The Buffalo Bills continued their trend of earning last-second wins against NFC North foes yesterday with a 17-16 win over the Minnesota Vikings. Added to a 23-20 overtime win over Chicago and a 17-14 road win over Detroit, three of the Bills' four wins thus far in 2014 have been of the last-second variety against their cross-conference competition.
A win is a win, but several things will need to change in a hurry if the 4-3 Bills are going to follow through on their solid-thus-far playoff positioning and make a legitimate push for the postseason. (At least Doug Marrone, for one, isn't trying to pull the wool over our eyes.) Here are five things that stood out to me most from yesterday's win.
No. 1: Rookie left guard Cyril Richardson has shown some upside as a run blocker, and has been beyond awful in pass protection. Over the last five games, the Bills have averaged 41.4 pass attempts per game. If that's their offense - moving the chains with a ball-control passing game - then Kraig Urbik, not Richardson, should be the starting left guard. Urbik isn't a player worthy of writing home about, but Richardson is a massive liability as a pass blocker, whereas Urbik would bring that position much closer to league average. This should not be a decision that Marrone needs to sleep on, either; it's obvious.
No. 2: So, about that run defense that was on the verge of breaking franchise records... it already feels like a million years ago. The run defense that allowed 158 yards at 5.4 yards per carry felt every bit like the terrible run defenses we've watched the Bills put on display over the last decade-plus. The current plan is to look into those issues this week for All-22 purposes, but the Bills seemed to struggle to match up with Minnesota's 22 personnel package (two backs and two tight ends), and there was a lot of poor tackling on the back end, as well. It goes without saying, but that needs to be cleaned up in time to face the run-heavy Jets next Sunday.
No. 3: On the other hand, aside from a couple of long-distance third down conversions (which the Bills are rather expert at allowing, it seems), Buffalo's pass defense rebounded in a big way following last week's throttling at the hands of New England. That wasn't unexpected, of course, given the quarterback drop-off, but it's encouraging nonetheless. Take particular note of the fact that the Bills spent most of the afternoon dropping seven and eight players into coverage, and still picked up five sacks with three- and four-man rushes. That will be the game plan moving forward, especially against below-average quarterbacks (hint, hint, Geno Smith).
No. 4: Another week goes by in which we'd be remiss not to point out that Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes are on a rip-roaring roll right now. The duo combined for 3.5 more sacks on Sunday, and in the past three weeks have put up 9.5 sacks between them. Mario Williams is still productive in that department, as well - he very quietly has accumulated 5.5 sacks in seven games this season - but it's pretty clear at this point that Hughes and Dareus are the key cogs in Buffalo's still-excellent pass rush.
No. 5: I get that the popular thing to do regarding Buffalo's defensive backfield right now (and for the past several months) is to trash Stephon Gilmore, but I'm going to take it in a different direction: the Leodis McKelvin that we saw yesterday was the 2013-era McKelvin that looked like a genuine, bona fide starter. That was a pleasant surprise, and bad throw or not, the technique he played on his second interception was picture-perfect. With Gilmore struggling, the Bills are going to need more games like that out of McKelvin to keep the secondary's production afloat.
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