How sweet it is for football to be back and to start the season on Victory Friday by getting to celebrate a road win over the defending Super Bowl Champions! There’s nothing to be blue about today but it was wonderful to see the Bills take the field in the all-blue uniforms!
The game was a little touch and go through the first half as turnovers gave the Rams ample opportunity to make it a game, which they eventually did, tying it at 10-10 as the teams went into the locker room for halftime. However, aside from the turnovers and the score, it was still a pretty one-sided game when Ozzy Osborne took to the stage at the break.
In my preview for this game, I said the Bills’ keys to victory were going to be pacing, time of possession, keeping the Rams’ running game at less than 4.0-yards-per-carry, and getting after Stafford. Well, the Bills got right to work as they scored on the opening drive of the game, going 75 yards on 9 plays in 5:04 minutes and connecting on a nice play-action design where Josh Allen found Gabriel Davis for the early touchdown and the 7-0 lead.
Their revamped defense took the field and got right after it as well. The Rams moved the ball across midfield and into Bills’ territory but Buffalo’s shiny new defensive weapon, Von Miller, came up with a massive sack on 2nd & 6 and left LA facing a 3rd & 14 which Buffalo was able to diagnose, shut down, and hold for a minimal gain to force the punt. It was a seminal moment for the BUF defense because that kind of effective pass rush was missing from the league’s best defensive unit last year despite leading the league in pressure rate and being top-10 in sacks. Miller is a different kind of animal on the pass rush and a rising tide lifts all ships. That defensive series also highlighted a more robust interior D-line presence that allowed just 8 yards on 3 carries. So, already, two things I felt were paramount to leaving LA with a win were looking very good.
I was at the game and having fun, and I am not going to rewatch the game (yet) for the purposes of this. However, I’m going to try and touch on what I saw on the field and, in the first half, that was a bunch of self-inflicted wounds.
The Bills were on their way to scoring again towards the end of the 1st quarter when that weird interception came off a throw to Isaiah McKenzie on an in-breaking route in traffic. In the stadium, it appeared like the possession was in question before his knee was down, and Rams linebacker Terrell Lewis just sorta wrestled it away. Buffalo was well within field goal range at the time and it was just sort of an odd bounce. Oh well. Shit happens. The Bills’ defense held firm once again and forced a quick 3 & out to get the ball back. That’s when rookie RB James Cook got his first touch at the highest level and he fumbled on contact. Welcome to the league rookie! I don’t think he had another snap for the rest of the game and that turnover put the Rams in great scoring position but the Bills’ defense responded once again with an interception on a miscommunication from Stafford to Higbee.
Before I move on to some later action, I want to highlight just how good this defense was. I knew bringing in Miller and restructuring the D-Line with DaQuan Jones, Tim Settle, and Jordan Phillips were good moves but seeing their impactfulness together was staggering. The Bills’ defense combined for 7 sacks! Two for Miller, 1.5 each for Phillips and Epenesa, and 1 apiece for Boogie Basham and Groot. To put things in perspective, Buffalo was top-10 in sacks last season but only had 42 on the entire season.
They are nearly 1/5th of the way there after just one game and on pace for an astronomical 119 sacks. Obviously, I don’t think that’s realistic but it just speaks to a different kind of pressure than they had last season (in which they led the league). The best way to help out your young secondary is to get pressure and the Bills added 3 INTs to reaffirm their position as the league’s best defense, becoming the first team in NFL history to reach those targets and not punt in the same game.
The lone hole in the defensive performance was found repeatedly by Cooper Kupp. It was logical to think he was going to have a good day because he is the WR triple crown winner and he was going up against two rookies and a second-year guy more often than not. Kupp was the only thing going as he recorded 13 catches on 15 targets for 128 yards and the Rams’ only TD on a nice endzone corner route. He also had a couple of key conversions that I didn’t like seeing but for the most part, I like how the Bills’ defense didn’t back down from the challenge and was willing to play more aggressive coverages. (A small side note: I could have sworn Kaiir Elam was named the started but it looked as though Christian Benford out-snapped him by a good amount, but I would have to see the data to confirm that.)
Anyhow, after the turnovers, the Bills finally righted the ship and tacked on a FG drive but the game was way closer than it should/could have been and the Rams responded with their only TD of the game. Unfortunately, the following Bills’ drive ended with another interception as they tried to score again before the half, looking for Jamison Crowder on running a crossing route. Rams CB Troy Hill was trailing and Crowder just came off the throttle, even though he was clear all the way to the sideline, and Allen had come off of another read and tried to laser it in but Hill made a good break on a not-good ball. Again, shit happens! Unfortunately, that allowed the Rams to tie the game before the half and it was looking like a lot of games last season where the Bills just had trouble getting out of their own way and with the defending champs tied in a game where they were dominated on the stat sheet, there was some fear that the second half wheels could come off.
