There’s no such thing as a trap game!
We hear this so often from players and coaches alike that it might seem like a cliché, but it’s true. Every opponent is dangerous, every team has 53 professional football players on their roster and “on any given Sunday, any team in the NFL can beat any other team.”
On this Sunday, the Bills were 26-16 victors over the Broncos.
Denver were the favourites heading into this game, and rightly so. Their defence looked better than last year and Trevor Siemian was showing a poise that made him look like an established veteran.
It’s an oft used phrase in MMA that styles make fights and in this case the Bills possess two things that makes their style troublesome for Denver. The No Fly Zone are excellent at man to man coverage and shutting down receivers, while the Broncos’ defensive line are great run stuffers. Where Denver can struggle is with Running backs who are very good receivers and with run-threat Quarterbacks.
Joe Woods (the Broncos defensive coordinator) chose to use a “spy” on Tyrod Taylor, essentially having a player dedicated to keeping him from getting loose and running. This role was shared between Von Miller, Shaq Barrett and Brandon Marshall. They did a good job limiting Taylor to just 13 yards rushing.
The defence also managed to keep LeSean McCoy in check for the most part. He rushed for only 21 yards and had 48 yards receiving.
Keeping a spy on Taylor and watching for McCoy out of the backfield did leave Denver very thin in the secondary however. To overcome this they employed a zone defence more often than usual and were made to pay at times. Taylor managed to find Jordan Matthews and Kaelin Clay in large amounts of open space.
Overall though, the Denver defence did its job. They limited the Bills major weapons and harried Taylor to the tune of 4 sacks and eight hits. It will have been very pleasing to Bills fans to see how poised Tyrod Taylor remained under all that pressure, even managing to deliver two beautiful long passes while in the act of being hit.
Where Denver lost the game was with a lack of composure.
In their first two drives Denver were penalised for false starts and had to punt without picking up a first down. The offensive line were penalised twice more for false starts and once for holding.
The result of all these penalties was that Siemian found himself in unfavourable positions often. He was placed in 3rd and long situations which forced him to hold the ball longer than he would have liked. Also, the offensive line was yielding ground and with it pressure.
These pressure situations led to us seeing Trevor Siemian for what he is, a second year quarterback with a bright future….and a lot to learn. Passing on the run has been a noted weakness of Siemian’s and we saw it when he sailed a few passes. He was also intercepted twice and could have been intercepted a further two times.
The first interception came when Siemian was placed in a bad position by a holding penalty. He attempted to make something of nothing and threw a long pass into traffic that was picked off. It was not a savvy play and certainly one he would like to get back, sometimes the smart move is to take the short pass and punt.
The second interception was a pressure play by the Bills. They got into Siemian’s face and harassed him into throwing the interception. That ended up being a seminal moment in the game as the Broncos would only possess the ball one more time.
It wasn’t all bad, Siemian did complete some excellent passes, but he seemed to be forcing it to Emmanuel Sanders a bit too often, even when there were better options.
Jamaal Charles and CJ Anderson were doing well on the ground and should have been used more, so play calling will need to be looked at by the coaching staff too.
But, it was not just the offence that were lacking in composure, special teams played their part.
Following a fabulous touchdown run from Jamaal Charles, the Denver defence managed to force a punt. After a somewhat confusing “catch” from Emmanuel Sanders was ruled incomplete, the Broncos punt unit came out. A booming kick was chased excellently by Cody Latimer, making the tackle on the Bills 31 yard line. However, this was called back due to an illegal formation. On the re-kick Latimer was taken care of by 2 Bills players and a run back off a shorter punt left the Bills deep in Broncos territory.
It seemed like a small thing at the time, but on such small moments are games won and lost.
Deep into the second half and the Broncos attempted a fake punt and failed to pick up the first down. This left the Bills in excellent field position from where they were held to a field goal. With plenty of time left in a close game, the fake punt was an unnecessary risk and was an unwelcome momentum shift.
There was then time for just one more crucial penalty and for this one I cannot entirely blame the player.
Tyrod Taylor had the ball with 7 minutes left and faced a crucial 3rd down. Von Miller broke through the line and forced Taylor to pass earlier than intended, the pass was tipped by Adam Gotsis and fell incomplete. Taylor was knocked down and Miller went to help him up, but then pulled his hand away, schoolyard prank style. Miller and Taylor were both laughing about it, but the nearby referee was not and threw a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The penalty gave the Bills a first down, from which they proceeded on a 4 minute run-heavy drive, resulting in a field goal.
Siemian got the ball once more, but with time running out and two scores needed, he was not able to manufacture anything and the game was over.
Miller has since taken responsibility for the loss and said he needs to be smarter. I’m not so sure, this kind of banter is good for the game in my view, so long as the other player is in on it and by all accounts Taylor and Miller had been having fun all day.
We have seen this precise “joke” before, both from Miller and other players, with no penalty given. Still, the penalty may have been technically accurate, if not in the spirit of the game. Miller will not be taking a chance at such a crucial moment again.
So, what did we learn?
Jamaal Charles still has it and when splitting the carries with CJ Anderson they provide a fearsome running threat.
The offensive line is still a work in progress.
LeSean McCoy scares the bejesus out of me every time he touches the ball.
Siemian is not the messiah, he’s just a good young quarterback who will take this game on board and get better.
Vance Joseph, too, is not the finished article and while he gets more right than wrong, he now knows how crucial every possession is.
It really is the No Fun League.
And one final note; Politics and football have always made uncomfortable bedfellows. But, after the comments and responses this weekend, there will be a continuing political scrutiny of every team from here on out. Unfamiliar as I am with the minutiae of the American political system, I’ll be sticking to the football.