ReFo: Falcons @ Bills, Week 13
Is it possible to feel like a game was going nowhere for long stretches despite a healthy helping of long plays, multiple shifts in the lead, a 31-all tie at the end of regulation, and a pair of gut-wrenching turnovers ultimately deciding it? If so, that’s where I was with it for much of the experience. For all the good on display, there was plenty of ugly to go around as the Bills and Falcons fought themselves as much as their opponents to decide a winner.
The positives made it entertaining, though, and it was certainly worth a watch as Atlanta’s disappointing year took a mild upward turn and Buffalo’s hopeful new beginning took another step toward focusing on next season.
Atlanta – Three Performances of Note
The Old Roddy
After 45 games of double-digit targets over the past five seasons, Roddy White hadn’t hit that point once in this unusual, injury-marred 2013. With 14 balls sent his way this week – and 10 catches on them – we finally had a glimpse of the White we’ve come to know. Working under coverage as a possession option for Matt Ryan, White made the stops, outs, and comebacks look easy, moved the chains five times, and helped get his team into field goal range just before the half. For good measure, a third-quarter stop-and-go against tight coverage up the right sideline brought his longest gain (29 yards) and showed there’s still something of a downfield piece to his game as well. His +1.7 overall is his first green grade of the year and something to build a full return on.
Babi-yes or Babineaux?
On a defense that makes it hard to find regular positives, Johnathan Babineaux’s work as a run defender is at least worth a note. Ranking in the Top 15 of the league’s NT/DTs in run defense grades, Babineaux added another positive this week (+2.5), his sixth of the season. Trouble is, they’ve not been strung together and between them have been negatives working to keep his total in check. Equally frustrating, his 25 run stops are third-most at the position, but his nine misses in the run game lead the group. Seemingly so close to putting it all together again (his 2009 was the most consistently strong we’ve seen him), the flashes from Weeks 8 and 10 this year show he’s capable of top-flight performance.
New Position, New Problems
In the third outing since seeing Joe Hawley take over at center, Peter Konz put in a full day at right guard and found another set of troubles. His first crack at the position in Week 11 didn’t end well as Tampa’s Gerald McCoy enjoyed the matchup a bit too much for the Atlanta coaching staff to let it continue past 18 snaps. This time, determined to see a complete start, Konz faced off with the Buffalo D-line that, unlike the Bucs, boasts multiple weapons. With Marcel Dareus, Mario Williams, and Kyle Williams all getting their shots, Konz found himself spun around to the tune of seven total pressures (a sack, a hit, and five hurries) and a pass-blocking grade nearly on par with his worst. It’s a tough task being supplanted and then asked to provide fill-in duty at another spot — and good on Konz for taking it on – but the bottom line is his run blocking issues as a center have transformed into pass blocking problems as a guard (his Pass Blocking Efficiency rating at the position of 87.4 would be the league’s lowest with enough snaps to qualify) and there’s just not going to be a long future for a player who can’t solve them.
Buffalo – Three Performances of Note
Posting his top grade so far this season, Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller put on quite a show for the city’s Northern neighbors. It was tough to find days that weren’t glowing with green grades for Spiller in 2012, but this season that hasn’t been the story. The +2.7 he earned this week just outshines his +2.6 from the Kansas City game a few games back but those two sit as the lonely pair on a sheet dominated by red marks. Seeing him work against Atlanta it’s tough to believe he’d rate anything less than excellent at any point along the way. An impression of his 2013 truth is there to be had, though, and not just in his season grade, but in his numbers as well. His Elusive Rating for this game – built from his seven forced missed tackles on 17 touches and a 6.07 yards after contact figure — was an astounding 249.8 (a measure that crowns a yearly champ with a mark in the neighborhood of 90), but as impressive as it was, his season ER was only pulled up to 30.6; 32nd on the league’s list of runners.
Breakout, Part 2
Alan Branch, playing on a one-year deal with the Bills, has had trouble matching the consistent levels he showed in his 2011 breakout year with Seattle. After turning in a mixed bag in his last season as a Seahawk and seeing his first in Buffalo start on the same pace, you wouldn’t turn heads by suggesting his best was a blip and safely back in the distance. Well, don’t look now but Branch might just be finding his feet again. With a +4.1 grade in Week 10 and a career-best +5.9 this week, he’s posted two of his three best marks since we started watching him in 2008. Against Atlanta this week, he saw 50 snaps for the second time this season and his five run stops kept pace with (or outpaced) the weekly headliners at the position. He simply looked too strong for the Atlanta line to cope with, no matter who he was matched up with; Joe Hawley (3Q 10:33), Peter Konz (3Q 11:57), Lamar Holmes (2Q 13:45), Jeremy Trueblood (3Q 9:37), and Justin Blalock (1Q 14:50) all got tastes as he discarded blockers and disrupted runs all afternoon.
Diving to the pylon in the game’s first five minutes ended up being E.J. Manuel’s high point. That impressive effort with his feet was followed by four quarters of his arm letting him down, logging nearly two off-target throws for every one he hit on. The overthrows, underthrows, and dropped interceptions made his on-the-money moments hard to remember, but credit him, with the game on the line he hit receivers for important gains twice only to see them hand the ball over to Falcon defenders. In a frustrating rookie year, Manuel’s -4.4 now makes it seven straight relatively down days as a starter since his career-opening positive in Week 1.
– Of the six passes thrown at Atlanta CB Robert Alford, only one was completed and none of the three targeted to Marquise Goodwin found a home.
– Manuel completed three of 12 passes aimed 10+ yards downfield. Ryan was 9-of-18 on similar throws.
– Jerry Hughes’ five total pressures on 23 pass rushing snaps earned him a Pass Rushing Productivity mark of 18.5; second-highest among 3-4 OLBs this week.
PFF Game Ball
For taking on all comers and winning out, Alan Branch tossed aside the competition for the PFF Game Ball.
Follow Rick on Twitter.