At the halfway point of the 2014 NFL regular season, the Buffalo Bills are 5-3, in second place in the AFC East, a game out of the division lead, and in the hunt in the AFC playoff picture. Oh, and it's their bye week. Listen, this Bills team is flawed, but there are a ton of NFL fan bases out there that would kill to be in our position today. Let's try to keep that perspective these next two weeks.
We'll be spending a lot of time looking at the Bills from a macro perspective this week, since they're not playing a game next weekend. But they pounded on the New York Jets yesterday, so let's keep talking about that, shall we? Here are five observations from yesterday's big 43-23 win.
No. 1: Kyle Orton has been an obvious upgrade over EJ Manuel at the quarterback position in every way but one: he's taking way too many sacks. The Jets brought Orton down four more times in this contest; that may not seem like a lot, but keep in mind that Orton only dropped back 21 times. I get that there is a far more popular narrative out there about who, exactly, is at fault for the Bills' fits and sputters offensively, but it's not exactly coincidental that three of Orton's sacks taken in this contest came on three-and-out drives. Orton has not had great protection, but he's been responsible for a huge portion of these sacks taken by holding onto the ball too long. Orton is throwing the ball well, but he's putting his offense in bad spots too often, as well.
No. 2: The circumstances of this game (namely, six Jets turnovers) led to Buffalo's offense inverting their run/pass ratio established in the previous five games. Orton had been averaging over 41 passes per game in his previous three starts, but tossed the rock just 17 times against the Jets. Meanwhile, playing with a huge lead, the Bills ran the ball 32 times. They gained just 67 yards on those runs, while Orton's 10 completions went for 238 yards. Buffalo has a new identity on offense, and it is the passing game. That's not something anyone saw coming in the preseason, but it seems to be working out alright for them thus far.
No. 3: Sammy Watkins goofed. I'm sure we'll read articles about how the Bills' coaching staff handled his too-early celebration that cost him an 89-yard touchdown (he settled for an 84-yard gain), post-play reaction and remorse from Watkins himself, and perhaps a column or two about how that moment epitomizes a young Bills offense trying to come of age. I think Doug Marrone has the right of this, though: Watkins isn't the type of dude to do something like that again. It's that simple. The guy is a budding All-Pro. He learned his lesson instantaneously.
No. 4: Throughout the summer months, Buffalo's coaching staff talked up rookie linebacker Preston Brown. Early in his rookie season, he struggled mightily. And sure, it wasn't exactly difficult to look good against the Jets' turnover-happy offense on Sunday (he had nine tackles and an interception). Still, he's strung together a few solid performances of late, and might have been Buffalo's best defender in New Jersey. He has moved past Keith Rivers into the starting lineup, and it's plain that the Bills are expecting him to stay there for quite some time.
No. 5: Let's not beat around the bush. The Jets handed the Bills this game on a silver platter. Michael Vick had an uphill climb trying to get the Jets back into the game, and once the Bills figured out that they'd be best served not letting him rip off huge chunks of yardage on the ground, they bottled the offense back up. It was Geno Smith, not Vick, that did the dirty work for the Bills. In their last two games against the Jets, the Bills have won those games by a combined score of 80-37. Smith completed 10-of-31 passes for 108 yards with six interceptions and a lost fumble in those games - and he was benched in both games, as well.
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