Image Credit: © Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
For months, fans, radio announcers, and players have all talked about the Bills home opener as being the place to be. Being at the game today, the fans did not disappoint. The lots filled up early, traffic was heavy, and the music was loud. In all my years attending games, that was easily the most electric of a tailgate experience as I can remember seeing. The weather held off, the Bills are Super Bowl favorites, and they were favored by almost a touchdown. All that was left was to take care of business...
1 - Stadium Experience - I've attended Bills games since the early '90s, attended multiple playoff games, and witnessed huge comebacks. I write that to give context when I saw that this was the loudest Bills game I've ever been to. I literally couldn't hear the announcers or the people talking beside me when it was at its loudest. There wasn't a single fan trying to find their seats at kick-off as the stadium was 100% full and rockin'. All of the pre-game hype and ticket prices for this game lived up to the billing. The rain never came, the wind was rarely a factor, but the food was terrible. I can only speak for the visitors' side on the lower deck, but the only food options were pizza and hot dogs. This is the first Bills game I've ever attended where I couldn't get an Italian sausage inside the stadium.
2 - Defensive Line - Of everything going on in the game, I watched the defensive line rotation as closely as possible. The rotation of the defensive ends appeared to go by series. Groot was out there for the first two, rotated on the other side by Hughes and Addison. Groot and Addison seemed to be the most effective. Oliver played a hell of a game, disrupting the inside and getting pressure quite a few times. Addison showed good speed on the strip-sack, and Groot didn't hit home but got good pressure against a quick pass release and chased a few runs down from behind. Granted, against a weak offensive line, I expected a bit more production, but the loss of this game cannot be put on the core guys up front. Harris didn't get anything going on the ground, and Frazier started sending more guys in the second half. I'm still not a fan of having so many active linemen, especially when it means keeping Groot off the field. I can't say I noticed Obada on the field at all.
3 - Edmunds - As a player, I'm usually pretty hard on, I thought Edmunds had a great game. He was quick, decisive, and in the backfield on quite a few runs. His coverage over the middle was strong too. On the one somewhere deep pass down the middle, the TE slipped and appeared down, only to get up and then sneak down the seem for a catch. Overall, today was a good first step for those looking for a positive sign that Edmunds might turn it on this year.
4 - I take a walk outside, I'm surrounded by some kids at play
I can feel their laughter, so why do I sear
Mm, and twisted thoughts that spin 'round my head
I'm spinning, oh, I'm spinning, how quick the sun can drop away.
© Jamie Germano via Imagn Content Services, LLC
5 - Allen - When you get paid the second most of NFL quarterbacks, the expectations go through the roof. Call it sugar high Allen or whatever you want, but Allen was not on his game today, and you could see it in his body language. The pressure was there from Watt and Gordon sometimes, but that was not an excuse for some of the missed throws and poor decisions. He missed Sanders on a wide-open deep ball but also made some questionable throws downfield to guys double/triple covered. While playing man in the first half, the Steelers relaxed into zone in the second. On a few drives, there were receivers being covered on one side of the field by a linebacker in zone, but Allen never looked their way for the easy first downs, as he seemed locked in on his guy. While not trying to take away from the Steelers' defense, the opportunity was there for Allen to deliver, and he just wasn't the player we saw most of last year.
6 - Wide Receivers - When I think of a stubborn coach, I always think of Mike Martz and his compulsion to prove what he could and couldn't do. I say that because I feel like Sanders is being force-fed down our throats as an offensive weapon. While he worked downfield on a few plays, he overall acted in the same role as Beasley. We had Diggs, Beasley, and Sanders out there in the red zone, and I couldn't figure it out. I only counted a few plays in the first half, where Davis was even out on the field. The fact that he was on the bench, Kumerow didn't see the field in the red zone, led me to believe that we ran a very stubborn game plan. The Steelers' secondary is one of their biggest weaknesses, and we never really pushed the ball downfield. It was either a deep shot or something underneath. The deeper crossing routes were nowhere to be seen, and the usage of our 2020 TD receiving leader was abysmal.
7 - Refs - Each official has a specific assignment on the field. The head ref watches the quarterback. The line judge watches the line of scrimmage. On deep plays, the deep side judge watches the receivers and plays downfield. On the pass interference call, please help me understand why the female ref threw the flag from 20 yards behind the play when there was another ref right next to the play and didn't throw a flag? In watching the replay on the big screen, I did not see pass interference, so I definitely don't know how she saw it from where she was standing. That was a game-changing play (so was the blocked punt), and McD was furious about it. Even after the Steelers scored a touchdown, McD was in her ear about it until the white hat came over. The officiating wasn't terrible overall, but it did feel like some of those holds were one-sided. I also argue the hold against Tre. While contact was made, it felt like hand fighting and didn't affect the play. Ben through a bad pass, and Tre broke on it. Another call that hurt us badly.
8 - Dawkins - For all the focus on Watt, and rightfully so, Dawkins got abused by Gordon on the other side. Two of his holds were survival holds, and he wasn't able to get any push as they tried to power run to his side. I don't know if he's not fully recovered and in shape from his bout from COVID, but that was not a good look for him, and we will need better protection from him on Allen's blindside.
© Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
9 - Special Teams - One play shouldn't define a unit, but when it leads to a touchdown, it's hard not to give this unit a failing grade. McKenzie had a great opening kick-off that we squandered into a field goal, and Bass is just money. Haak booted his first punt into the end zone and settled down after that. On the blocked punt, however, our line just crumbled to the Steelers. I don't know what the miss was, but it seemed like we just got dominated, and the game was over from there. Be prepared for that highlight every time we punt for a few weeks.
10 - Coaching - Can someone please get a hold of 2020 McD and tell him we need him back as a coach because 2019 McD is going to get us in trouble. If you are going to be cautious, then at least be consistent with it. The decision to punt on our out 40 in the first half but then go for it in the second half from further out made zero sense to me. Allen even tried to keep the offense on the field and was overturned. The trick play on 4th, and one was a travesty and should never be ran again. Overall, this team was not ready for this game, and McD was out-coached by Tomlin. Daboll had some terrible play calls and didn't seem to know how to use his guys out there. He was getting great runs out of Motor from the shotgun and then proceeded to try again later in power formations. Yes, Allen didn't execute well, and that blocked punt was a killer, but I put this loss on our McD and Daboll as much as anyone else. It was embarrassing, and the fans deserved better.
One week down, and it's not what everyone wanted to see, but it is only one week. If Allen needs to have a bounceback game, what better team to face than the Dolphins next. It's frustrating to kill the hype train at our first regular-season home game in over 18 months and when the fans showed up like they did, but it's a long 17 game season, and there were many positive takeaways from that today. I look forward to a new week and a strong season for this team. We will find our rhythm and get this party started, it's just going to be a little later than we thought.
BillsFans - Virgil