Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey had one unsolicited, parting conclusion after his team's shoddy loss to the Denver Broncos on Saturday night.
"We gave up too many yards in the air," Gailey acknowledged. "We all saw that. I know that. We've got to keep working on that aspect. But I know one thing: If we can stop the run, we've got a better chance than we had last year."
Gailey and a bunch of the Bills' veterans were less panicky than one might have expected after the 24-10 defeat. Denver's starters outscored the Bills' starters, 14-3. Denver held an advantage in passing yards of 187-44 in the first half.
But the Bills think they can conjure up some answers when it comes to strategy and tactics. Getting bullied in the ground game is much harder to fix, as the Bills learned last season. The Bills did not get bullied on the ground in Denver.
The Bills' starting defense held the Broncos to 33 yards on 12 carries, a 2.75-yard average. Overall, Denver gained 101 rushing yards on 32 carries, a 3.2-yard average.
"There were some good things we can take from this game and build upon," said linebacker Nick Barnett. "The mistakes, all we have to do is clean it up. I wouldn't throw away your season tickets today. It's going to be a great season, don't worry."
Gailey said his coaches intentionally used base schemes, almost no blitzes on defense, no extra help for pass blockers to account for the strengths of the Denver personnel.
"We wanted to see who could do what playing base defense," Gailey said. "That was one of the things going into the ballgame. Let guys play base defense and see where we are. So we didn't throw a lot of blitz at 'em. You're able to see more where your deficiencies are if you just play base and let 'em play and then you can evaluate where we are."
The Broncos took advantage of Bills' coverage in the nickel defense. Denver backs Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee accounted for four catches for 54 yards and a touchdown coming out of the backfield on Denver's two first-half touchdown drives. The Bills also allowed Denver to convert 4 of 5 third-down plays in the first half.
With linebacker Shawne Merriman sitting out, how much pass rush could the Bills produce? Not enough. Chris Kelsay and Marcell Dareus combined to cause one first-half sack. But the Bills need to see more pressure from their younger pass rushers -- Alex Carrington, Danny Batten and Antonio Coleman -- against first-string opponents.
"We've just got a lot of work to do in the pass coverage and pass rush without blitzing 'em every snap," Gailey said.
On the other side of the line, pass protection remains a concern. Left tackle Demetrius Bell had trouble with Denver's elite speed rushers, Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller.
"I think the same thing happened with our offensive line out there," Gailey said. "A lot of times we set things up where we turn a certain way [slide the line], we chip [help the tackle]. We didn't do any of that. We evaluate base offense. How do people play? We found that we're lacking in some areas."
"When you end up behind the sticks, that's where a lot of teams end up in a bind, but we really end up in a bind," Gailey said. "We're not to the point yet where we can overcome a lot of those situations, and we've got to get better at not taking negative plays."
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was just 6 of 16 for 44 yards.
"We just didn't get anything going with our passing game, and that's frustrating because I feel like we've had a pretty good camp, and we didn't show it out there today," Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick had three incompletions -- two for Stevie Johnson and one for Scott Chandler -- on which his timing with the receiver clearly was off.
"There were multiple times today when everybody was not on the same page, and it was not one or two things," he said. "Then just hitting routes with passes, and that's something that I can put on myself. It's preseason and it shows us that we're not there yet and we have a lot of work ahead of ourselves."