I started writing this as a response to an article comments thread but felt myself getting long-winded and decided a blog post might be more appropriate. The thread involved reaction to the Buffalo Bills' playcalling, which some people felt was less than creative in its 17-16 loss at Indianapolis.
My point was that sometimes the situation dictates that a team stay conservative. As it was, Buffalo was missing a lot of key players to injury and was playing a very good defense on the road. Losing by one is hardly a bad result.
Now, injuries are a fact of life in the NFL, but only the really good teams have enough depth to consistently overcome them. Bad teams are lucky to have 11 quality starters, much less reserves who can step in and perform at the level of the starter. Football is a game of matchups, and if you can't put players on the field who are good enough to win individual matchups, you're going to struggle. And you might have to change your preferred approach to cover up a weakness.
So while not an excuse, injuries do limit what a team/coach can try to do, and they also change what the opposing team/coach can try to do to you. For that reason, they have to be taken into account when evaluating game plans and playcalling and strategy.
Bills coach Dick Jauron is a defensive-minded guy, but he hired Steve Fairchild, a Mike Martz disciple, to run the offense. Theoretically, that would indicate a desire to open the offense up and be dynamic and creative. But take away both starting tackles, a starting RB the caliber of Willis McGahee and a receiver like Josh Reed and even a creative guy like that will be hamstrung.
So the fact that Buffalo ran the ball 31 times and only threw it 13 in a road game in a loud dome vs. a defense like the Colts shouldn't be surprising. They were in the game at the end, and but for a couple of mistakes (sacks allowed, penalties) on their last two possessions, they might have pulled off the upset. That game might actually be taken as a sign of progress. Past Bills teams might have gotten blown out. This one figured out how to hang in there and compete.