2022 NFL season, Week 1: What We Learned from Bills’ season-opening win over Rams on Thursday
- Allen, Bills make statement. Technically, Josh Allen didn’t have a perfect night. He took a sack and threw two interceptions, after all. But anyone watching Thursday’s game knows that the first one was clearly on the receiver; chalk the second pick up to a great play by Rams cornerback Troy Slope, who read the toss delightfully. When that, nonetheless, Allen was a machine. When he had the option to involve his legs more in the last part — both on scrambles and planned runs — the Rams had no response for him. Through 3/4, there were zero passes of 20-plus air yards. Then on the first play of the fourth quarter, Allen faced a Cover-0 blitz and dialed up a deep ball to Gabe Davis for 47 yards. Three plays later, he launched into the end zone. How do you stop him? Two picks couldn’t do it. Allen, everyone’s MVP favorite, is off to a blazing start.
- Is there a reason for Stafford’s concern? It’s easy pickings to wonder if Matthew Stafford is fully healthy. After all the off-season stories about his elbow, how should we not? There were times in the game when he tossed more over the top than I can recall, yet that is not really verification he’s in some way leaning toward it with his tossing movement. Stafford’s first interception looked like a miscommunication with tight end Tyler Higbee — hard to know who’s to blame. On the second INT, Stafford tried to dial up his Super Bowl magic with the no-look (three-quarters arm angle) pass to Cooper Kupp, but Stafford was high and off-target with it. Was it a pretty outing? Not in the least. But the Rams’ blocking issues and inability to run the ball out of 11 personnel made his job a lot harder. There might be a physical element to Stafford’s Week 1 struggles, but let’s not just default to that assumption after one game.
- Hats off to the Bills’ defense. Much of the talk coming in was about how the Bills’ young corners might struggle. But rookies Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford (a sixth-rounder who played FCS ball a year ago) held up extremely well, and Dane Jackson had a pick. The Rams, hard as they attempted, just couldn’t get the Bills out of those two-high looks the vast majority of the evening. At the point when you can’t run the ball, that’s tough. It seemed to frustrate Stafford and Sean McVay from a big-play standpoint — the opportunities were few and far between. Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier technically operates with an old-school mentality: make the offense matriculate down the field eight, 10, 12 plays at a crack. The thinking is that mistakes will happen. That philosophy panned out in a big way Thursday. The Bills got good pressure most of the night (especially early) from Von Miller and what looks like a much deeper defensive line group. The Rams helped them by pass-protecting poorly, and they had only one drive longer than 38 yards in the game’s first 55 minutes. But credit is deserved for a Buffalo defense that hauled in three picks and seven sacks. It was a tremendous effort.
- Dorsey has an impressive debut. Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey was in his bag early on in his first regular-season game as a play-caller. Those concerns about losing Brian Daboll are yesterday’s news (for now). Dorsey had Allen running some rollout plays that Cam Newton used to with the Panthers back when Dorsey was his QB coach. On the TD drive that put the Bills up 17-10, Dorsey involved Allen as a sprinter a couple of times, resulting in his highlight-reel stiff-arm of Rams safety Nick Scott. Mix that in with the outside zone toss plays — a Kyle Shanahan staple — that appears to be a new wrinkle and Dorsey was able to keep the Rams’ defense off-kilter several times. So, he’s drawing from other teams’ concepts while also keeping the core of the playbook that Allen excelled with the past few years. It’s hard to argue with that formula.
- Where was Cam? The Rams used running back Darrell Henderson extensively early in the game — and on all eight plays of the opening drive — while Cam Akers mostly sat. This was after Akers declared earlier this week, “I know I’m healthy.” He added: “Every other person will simply get to see (Thursday). I’m doing whatever it takes not to go show anyone that I’m solid. I’m just going to play my game.” Akers’ first carry came a few minutes into the second quarter, resulting in a no-gain. He’d finish with two carries for zero yards. Is it too early to be concerned? Of course. It’s Week 1. The Rams have 10 days until they face the Falcons. Some of his usages can be attributed to the score getting a bit out of hand. Perhaps the soft-tissue injury Akers dealt with in the preseason is still barking a bit, too. But how the Rams use their backs early this season will be worth monitoring. Akers’ fantasy owners certainly will be.
Next Gen stat of the night: The Bills did not blitz on any of Matthew Stafford’s passes Thursday night. The only other zero-blitz games by a defense (in the NGS era) were also by the Bills in games against the Chiefs in 2020 and 2021.
NFL Research: The Rams’ 21-point misfortune was the second-biggest all-time for a safeguarding Super Bowl champion, just one point fewer than the Ravens’ 22-point loss at Denver in 2013 (Peyton Manning’s first game with the Broncos).