It is questionable that today’s game showed us the same old Bills. This game was the opportunity to reverse that narrative. All week, I spoke about the opportunity that the Bills had in front of them today. The difference between 4-1 and 3-2 is HUGE when it comes to playoff implications. Since 1995, teams that start 4-1 make the playoffs 71% of the time. Teams that start 3-2 make the playoffs 48% of the time. Now that the Bills are on the wrong side of numerical history, let’s dive into the highs and lows from the 20-16 loss.
O’Leary was thrust into the starting lineup after the soul-crushing loss of Charles Clay in the first quarter. He did exactly what was asked of him all afternoon, making contested catches and extending drives. O’Leary set career marks both in catches and yards today, 5 for 54. Early indications are that Clay’s knee injury could be serious, which means we will see more of O’Leary in the coming weeks. If he can be the dependable mid-range threat that Clay was, then the offense should benefit from it.
Through five weeks, you cannot ask for much more of the Bills defense when it comes to forcing turnovers. The Bills defense kept them in the game all day, forcing three turnovers. Oddly enough, all three turnovers were at the hands of A.J. Green, who torched the Bills for 189 receiving yards. Two interceptions bounced off of Green’s hands and into the hands of Bills defenders. And it was A.J. Green who fumbled deep in Bills territory in the third quarter. The defense has done an excellent job forcing turnovers; you can’t ask for much more out of them through 5 games.
Brandon Tate did all that was asked of him today. He scored the Bills only touchdown, on a beautiful toe-drag in the back of the endzone. And his 40 yard punt return was exactly what the Bills needed on a day that the offense was sputtering. It’s a shame that he could not score on that return; that would have given the Bills their best chance to win the game, given the offensive struggles.
When the Bills offense struggled in the preseason, it was easy to make excuses. But even back then I didn’t buy it. It was clear on tape that the offensive line was bad. This offensive line is a shell of itself, a shell of what it has been the last two years opening up holes for LeSean McCoy. Thanks to this offensive line, the threat of LeSean McCoy has been neutralized. Trailing 17-13, LeSean McCoy had a 44 yard rush called back on a holding penalty. The run would have set the Bills up in the redzone. We are looking at four straight games now that McCoy has had little to no effect in the rushing game. Running the ball was the Bills blueprint for the season: that blueprint is no longer working. As for specific members on the offensive lines, since the summer, I have not understood Sean McDermott’s love affair with Vlad Ducasse. I still don’t. Today, John Miller was a healthy scratch because they “wanted to get a look at” Vlad. Quite honestly, I am not sure what else there is to see. I could pull up a video of Vlad getting completely undressed in every single game this year. But, the Bills still want to see more. We’ll see if Miller gets back in after the bye week.
I know that he was down his top wide receiver and his top tight end, but Tyrod Taylor had a miserable day. The issues that we are seeing from Tyrod Taylor are the same we saw in year 1, year 2, and now year 3. We saw the issues when he had Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, and when he had Zay Jones and Kaelin Clay. At this point, he is who he is. He finished the game 20/37, 166 yds, 1 TD and 1 INT. He was sacked 6 times by the Bengals defense. Out of those six, I would say four or five of them were his fault. Tyrod’s internal clock is way off. Time and time again we see him hesitate with the football. The worst came with the Bills trailing 20-16. The ball at their own 25 yard line with 3:33 remaining. Taylor stood in the pocket for what seemed like an eternity and took a sack, which effectively killed the Bills chances of winning the game. Two stats that are very unbecoming of Taylor are these: He is 1-11 when having 30+ passing attempts and he is now 2-16 when the Bills trail by 4 or more at any point in the game. The announcers even said as much today: he said the Bengals’ plan was to keep Tyrod in the pocket and force him to put apart the defense. That will never happen, and that is a problem. The fact that opposing teams say that is a serious issue, and one that cannot be ignored in the McDermott regime.
The Bills were a top-10 offense last year. Bills fans are quickly growing tired of Rick Dennison and this scheme, which does not come as a surprise considering Broncos fans wanted him removed after the 2015-2016 season…despite winning the Super Bowl. Turnovers are great, but they mean nothing when the Bills cannot finish drives. Today, the Bills scored 10 points off of turnovers, but they needed more. Field goals need to be touchdowns. With the Bills down 17-13, Brandon Tate had a fantastic 40- yard punt return that, combined with a 15-yard Bengals penalty, set the Bills up 1st and 10 from the 12 yard line. Needing a touchdown, the Bills were able to gain all of 2 yards on three plays. The amount of negative rush plays on 1st and 10 that we have seen from the Bills this year is an issue. This is something that must get cleaned up going forward.
This low isn’t so much on the Bills, rather the overall feel of the game. Let’s face it, penalties rule the game in today’s NFL. Jerry Hughes looked like he was being held all game, but no holding penalty was ever called on the Bengals OL. It took until the third time that Tyrod Taylor was hit late or out of bounds that the referees finally decided to throw the flag. The inconsistency with penalties is bad. And it’s not just this game, but if you watch any NFL game you will be turned off by the number of flags (or lack thereof). They rule the game, and certainly impact the final result of the game.
There are a few ways to look at this. You can look at today as a missed opportunity that has serious implications on the playoffs…or you can be satisfied in knowing that the Bills are 3-2 at the bye week, still in first place in the AFC East, in a season when most expected them to finish with 5 or 6 wins. Either way, the Bills will get their bye week at a much needed time, allowing their injuries on both sides of the ball to heal a bit. Coming out of the bye, the Bills will have back-to-back home games against Tampa Bay and Oakland, both of which are now must-wins for Bills fans expecting them to end the drought at 17 years. Let’s hope that McDermott, Dennison, and Beane can put their heads together over the bye week to fix this offensive issue. Maybe the solution lies in starting the right players (Glenn and Miller did not play today), maybe it lies within changing back to the zone-blocking scheme in the run game. Either way, the Bills have to figure this out. Upper management might not have expected they would be in this situation, but the Bills are going to be in the thick of the Wild Card race this year, and they need their best player, LeSean McCoy, to be an actual threat going forward. They have two weeks to get that figured out.
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