Positional flexibility is what led the Buffalo Bills to making Vontae Davis inactive on Sunday.
Or perhaps, a lack of positional flexibility.
“There's a lot that went into that decision,” coach Sean McDermott said Monday. “No. 1 is getting the right guys on the field, who we feel are the right guys. … With respect to Vontae as it relates to the DB numbers you can have up, he doesn't really give us the flexibility on special teams or the ability to move inside.”
That meant Phillip Gaines got the start against the Ravens. Gaines struggled against the Ravens, giving up four completions on six targets for 59 yards and a touchdown, according to analytics website Pro Football Focus.
“Phillip had a couple plays that were a couple plays we’d like to see him make,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “One being that deep throw back and the one right before the half. I think he can make those plays. He did some good things tackling. He came up and made a couple real forceful tackles. Those couple of coverages, I’d like to see him when he’s in position be able to make those plays.”
The Bills were forced to make a change in their secondary when rookie cornerback Taron Johnson left in the second quarter because of a shoulder injury. That left the team with only three healthy cornerbacks, so the team moved safety Rafael Bush to the nickel spot.
“That was our contingency plan if something happened to Taron,” Frazier said. “Unfortunately, he got injured and Rafael came in and did the best job that he could. … It’s not ideal in some ways, but I thought he held his own with the opportunities that he had.”
McDermott confirmed Davis is healthy enough to play. As for why the coach was comfortable starting a game with just four healthy cornerbacks, he said, “you've got to balance out the roster. So we can have six corners active, but we may only have two wide receivers active, right? So there's a delicate balance between special teams, defense and then offense as well in terms of the overall numbers.”
The Bills faced third down 15 times Sunday against the Ravens, converting just twice. The average yards to gain on those third downs was 9.2 – not a recipe for offensive success.
“We were playing behind the chains, particularly early on,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. “We had some holding penalties in there, first and 20, second and 24, third and long. I think 13 of our 15 third downs were seven plus, which is hard no matter where you play.”
Buffalo’s 10 penalties tied for seventh most among NFL teams in Week 1.
“They’re inexcusable,” McDermott said. “You can’t do that and play winning football. In particular, the pre-snap penalties. And some of them, we didn’t have as many (Sunday), but the post-whistle ones, are non-negotiable and inexcusable for us. We want to play aggressive football, but there’s a delicate balance between smart football and not smart football. You can’t be in first and 11 or more, first and 20, first and 15 … that’s tough sledding right there.”
McDermott said rookie receiver Ray-Ray McCloud remains out with a knee injury. The two players hurt against the Ravens are still being evaluated – Johnson with his shoulder injury – and defensive end Shaq Lawson, who suffered a hamstring injury.
“We'll get more and more information back on the injuries as we move forward throughout the day here and tomorrow,” the coach said.