ORCHARD PARK — The adjectives that rolled off tongues, populated news accounts and lit up Twitter feeds describing the Bills’ offensive performance last week in the season opener against Baltimore were harsh, and they were also accurate.
Deplorable. Horrendous. Pathetic. Ugly. Awful. On and on and on, and not even the most myopic Bills fan could argue as Buffalo managed a mere 160 yards in its 13-7 loss to Baltimore.
Those were generalizations of the entire offensive unit, but they could also be seen in specific descriptions related to the offensive line which was overmatched by the Ravens’ ravenous front seven.
Oh, center Eric Wood and guard Richie Incognito heard it all, and you bet they’re hell-bent on making amends Thursday when they are confronted with an even better defense in the nationally televised home opener against the New York Jets.
“We are a very prideful group and we know what we’re capable of and we didn’t play up to our potential,” said Incognito. “When you have a poor showing like that early in the season it leaves a poor taste in your mouth. So we’re coming out extra motivated. We’re fired up.”
Being fired up is fine, but what they really need to be is flawless because the Jets have what many experts believe is the best defensive front in the NFL with Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams.
“They have so many good players up front, all of us have to show up each play because any one of them can really embarrass you,” said Wood. “Another tough test, and we’ve got to play better this week. We take what we do very serious up front and when we don’t do well, we aren’t happy about it.”
Baltimore’s front was athletic and aggressive and it limited the Bills to 2.7 yards per rushing attempt, sacked Tyrod Taylor twice and flushed him out of the pocket on several other pass plays, and dominated third down as Buffalo converted just 3 of 13. New York’s front is more athletic, more aggressive, and, scary as it may be, more talented, so the Bills’ chances of winning this early pivotal AFC East game will likely hinge on the offensive line bouncing back in a big way.
And coach Rex Ryan has every confidence they can do it, even though left tackle Cordy Glenn will miss the game with an ankle injury and Cyrus Kouandjio has to step in.
“Well, I don’t think it was just on the offensive line,” Ryan said, pointing out, for instance, that some of the protection problems fell at the feet of the running backs, too. “(The line’s) going to get the brunt of it, and like I told them, ‘I’m going to blame you guys for everything. Why? Because you can take it.’ That is a prideful group.”
What was bothersome about the loss in Baltimore was that the line was one area that everyone thought was a strength for Buffalo. All five starters were back from a year ago, including Glenn, Incognito and Wood, who are among the best players in the league at their respective positions. This was the same line that helped the Bills lead the NFL in rushing a year ago, but there was nowhere to run Sunday as the Bills finished with just 65 yards.
“Just little stuff, one guy making a mistake on enough plays and you never really get in a rhythm offensively,” said Wood. “When we don’t get in a rhythm and extend drives, it’s really tough to play well up front. You’ve got to keep a D-line on the field to wear on them, and we had (48) total plays in the game. You’re not going to be able to do a whole lot of anything.”
Taylor didn’t help matters by playing perhaps his worst game as the Bills’ starter. He missed a couple throws, and more disturbing, he misread a few coverages which led to him ignoring wide open receivers down the field that could have resulted in game-changing plays. These are the things he needed to improve on from year one to year two, and one week in, that wasn’t the case.
Despite all the issues, running back LeSean McCoy refuses to get down. After all, it was one game, and if the Bills light it up on offense and win Thursday, “You won’t even talk about last week,” he said. “That’s how it works. We can’t panic. I’ve heard a lot of people panicking, “Oh, we lost the first game.’ Yeah, we lost the first game and the offense played bad. You gotta move on. It’s a long season and that’s the type of league it is.”
It may be an outdated philosophy in this Madden joystick of offensive football in the NFL, but winning the battle in the trenches still matters because even the best quarterbacks — Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger — need help from the big boys to succeed the way they do.
Incognito knows this, and given the ultimate challenge he and his linemates face with New York, he recognizes how important the line’s roll will be.
“I think it was a blessing in disguise to get that stinker out of the way and move on and have a great opponent like the Jets coming up,” he said. “It was great to turn the page fast (because of the Thursday game) and get on to the Jets. They’re tenacious, they’re really good, they’re very talented at all positions, big, strong, physical, one of the best groups in the league, so it’s a great challenge this early in the season.”
BILLS vs. JETS
When: 8:25 p.m. Thursday
Where: New Era Field
TV/radio: CBS Channel 8/96.5 WCMF-FM
Series: Bills lead 59-51
Last meeting: The Bills won 22-17 in 2015 season finale.