Here are how my five takes before the Buffalo Bills’ 27-14 season-opening victory against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday worked out:
1. Tyrod Taylor does his best work throwing rather than running. Check. You would never know this was his first NFL start (even if, officially, he made it at wide receiver while offensive coordinator Greg Roman attempted some ill-fated trickery by having Matt Cassel start under center on a running play that lost 6 yards). Taylor was highly effective and efficient in completing 14 of 19 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers. He made the game’s tone-setting play with his radar-precise, 51-yard scoring strike to Percy Harvin, who simply sped past single coverage to make the grab in the end zone. Taylor did do some damage with his feet, highlighted by a 31-yard run that set up another touchdown. He kept plays alive with his scrambling, and with one exception, he never panicked under pressure. Taylor was patient and poised, working like a longtime veteran in the pocket as he consistently found open targets and made sound decisions with where to go with the ball.
2. Generate maximum pressure with minimum pass rush. Check. The Bills did a little bit of everything to put heat on Andrew Luck. They blitzed from a variety of angles with a variety of pass-rushers, they used only defensive linemen to get after the quarterback in some instances, and they went with simulated pressure – a favorite Rex Ryan tactic that causes the offensive line and quarterback to anticipate pressure from a certain area but never actually receive it – in others. The result was only two sacks, but Luck threw two interceptions and was often flustered and confused and frequently running for his life. Keep in mind, the Bills were without their most dominant defensive player, tackle Marcell Dareus, who was serving a one-game suspension. The Colts’ game plan was clear from the start: have Luck get rid of the ball as quickly as possible and operate from a moving pocket. That mostly worked to the Bills’ advantage, because he wasn’t accurate and rarely had the chance to stretch the defense with downfield shots to T.Y. Hilton and the rest of his talented receiving corps.
3. Richie Incognito, Eric Wood, and John Miller dominate inside. Semi-check. The interior of the offensive line didn’t exactly make the middle of the Colts’ defense – considered a weakness – disappear, but it did do a solid job. The Bills finished with 147 rushing yards and 4.1 yards per carry. Taylor accounted for 41 yards with his feet, but the way the offense is designed, he has to be viewed as a regular contributor to the running game. Making his first start in more than a year, Incognito seemed to win the majority of his battles up front and helped set a physical tone for the line, along with Wood. LeSean McCoy only had 41 rushing yards on 17 carries, but rookie Karlos Williams feasted on some nice openings up the gut. The biggest came on his 26-yard touchdown run that gave the Bills a 17-0 lead just before halftime.
4. Protect Ronald Darby, but don’t be afraid to pull the plug on him. Not exactly. First, the Bills didn’t even try to give him help despite his repeated struggles in the preseason. They effectively pushed the rookie cornerback out of the nest and dared him to fly against one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. And for the most part, he did. Darby had an interception and knocked down two other passes. Besides, the option of replacing him was off the table after the first play from scrimmage when safety Corey Graham, a converted cornerback, took a knee to the head from running back Frank Gore and left the game while being checked for a possible concussion. Darby’s biggest problem in the game was having to periodically leave the field due to cramping that resulted from his admittedly poor job of keeping himself properly hydrated. The Bills’ coaches were smart to allow him to prove he could hold his own, something he can build for his next game.
5. No Dan Carpenter meltdown. Check-plus! Ryan’s head game with his kicker worked to perfection. Carpenter clearly used the coach’s public threats to replace him after three missed field-goal attempts and one missed extra-point try in the preseason as fuel. He hit both of the field goals he attempted against the Colts, from 41 and 45 yards, and was perfect on three extra-point tries. “And this just in: Man, I’m glad I ripped Carpenter,” Ryan joked after the game. “It’s a hate-hate relationship. If he keeps going like that, I’m going to love that dude.”