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What Worked and What Didn’t: Week 2

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A disappointing performance on both sides of the ball sends the Bills into disarray.

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The Bills sure are creative.

While creativity is usually considered a positive trait, in this case it’s utterly depressing. Week after week, and season after season the Bills find new and unique ways of failing. For 16 years, a die-hard fan base has seen their passion and enthusiasm met with an ever-growing collection of coaches and players that simply couldn’t cut it. Thursday night, in front of a typically rowdy crowd at New Era Field, the Bills managed to continue to surprise in the ways it could come up short.

Week 1 was certainly a rough way to start the season. The offense looked terrible, and that certainly came as a surprise considering how capable they looked in 2015. However, despite the offense’s shortcomings, the defense kept the Bills in the game and resembled a unit that had improved after a disappointing first season under head coach Rex Ryan. Heading into their home opener, that optimism surrounding the defense led me to believe that the Bills, on the strength of their defensive efforts and Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s terrible track record against Ryan, were likely to avoid dropping to 0-2 to start the season.

Welp.

37 points and 493 total yards later, 374 of which came on the strength of Fitzpatrick’s right arm, the Bills’ playoff chances already seem to be slipping away with only two weeks gone. The coaching staff’s decision to fire their offensive coordinator seems to confirm that sentiment.

Here’s what went wrong and what went right for the Bills in their Week 2 loss to the Jets.

What Didn’t Work

1. Defending the Pass

This one hurts.

Heading into the season, the Bills were supposed to have one of the top cornerback tandems in the league. Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Stephon Gilmore looked poised to earn himself a hefty raise with a big year. Ronald Darby, who was coming off of a great rookie season, looked ready to raise the bar even higher in his sophomore campaign. However, Fitzpatrick absolutely torched the Bills’ cornerbacks.

Despite a shaky first drive that saw the veteran quarterback fumble twice, Fitzpatrick went on to lead six long scoring drives (75, 66, 77, 84, 69, 56) while ruthlessly picking apart the Bills secondary at all levels. Between Eric Decker (6 catches for 126 yards and one touchdown), Brandon Marshall (6 catches for 101 yards) and little-known 2014 sixth-round pick Quincy Enunwa (6 catches for 92 yards), Fitzpatrick successfully distributed the ball to his first read without any resemblance of hesitation. While Gilmore and Darby so often seemed to be in reasonably decent position defensively, the Jets managed to reel in one contested catch after another on their way to a huge day.

2. Tyrod’s Continued Struggles

Although the big play element to Buffalo’s offense certainly returned against the Jets, Taylor struggled to look the part of a franchise quarterback for a second consecutive week. While his mobility and his deep ball accuracy remain among the NFL’s best, Taylor struggled with his timing, accuracy, and vision on shorter and intermediate routes.

It should be interesting to see how Taylor fares without the recently fired Greg Roman calling the plays. While All-22 footage has certainly painted a picture that Taylor’s vision of the entire field has been lacking in 2016, it’s also fair to wonder if Roman has hindered Taylor by often instructing him where to make his first read.

Ultimately, Taylor’s inefficiencies are exacerbated by the understandable impatience of Buffalo’s fan base. 16 games into his time as a starting quarterback, Taylor has shown traits that place him among the best quarterbacks in the NFL. However, he’s also displayed troubling inconsistencies that have already left fans wondering about his longevity as an effective answer at the most important position on the field.

After 16 years of playoff-less football in Western New York, a restless fan base is anxiously awaiting a quarterback that can return them to the dance. If new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn can help Taylor begin to use the middle of the field more, and rediscover the timing and accuracy on shorter and intermediate throws to the outside that he displayed consistently in 2015, the 27-year-old could still be the answer for the Bills moving forward.

3. Panic Stations On and Off the Field

Through two weeks, the organization as a whole has been a mess.

On the field, Rex Ryan and his players have flailed when faced with adversity. Off the field, the level of accessibility to happenings that should come behind closed doors is becoming increasingly alarming.

Whether you agree with Roman’s dismissal or not (personally I’m pretty indifferent), the quantity of stories that have followed the decision, be it sourced reporting or speculation, have been troubling. We heard about Roman’s dislike for Ryan. We heard about how Roman was axed moments after taking the team’s yearly photo. We heard about ownership’s players-only meeting behind Rex’s back. We were then assured that everybody still employed within the organization is on the same page, that Roman’s firing was not a reactionary move, and that the former offensive coordinator frustrated players and fellow coaches with his lack of inclusivity regarding the offensive game plan.

Regardless of what the actual story is, the amount of information that is being leaked to the media is concerning. That doesn’t happen in stable and successful organizations.

What Worked

1. The Linebackers, Again

For a second consecutive week, the play of the Bills’ linebackers stood out as positives. After a standout performance against Baltimore, Preston Brown recorded 16 tackles and forced the fumble that Nickell Robey-Coleman recovered and returned for a touchdown. Likewise, Zach Brown continues to look like a capable fill-in as he recorded 14 tackles of his own. According to Pro Football Focus, the inside linebackers were particularly effective against the run as they combined for 13 defensive stops, which included 10 in run defense. Although his play was often nullified by Fitzpatrick’s quick decision-making, Jerry Hughes looked effective off the edge again as well.

2. Big Plays

While the offense’s lack of consistency in their ability to sustain drives remains discouraging, it’s hard to deny Taylor’s impressive ability to throw the ball deep. His perfect throw to Marquise Goodwin on the first drive, and his improvised chuck to Greg Salas early in the third quarter were incredible plays. Robey-Coleman’s scoop and score certainly injected life into a crowd that had little to cheer about up until that point.

3. Hope

That is all the Bills have at this point. Two games have produced disastrous results, but fans will simply hope that the entire team can find answers during their extended preparation for Week 3.

I hope that Roman was limiting Tyrod’s growth as opposed to successfully masking his flaws. I hope Lynn can find ways to maximize the abilities of a talented collection of skill players. I hope the Bills throw the ball to Sammy Watkins more than five times a game. I hope Gilmore and Darby’s performances were anomalies and that Ryan’s defense has improved from where it was in 2015.

I hope that the Bills can somehow turn this season around.