A Blowout Bills Can Build On
The Buffalo Bills were exposed Sunday in New Orleans as a raw team whose inexperience is compounded by basic physical inadequacies.
So it stands to reason they should beat the NFL’s lone unbeaten team later this week.
A double-digit underdog to the Saints, Buffalo confounded one of the league’s most explosive aerial attacks for most of the first half, while scraping together enough offense to take a 10-7 lead on a Dan Carpenter field goal with less than five minutes remaining before intermission.
Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine’s blend of coverages and blitzes had created enough pressure to discombobulate Drew Brees, limiting the Saints to 32 net passing yards in the game’s first 25 minutes. Gum and string only hold up for just so long, though, and Brees inevitably found the weak spot.
Two snaps after Carpenter’s field goal, Brees saw Jerry Hughes in coverage on wide receiver Kenny Stills. After freezing the Buffalo linebacker, who is far better on the blitz than in coverage, with a play-action fake, Brees hit an obscenely open Stills for a 69-yard touchdown and the pummeling commenced.
Brees spent the rest of the game resembling a video-game quarterback, zipping perfect throws all over the field. Brees exploited another coverage mismatch on Stills for the last of his five touchdown passes, when the rookie was able to box out Nickell Robey in the end zone midway through the fourth quarter.
Robey, generously listed at 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds, made the 6-foot, 194-pound Stills look like an NBA power forward on the play that capped the 35-17 New Orleans win. He also got beat on the first New Orleans touchdown, when he mistimed a swipe on Brees’ 15-yard throw to Lance Moore.
Robey is aggressive and smart, with a knack for being in the right place, having sparked the win over Miami a week earlier with a 19-yard interception return for the opening score. On Sunday, he blew up a Saints screen pass for a 6-yard loss to stop the Saints’ first series.
His size strips him of any margin for error, though, as shown on both touchdowns he gave up.
Keeping up with the Saints required near-perfection from the Buffalo offense, too. With their most explosive player sidelined and Thaddeus Lewis making his third start four weeks after joining the active roster, the Bills’ offensive flaws glared.
The Chiefs, unbeaten though they may be in their first year under longtime Eagles coach Andy Reid, are far from perfect.
San Francisco exile Alex Smith is the ideal quarterback for the low-risk offense Reid has installed, and has a couple of top-level weapons to work with in running back Jamaal Charles and receivers Dexter McCluster, Donnie Avery and Dwayne Bowe, but none have shown the touchdown-on-any-play capability displayed by just about every Saints receiver.
In compiling that 8-0 mark, the Chiefs have beaten seven lousy teams and one sporadically OK one, with that better-quality win against Dallas coming at home in Week 2 by a single point. Sunday will be Kansas City’s first road game after three straight at home.
Buffalo, meanwhile, comes off its worst loss of the season, falling into We Want Marangi’s thoroughly arbitrary blowout zone for the first time. The Bills may have been blown out, but they were not knocked out by the Saints.
Credit for that competitiveness has to be spread among the coaches and roster, but no players gets more than Thaddeus Lewis. As you may have noticed if you have been watching the last few weeks, that guy is pretty tough.
For someone who started the season as nobody’s last-string quarterback, Lewis has absorbed blind-side hits, as well as shots he saw coming but lacked time to do much about.
Against Miami, he even had his helmet knocked off, and still completed a key pass. In New Orleans, he appeared to get knocked out on the game’s first snap, but somehow shook it off to make it all the way through, despite pulling himself off the turf after seemingly every pass he threw.
That resilience has been infectious, with Doug Marrone sounding almost giddy about facing the unbeaten Chiefs at his Monday press conference. Suggesting the Bills have a good shot at an upset is hardly a unique WWM insight, and if the predictions already dotting social media are any indication of the public level of optimism, the crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium should be at full roar by kickoff.
No doubt, Kansas City has improved immensely from last year’s 2-14 disaster. But the Chiefs, who have feasted on feeble opposition through a home-heavy first half of the schedule, while ranking in the middle of the pack or lower in just about every statistical category, are not a 9-0 team.
After Sunday, they won’t be.