Some leftover observations from the Bills’ uninspired 23-10 loss to the Steelers on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field:
— A good friend of mine is a huge Bills’ fan and his biggest frustration this season has been offensive play-calling.
And his criticism seems particularly valid when Buffalo is in the red zone (only 12 touchdowns in 28 drives inside the opponents’ 20, or 43 percent, second-to-last in the league). That was never more obvious than on the opening drive against Pittsburgh, a possession that might well have decided the game’s outcome.
After safety Jairus Byrd returned an interception to the Steelers’ 29, six plays later the Bills faced 2nd-and-goal from the Pittsburgh 3-yard line.
Fred Jackson’s run up the middle took it to the one.
On third down, quarterback EJ Manuel badly overthrew wideout Stevie Johnson on a fade route in the end zone.
Thus, on 4th-and-1, coach Doug Marrone settled for a 20-yard field goal.
In fairness to young coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, Manuel admitted of the third-down play, “We had a run called (but) seeing that Stevie was one-on-one by himself to the corner, I always want to throw him a fade ball.”
But why the toughest route to complete in the end zone, thrown by a quarterback who missed the last four weeks to a sprained knee, on his first possession of the game?
But Marrone isn’t exonerated from being second-quessed, either.
Why not go on 4th-and-1 rather than, via a field goal, admit the Steelers won the battle?
Going for it, barring a disastrous turnover of the Jeff Tuel ilk, the Bills would have, at worst, given the ball back to the Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the shadow of their own goal.
Yeah, it’s hindsight, but give me a Jackson run between the tackles in a short-yardage situation any time ahead of a fade route in the end zone.
— Quick, name the most disappointing Bill this season, given the expectations.
Right, C.J. Spiller.
He was invisible again on Sunday ... eight carries for a paltry 23 yards.
In 10 games, the former first-round draft choice, supposedly one of the NFL’s elite running backs, has 110 carries for 501 yards and one TD. He’s also caught 19 balls for 86 yards, or 4 1/2 per reception ... the same as his rushing average.
And, yeah, he has wrestled with a tender ankle, but what’s most distressing is that he hasn’t corrected the problem he had assured us was in the past before this season began.
Spiller had a penchant for trying to turn every carry into a big play ... bouncing many of them outside looking for daylight, only to be stopped near the line of scrimmage.
He assured us in training camp, that flaw had been corrected.
It hasn’t been.
That’s why Jackson has more carries and more yards.
Indeed, Marrone expressed his frustration after Sunday’s loss, though not naming Spiller.
“I thought we had some opportunities and we missed some holes early on,” he said. “We tried to bounce too many things outside, which is always difficult to do.”
— Then there was this moment that harkened back to the lamentable tenures of Gregg Williams and Chan Gailey.
At the end of the Bills’ first possession in the fourth quarter, Buffalo was trailing 17-3 and faced 4th-and-5 at the Steelers’ 36.
Marrone opted to punt.
Yeah, a 53-yard field goal in the swirling winds would have been a lot to ask of Dan Carpenter. But punter Brian Moorman had his worst day since returning to the Bills, averaging less than 37 yards on nine boots — several of them line drives that begged for a big return — with a pathetic net average of 24 yards.
What was the harm in going for it on fourth down?
The Bills were being out-classed and desperately needed the lift a conversion might have provided.
When asked about the decision Marrone allowed, “Down 14 I thought we were going to get enough possessions (to tie or go ahead) to play field position. We weren’t able to make big plays so I was trying to play field position and pin them back.”
How’d that work out for Williams and Gailey?
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)