One of the most noteworthy offseasons in the Buffalo Bills 58 year history came to a close today. The Bills opened up the regular season and officially closed the door on the Rex Ryan/Doug Whaley era at New Era Field against the New York Jets. For a new regime, it was the type of opponent that you would like to have in your opener. It was great to be back at the stadium after 8 long months. Nothing beats the sounds, sights, and smells of pulling up to that stadium on opening day. Here are my ups and downs from the Bills 21-12 victory over the Jets.
The defense of the past two years is the reason why Rex Ryan was fired back in December. Sean McDermott was put in charge of correcting that mess, and as most expected, the defense looks better. Much better. The change to the 4-3 scheme was exactly what the Bills needed. The Bills defense held the Jets to 212 total yards, which included only 38 yards rushing. For a defense that allowed a 200 yard rusher three times last year, 38 total rushing yards is an excellent stat for them. When the Jets attempted to make it a game, the defense always responded. They came up with a huge 2pt conversion stop, followed by two 4th quarter INT’s of Josh McCown to seal the game. I was especially impressed with the completely new secondary today. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer had the McCown INT’s. White and Gaines played great on the outside as well, making the names Gilmore and Darby a thing of the past.
Everyone and their sister knows that LeSean McCoy will be the Bills offense this year. Despite this, the Jets still had trouble containing him. He rushed for 110 yards, with a nice 5.0 yards per carry average. He also had a clutch 18-yard catch on a third down to extend a drive, which ultimately ended in the Bills winning TD. In the victory, LeSean McCoy also surpassed 12,000 total yards from scrimmage today. McCoy now has the 60th most yards per scrimmage in the history of the league, and he will continue to climb that list weekly.
Sean McDermott did something today that only 2 other Buffalo Bills coaches in the past have done: win their opening game. McDermott joins Marv Levy and Rex Ryan as the three coaches, out of the twenty in Bills history, to win their first game as head coach. Despite his first opponent doing their best to finish in last place this year, it still takes a tremendous amount of hard work to win in the NFL, and McDermott had his team ready to play against a team that they should have beaten. Many times, we have seen the Bills lose games that they should have won. Having the team ready to play, and not drop to the level of their opponent is something that comes from the head coach, and McDermott should be credited for having his team ready.
I was hoping that the preseason struggles of the offensive line were exactly that…preseason struggles. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that was the case. The stat sheet might not indicate it, but the offensive line struggled today. John Miller and Jonathan Mills were beaten all day as Mccoy and Tolbert had trouble running behind the right side of the line. Richie Incognito had two holding penalties. Taylor did not get the time that he needed on a number of his dropbacks. The Jets do have an above average defensive line, but the Bills (supposedly) have an above average offensive line. This unit hasn’t looked good at any point this year (including training camp) and if the Bills want to have sustained success this year, this unit must improve.
I was not impressed with Dennison’s play-calling debut. He continued to force rushing behind the right side of the line, which continued to provide minimal success for the running backs all game. In the 4th quarter, as the Bills were attempting to close out the game (maybe run the clock out?) I was disappointed to see multiple 3 and outs featuring the Nathaniel Hackett copyrighted offensive gameplan of “run, run, pass, punt.” The Bills defense bailed them out today, but against a better team the Bills cannot afford to sit on a lead and continue to give their opposition chances.
After suffering through missed FG’s and XP’s the past two years with Dan Carpenter, the Bills brought in one of the statistical leaders of the position. He was 3/3 with his XP’s today, but his missed 46 yard field goal caused groans throughout the stadium. I’m probably being a tad hard on Hauschka listing him as a down for missing one FG, but Bills fans needed to see him make all his XP’s and FG’s today to feel that the kicking struggles of the past are truly behind us, and that did not happen.
This game did not tell us a lot about the Bills. But it did tell us that McDermott will have his team ready and focused to play, regardless of the skill level of the opponent. The next three games will be telling for the Bills (@ Carolina, vs. Denver, @ Atlanta). If they can find a way to go 1-2 in those 3 games, I will be impressed. But as far as where things stand today, the Bills are alone in 1st place in the AFC East. Raise your hand if you thought you would hear that at any point this season. It always feels great to kick off the season with a win. We will learn more about this team next week in Carolina, but for now, we should all enjoy waking up Monday morning on top of the AFC East!