by Mario "Game" Granata
Although the stars looked to align for the Buffalo Bills, the one remaining fact that had to be addressed was that the Bills had to win their final two games of the season versus the Oakland Raiders and the New England Patriots. The Bills fell to the Raiders 26-24 extending the longest playoff drought in the NFL at 15 seasons. The question remains is what happened to the Bills Sunday in Oakland?
Offensive Line vs. Justin Tuck and Khalil Mack – Even the most pedestrian observer of football could have deduced that the Bills offensive line had no answers for Justin Tuck and Khalil Mack. Jason Tarver mixed and played match-ups against the Bills, using his most explosive defender, Mack, to stifle the pass as well as the run, holding the Bills to 13 yards rushing. The most poignant when the Bills were faced with 3rd down and over 5 yards to go. Tarver stacked Tuck and Mack to the side away from the tight end, and used a combination of twists and stunts to generate pressure on Kyle Orton. In addition to Tuck and Mack, the Raiders would show blitz up the middle, forcing Freddy Jackson, CJ Spiller and Boobie Dixon to initially step to the middle of the line, giving Mack a clear lane to Orton. These adjustments weren’t met at halftime, which forced Orton to make quick passes, and dumping the ball down to the backs. Adjustments were not made, which made Mack look like the Top 10 pick that he is.
Marcell Dareus and Stephon Gilmore – Early in the 2nd quarter Marcell Dareus went down and did not return to the game, leaving a huge gap in the defense that allowed Latavius Murray (who looks like a young Arian Foster) holes to plow through, to extend Oakland’s drives. This was only half of the story when it comes to the Bills game plan. Prior to this, Buffalo had been playing their defensive tackles in what is called a 5 technique (over the offensive tackles). Because of this alignment, the Raiders ran trap plays up the middle, allowing Murray to gain substantial yards. Conversely, when the Bills defensive tackles played a 3 technique (over the guards) the Raiders would run to the outside, sealing Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams in the process. This is the reason that Derek Carr, although only completing 50% of his passes, was able to sustain drives.
With the exit of Stephon Gilmore, Ron Brooks was inserted into an already depleted secondary, and at times was playing 10 yards off the ball. If there is one thing that the Oakland Raiders have, even in their years of futility, are explosive receivers. Carr would take the snap, and just fire a pass and let his play-makers make plays. Brooks didn’t have the answer, and even though the defense played well enough to win, they fell short.
4th Down and 3rd and 22 – Much will be made of Doug Marrone’s call to punt the ball with just over 8:30 left in the game, with the Bills trailing 19-17. Before people jump all over this decision, it was the right move at the time. The Raiders were running the ball, and the Bills were playing ‘bend-but-don’t-break’ defense, and had a single thought: get the ball back with enough time for a Dan Carpenter field goal. Prior to the 3rd and 22 pass, there was time for the Bills to have a drive, eat up some clock, and have Carpenter seal an ugly win. However, an Oakland prayer was answered, and from there the Bills didn’t have an answer. Although they gave a valiant effort to close the game, it was not to be on this day.
There are two ways to look at this game, and the season for the Buffalo Bills. On one hand, the Bills were picked by many experts to finish at the basement of the NFL, even going so far as to give them a 3-13 or 4-12 record. The Bills stunned many, including themselves, by being relevant in the final weeks of the season, with an outside shot at making the playoffs. So, in many respects, this was a successful season for any Bills fan.
However the other side of the discussion lies in that the Bills had a chance to do something really special this year, with the caliber that their defense played all year. Holding Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers to zero touchdowns in back-to-back weeks is something to hang their hat on. Unfortunately, when one side of the ball is playing above average, and the other side is playing below average, it equates to a .500 season. Now, the Bills have a chance, because of their defense, to compete with the Patriots, but Sunday will tell the story if their offense will show up…and make the necessary adjustments.