I don't even know where to begin.
How about with a confession? I have not watched the entire game against the Bills. I was going to watch it at 11 on Sunday (per NFL Rewind) when my wife, out of the goodness of her heart, told me gently that I may want to look at the score first. I knew at that moment nothing good had come of the game.
Actually, I knew it all through preseason, even though I didn't know that I knew. You know? Over the last couple of weeks it's been pointed out to me that I'm sounding more and more pessimistic. Well, I am. I can't cover it up. Some things you just know in your gut. I knew I'd marry my wife after our first date. I knew my kids would be boys. And I knew what law school I was going to even before starting the application process. Sometimes, you just have a feeling about something.
Well, my feeling was this season was not going to start off well for us. Crap, I hate being right all the time... but let's talk about the game I didn't watch, and where to go from here
Let me be clear on something: I know a little bit about what went down in the game. While I didn't watch the whole thing, I watched quite a few offensive snaps, looked over the play-by-play (always a good idea to get an overall feel for the game. I highly recommend it), and read Bewsaf's article about our offensive line play. I also have read a lot of AP opinions on the game. So I've got a general idea of the things that went wrong. I tell you this only so you don't think I'm coming from a place of complete ignorance (well, no more so than I normally am anyways).
Long story short... we got beat. Bad. Outplayed in the trenches. Outcoached (LORD were we outcoached). Sloppy mental mistakes. Turnovers. Poor coverage. Poor QB play. No heart. But that's not what I want to talk about right now.
We lost arguably our best player in Eric Berry, and certainly our most irreplaceable player. I don't even want to hear an argument about Tamba Hali or Jamaal Charles being better than Berry. Maybe they are, but both of them have at least relatively capable backups in place (several, in the case of JC). With Berry the dropoff from him is akin to stepping off the edge of the Empire State Building (which I'm sure most of you are considering right about now in the post. I swear it's not all gloom and doom. Hold on!). But that's not what I want to talk about either.
Here's what I want to do... I want to move on. Yeah, I know, it hasn't been that long. But you know what? Epictetus would tell us to move on.
Who is Epictetus you ask? Well, he's an ancient philosopher, and as his name suggests, his wisdom is epic (too easy? C'mon, that was at least kind of funny). His wisdom revolved around one central thought...
"There are some things that you can control, and some things you cannot control."
(I think half of you just rolled your eyes so hard they fell out. Pop ‘em back in and let me explain)
In life, there are those two specific types of situations: ones you can control and ones you can't. It's no sense getting too fired up about what you can control, because you can change your behavior and adapt to the situation. And as far as things you can't control... what's the point of getting upset? You can't control it!
We can't control how badly we got beat by the Bills. It's already done. We can't control the fact that we need to go the rest of the year without Berry and Tony Moeaki. We can't control our offensive line's weakness in pass blocking (well, we COULD a little, but seeing as Gaither looks to be a benchwarmer right now I'm passing that off). And we cannot control the fact that as of right now, Matt Cassel is the best quarterback on this team.
(long Cassel sidenote... I don't wanna hear excuses. The man has limitations. The O-line wasn't that bad against Buffalo. He had some time on a lot of throws. As far as our receivers go... when do we stop blaming them? Personally, I think a 1-2 combo of Bowe of Breaston isn't half bad. Good QB's overcome average receivers being average. Bowe is well above average, and Breaston has proven he can perform above average with even a crummy QB. Cassel looks like the exact same QB we saw last year. The excuses stop. This is a QB-driven league, and he's got a much better line and WR corps than he did two years ago. Yet he still looks like the same guy. It's time to let the majority of the blame fall on him. Not all, but most)
What CAN we control? Our offensive and defensive schemes and identity. So where do we go from here?
We are a running team, and we run to set up the pass
Running the ball 18 times when you have Jamaal Charles, Dexter McCluster, Thomas Jones, and Le'Ron McClain on your team is totally, completely unacceptable. And I don't want to hear about the score. Don't even talk to me about it. Go look at the play-by-play in the first half, before the game got out of hand. Our first 3 possessions we passed more than we ran, for two 3-and-outs and one drive with a single first down . So it wasn't just the score.
In fact, look over that play-by play. Pretty much only times Cassel was successful throwing was after we'd run the ball a little bit. Any drive that started off with passing or featured more of Cassel than our RB's was a disaster (and there were a lot of disasters).
Here's another thing to consider. 6 YPC as a team vs 3.3 YPA by Cassel. I mean, come on! If your passing game isn't working it doesn't MATTER how far behind you are. It's not working! Stop doing it!
Also, we had a chance in the second half. We'd scored a TD (with the lion's share of the yards on that drive coming from runs and passes made after the run was established) and forced the Bills to punt. We're down 13, but there's plenty of time. Four Cassel passes later (with 5 total yards gained) we punted the ball right back and gave Buffalo great field position. Yay passing game!
Enough. We've got a great, talented, deep backfield with a very, very diverse skill set. We can run the ball 40 times a game and still have a varied game plan. We can also run out of the shotgun effectively (thanks to Dex and JC) and thus still keep the defense from stacking the box too awful much. Enough with trying to make Cassel the vessel that drives the team. You say we're a running team, Haley. Time you, you know, actually be a running team.
With Berry out, we need to bring the heat
Enough with this soft zone coverage crap. We got made fools of by an average (at best) QB with a mediocre (again, being generous here) WR corps. Without Berry in there our defense looks much, much softer against the pass and the run. We'd come to rely too much on his skills.
Against the run, we need to start stacking the box. Our D-line did not look good. If we're having trouble stopping the run, keep more guys in there.
On a related note, it's time to start pressing receivers and sending the house more often. Our coverage guys are talented but seem to just keep giving up yards. It's not working. We've got a special pass rusher in Hali and a guy who looks like he can bring the heat from the other side in Houston. Time to start releasing the hounds and making teams pay for trying to pass the ball. What's the risk, we'll miss on the blitz and get burned? We're getting burned anyway!!!! Seriously, WE'RE GETTING BURNED ANYWAYS!!! WHAT DO WE HAVE TO LOSE??? (What happened? I just blacked out. I had the strangest feeling RAWKC was here... oh well)
Look, the season isn't over. At least, it doesn't have to be. But we need to start making some changes in the way things are being done. These two steps are what I see as our only shot right now. If we keep messing around with trying to be a passing team, or keep relying on our coverage to hold the day without Berry back there, or rely on 6 or 7 man fronts to consistently stop the run, we're dead out there.
I wish I had better news. But think of it this way... right now we're trapped in an alley in the fight of our lives. We've been knocked down hard and are gasping for breath. Do we go fetal and beg for mercy (as in "Suck for Luck")? Or do we pick up that broken piece of pipe laying on the ground and
come up swinging (use the tools we've got, adjust how we play and see what happens)? I guess I'm all for changing the game and fighting for survival, rather than give in and hope we don't die.