At halftime, I took to Twitter to talk to some other fans about the game at that point, and someone asked what halftime adjustments needed to be made. Here was my response:
Firstly, Zack Moss was not being very effective with the ball. He had 6 touches in the first half for only 20-yards (3.33-YPT) and, sure, 16 yards of that came on his 4 catches but that’s not explosive enough for me to warrant the volume. Devin Singletary had 5 touches for 24 yards (4.8-YPT) and his only catch in the 1st half went for 6 yards. I saw him outperforming Moss both ways and I thought Motor had cemented himself as the RB1 with his play down the stretch last season but here we are again.
Secondly, Bobby Wagner was sniffing out those delayed handoffs and even keyed in on a QB keeper and came up with the sack for -4 yards. B-Wagz is one of the best linebackers to ever play he’s just too good and too smart to make it worth attacking that area. Make him move sideline to sideline, which was maybe the idea with the screens but dial up some edge runs.
Third, I notice that Jalen Ramsey wasn’t shadowing Diggs the way I had anticipated and it’s not like he was on Davis the whole time either. He was lining up on the inside of the formation quite a lot and the Rams were giving a lot of 1-v-1 looks to both Davis and Diggs with guys not named Ramsey that I wanted to see get tested. However, even when he was matched up against Diggs, Ramsey was getting cooked. If I am not mistaken, he was targeted 7 times and surrendered 6 catches for 120 yards and 2 TDs. The one incompletion was a ball that was off Diggss hands in the endzone the series before he scored a TD. For a guy who proudly proclaimed that Josh Allen was “trash” when the Bills drafted him, it must be weird for Ramsey to lose to him every time they are on the field together and get roasted in the process.
For the most part, I got all three of those things in the second half and the results speak for themselves. Buffalo came out and ran the ball more efficiently with Motor who led the charge on the TD drive to start the second half for the Bills. They reduced the number of throws to the RBs and cut Moss’ targets and receptions in half. Allen saw his opportunities to take the game over with his legs, creating a great highlight reel stiff arm and punching in a 3rd & goal TD run from the 4-yard line while running through B Wagz. Allen also opened the game up with some big plays downfield to Gabe for 47 yards and Diggs on the 53-yard TD. He had had a good first half going 16/19 for 150 yards with a TD and 2 INTs, but his second half was the stuff MVPs are made of, going 10/12 for 147 yards with 2 TDs in the air and adding 9 carries for 49 yards and a ground score. The guy is an absolute stud!
Allen was a dazzling 26/31 passing (84%) with 3 TDs. Only 3 of his 9 carries were scrambles so that’s 34 pass plays called vs 22 called run plays: right at the 60/40 split that I called the Goldilocks zone for their offense last season. Balance is important because it doesn’t allow defenses to key in on the same thing over and over and in what I saw during the offseason, I was fairly confident that there would be a renewed commitment to the run game and I am glad that I saw that emphasis. The Bills RBs totaled 15 carries for 65 yards. Maybe it isn’t eye-popping and, of course, there were the two concerning fumbles but that’s a 4.3 YPC clip, which is plenty healthy in the NFL. It’s worth mentioning, for non-believers, that Motor had 8 carries for 48 yards (6-YPC) and his 2 snags for 14 yards (7 YPC) make him very clearly the RB1 in my eyes. Then when you add in Allen’s scramble ability and designed runs and you have yourselves a very dangerous ground attack that was already ranked 6th in the league last season.
If you read between the lines here, what’s highlighted is not just that the Bills are better with a more balanced approach, but how much better they are when they run effectively. There was this absolutely ridiculous notion that throwing the ball, “airing it out”, and abandoning the run altogether as the way to improve the offense was a HUGE talking point among the fanbase last season, but it wasn’t coming from a place of reality and/or actual data. The Bills lost EVERY game last season where they called at least 50 pass plays and saw great improvement as their run game rounded into shape down the stretch. I hope that this introductory game in the 2022 season serves as a good example of just how unfounded and bogus that narrative was.
I’m in this deep and I am only now remembering just how much work it is to put together these post-game efforts that live up to my own expectation of quality. In the preview for this game, I also talked about how I felt the Bills WR group vs the Rams secondary had a greater advantage than vice versa and I’m glad they didn’t shy away from that. Diggs finished with an 8/122/1 line and Gabe finished with a 4/88/1 line while Lil’ Dirty also scored and Crowder had some nice moments too aside from the pick. Honestly, that route worked and it will be there again, it’s just some communication in practice that needs to happen.
I had an absolute blast at the game. SoFi is a beautiful stadium and it was great to see it packed with screaming Bills Mafia members. The food is underwhelming and overpriced, as I was warned, and it was sweltering under that roof, but I loved it. I also hope Jordan Poyer gets something worked out with his contract because he came away with a pick in this one, playing with the bionic arm sleeve to help with his elbow injury, and the fans love him. There is probably a whole bunch more that could be said and hopefully will be said by other people, but I am tapping out on this one. I’ll be back on Tuesday after the Bills’ home openers against the loathsome Titans on Monday Night.
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