on the long run, even though his 40-time two years ago was a pedestrian 4.53. With the Bills in a high-risk, high-reward defense on this play, it only took a couple of breakdowns to get the game started off on the wrong foot for Buffalo.
-Bucs QB Mike Glennon didn't make many good plays in the game and he only completed nine passes. But his 38-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson late in the first quarter was an impressive display on arm talent and improvisation.
The Bills had an overload blitz to Glennon's left on the play with Jerry Hughes and Kiko Alonso coming hard. Marcel Dareus forced Glennon out of the pocket rolling to his right. Glennon did a good job keeping his eyes downfield on the play and he was able to see the veteran Jackson scramble into the end zone with Nickell Robey in coverage. Glennon showed tremendous arm strength to heave the ball down the field and Jackson made a great adjustment on the ball in the end zone for the touchdown.
Again, not a thing of beauty. But it's the type of play that makes you think Glennon could have a future in the league as a Joe Flacco type of quarterback, once he gets more comfortable and is surrounded by more talent.
-It may have been a milestone type of game for Bills linebacker Nigel Bradham against the Bucs. It was his first start of the season after starting 11-games in his rookie campaign. And Bradham got 41-snaps at the weak side linebacker spot, 71-percent of the defensive snaps.
He finished the game with 6 total tackles including some good run stops. Midway through the 2nd quarter, Bradham made a good, quick reaction on a 1st down run by Bobby Rainey, stopping him for a one yard gain. In the third quarter, with about 10-minutes left, Bradham was able to sift through traffic to team up with Marcel Dareus and hold Rainey to a two yard gain. Both plays looked like the smart, instinctive type of run recognition that Bradham will need to stay on the field down the stretch.
The analytics experts at Pro Football Focus credit Bradham with a total of four run stops in the game. They define run stops as solo defensive tackles which constitute and offensive failure. PFF.Com gave Buffalo's 4th round pick from a year ago a positive overall grade for the game, and he's received high marks from the analytics website for his last three games.
-The game may have seemed out of reach with the Bills trailing 24-3 at halftime, but I thought Buffalo had a chance to get back in it early in the third quarter. After a Dan Carpenter field goal, the Bills were down by 18-points with ten minutes left in the quarter. The defense came up with a big play on Tampa's next possession, with a sack and a loss of nine yards for Glennon on third down. It was a classic coverage sack—Glennon hung onto the ball for a long time and Dareus finally brought him down.
After a 21-yard punt return, the Bills had their best drive start of the game, at the Bucs 47-yard line. With any kind of score on this possession, Buffalo could put itself down by only two scores with plenty of time remaining. On the radio, I mentioned to my partner Mark Kelso that if the Bills had any chance at all of "getting a whiff of victory" this would be the critical juncture of the game. EJ Manuel hit a couple of passes to set up 1stand 10 at the Bucs 31-yard line. Then, on second down, he threw an ill-advised pass over the middle to Stevie Johnson that was off target. Tampa Bay linebacker Mason Foster picked it off; at least that was the ruling on the field. The play went to replay review and it appeared that the ball hit the ground before Foster was able to secure it. But the on-field officials stuck with the call, the Bucs had the ball, and Buffalo's last best chance to make a game of it was snuffed out.
-The fact that Buffalo's best drive start was the Bucs 47 says a lot about the Bills struggles. Thanks to turnovers, an ineffective return game, and a good Tampa Bay kickoff specialist (Michael Koenen), the Bills average drive start for the game was their own 25-yard line. Tampa Bay's was their own 40. That's an average deficit of 15-yards for every possession in the game.
They may call it hidden yardage, but it's no doubt not hidden at all from Head Coach Doug Marrone, who pays strict attention to the stat.