Another painful game to rehash. The ending of the Bills-Tennessee game ruined what was a riveting, back and forth shootout between a couple of teams with leaky defenses. The Bills came up one point short after trading punches with the Titans for most of the afternoon.
Here are a couple of observations from the radio broadcast booth, and after reviewing the tape the Titans game:
- Tennessee set the tone for the game on the opening drive, when they used a no-huddle attack to go 77-yards in eight plays. It was the first opening drive touchdown for the Titans in 14-games, so it was obviously not something they were accustomed to doing. But Bills defenders say the Titans most likely took a page out of New England's attack and used it against Buffalo.
"All they did was do what we've had problems with," safety Jairus Byrd told me after the game. "They did a carbon copy of what New England did to us. They started off with no huddle, that gave us problems in the first series, and they went down and scored. That's all they did. It's a copycat league."
The Titans no huddle attack forced the Bills to keep their base defense on the field for most of the drive. That meant some tough matchups for Bills linebackers with the Tennessee tight ends.
And maybe more importantly, the opening drive touchdown gave the Titans offense a jolt of confidence that they could move the ball against Buffalo's defense, something they carried right through the game.
- The Bills have put second year LB Kelvin Sheppard "in the bubble" for the last few games. According to my broadcast partner, Mark Kelso, that means Buffalo backs Sheppard off a step or two from the outside linebackers, to give him a better angle on opponent's running backs.
It didn't work very well at all against Tennessee. The Titans second touchdown, the 83-yard run by Chris Johnson, came with Tennessee lined up in a straight I-formation (just like their first touchdown). Tennessee fullback Quinn Johnson got a great block on Nick Barnett on the outside, and Sheppard, in the bubble, got lost in traffic inside. He was erased from the play by Titans right guard Steve Hutchinson. It seems like Sheppard may be over-eager to make a play at times, and wipes out any advantage he has of being "in the bubble."
- The Bills made extensive use of having both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller in the backfield together, the most they've been on the field together in any game
so far this year. And it worked well. Fred Jackson told me Monday it works because they're both healthy now.
"That's just about us getting healthy," he said. "Him (C.J.) returning from his shoulder and me getting out there after my knee. Hopefully we continue to improve and we can continue to be on the field at the same time and make some plays."
Buffalo's first touchdown came with both running backs on the field. Spiller went right into a pass pattern from the three yard line, and Jackson went to the middle, and waited for Eric Wood and Andy Levitre to set up a middle screen. The result—Fred walked into the end zone untouched.
Former Bills and Colts GM Bill Polian says the fact that Buffalo has two talented running backs provides a great opportunity for the team—not a problem.
"No running back alone can carry the load by himself," the new Bills Wall of Famer said, during a third quarter visit to our radio booth. "Look at what happened to Tennessee's guy, he had a two thousand yard season, and he has not been the same. You need two backs, and they provide a terrific contrast in styles. It's a very, very good situation."
The benefits of having, and using, two good running backs becomes more pronounced as the game goes on, when the Bills can put fresh legs on the field in the offensive backfield.
- Under Chan Gailey, the Bills are normally not a heavily penalized team. They were averaging just over five penalties per game this season going into the Tennessee game.
But Buffalo racked up eight penalties on Sunday, including three false starts and two unnecessary roughness calls. Tackle Erik Pears got one of the unnecessary roughness flags, and he also picked up a critical holding penalty on a questionable call in the fourth quarter. His penalty wiped out a big first down conversion for the Bills midway through the final quarter, a first down that would have forced the Titans to start watching the clock.
- As badly as the Buffalo defense played against Tennessee, the final outcome was largely determined by a couple of second half turnovers by the Bills offense. The Titans got 14-points off the two Buffalo turnovers. As usual, in a close game, turnovers are the key.