The Buffalo Bills closed out the first quarter of the season with a nail-biting victory over the Baltimore Ravens 23-20 to even their record to 2-2. Close games have been the trend for Buffalo this season with its two wins by a combined four points and its two losses by a combined eight points.
The team will not have much time to enjoy this win as they have a short week with its Thursday night game in Cleveland. These are some of the things that can be taken from away from this victory over the Ravens that should be kept in mind while preparing for the Browns.
Buffalo entered this game with three of the four projected starters in the secondary at the start of the season out due to injuries. The fourth starter, Aaron Williams, switched from safety to cornerback, and he even left the game today early due to injury.
Baltimore knew this and was going to try to beat Buffalo through the air. Joe Flacco threw the ball 50 times compared to only nine rushing attempts for the team. The Bills were prepared for this, and the defense as a whole answered in a big way.
They forced Flacco into five interceptions, with Kiko Alonso and Aaron Williams accounting for four of them. These turnovers were a team effort with how much pressure the defensive line created on Flacco who was sacked four times and hit 12 times. This is the kind of pressure Buffalo needs to generate to put the secondary in a position to be successful.
For the first time this season, Buffalo beat its opponents in the time of possession battle. This has been a struggle for this team because it has not been able to sustain drives and run an uptempo offense.
This week though, Buffalo held the ball for 36:26 compared to Baltimore's 23:34. The two reasons Buffalo was able to hold the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game was that it ran the ball 55 times and did not allow the Ravens to sustain long drives.
Buffalo relied heavily on C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson who combined for 164 yards on 39 carries. If the team can replicate these types of stats it should have offensive success the rest of the year.
The Bills have struggled getting off the field defensively through the first three games but that was not the case against Baltimore. They allowed the Ravens to only convert three of 16 third downs and got Flacco to turn the ball over five times which kept their offense off the field.
For the first time this season, the Bills were able to put points on the board in the first quarter. A point of emphasis for this coaching staff has been to get the offense going earlier in games, and they took a step in the right direction with that today.
After forcing Baltimore to punt on its opening drive, EJ Manuel led the offense on an 11-play, 65-yard drive that ended with a field goal by Dan Carpenter. The team added a second Carpenter field goal after the defense forced Flacco to throw his first interception the following drive.
Ideally, Buffalo would have scored touchdowns on these first two drives and could have really put the game out of reach early. However, with the team having a combined zero points through the first three games in the first quarter, this was also a step in the right direction.
After recording 43 receptions last year and averaging almost 11 yards per reception, C.J. Spiller has become non-existent in Buffalo's passing game. He only had nine receptions entering the game Sunday and did not record a single reception against Baltimore.
By not using Spiller in the passing game, it seems Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett are selling this offense short by ignoring this part of the running back's game. Last year, C.J. Spiller was one of the most explosive backs in the NFL, and part of the reason was that the team did a good job of getting the ball to him in space.
This year Spiller has not had as much room, and this could be from defenses keying in on him more or the offensive play-calling. Either way, if the coaching staff can figure out a way to get those explosive plays back with Spiller, it will take pressure off EJ Manuel.
Through the first two games of the year, it seemed like the coaching staff had training wheels on EJ Manuel. This wasn't a problem because Manuel had missed the final two weeks of preseason and was still trying to understand the professional game. They were trying to put him in a position where he could be successful moving the offense.
In the last two games, though, there has been a much different philosophy from this offense, and Manuel has been taking more shots downfield. The problem is that Manuel has not been able to connect on a lot of these deep throws, and a majority of the throws have been underthrown. He did connect with Robert Woods on a 42-yard touchdown pass against the Ravens on a perfectly thrown ball. These types of throws should increase as he builds a relationship with the wide receivers, but it is good to see the coaching staff trusting the rookie quarterback more.