The Buffalo Bills were hoping to enter their bye alone in first place in the AFC East, but after Sunday’s 20-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, first-year head coach Sean McDermott and the rest of the Bills’ brass have some serious work to do heading into the bye week with a 3-2 record.
Yes, the Bills still possess a share of first place, but Sunday’s setback raised more questions about a feeble offense that is now without its top two pass-catching threats after Charles Clay suffered a second-quarter knee injury. On Monday, it was revealed Clay tore his meniscus and sprained his MCL, and is expected to miss one month after undergoing knee surgery Monday morning.
What did we learn about the Bills following Sunday’s defeat?
Tre’Davious White is human
The NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Month for September had a humbling performance against star wide receiver A.J. Green. Green finished with seven catches for 189 yards and a touchdown, with White allowing Green to haul in three passes for 131 yards, including a wide-open, 77-yard touchdown strike on Cincinnati’s second drive of the game. Green also burned White for a 47-yard reception late in the third quarter that set up the go-ahead touchdown. White is going to have his rookie moments, and hopefully he is able to put Sunday’s effort behind him. He has a bright future in Orchard Park.
Tyrod Taylor is working with historically bad receivers
Jordan Matthews is expected to miss a few more weeks as he recovers from a thumb injury, and Clay’s injury comes as he and Taylor were really clicking in the passing game. With his top two targets gone, Buffalo managed only 36 yards in the second half of the Bengals game, and could only score 10 points off of three Bengals’ turnovers. Buffalo’s wide receivers are off to a historically bad start, as through their first five games, they have averaged 10.2 targets, 4.8 receptions, and 63.2 yards per game. With 24 receptions through Week 5, it is the lowest productivity for a team’s wide receivers since the Oakland Raiders of 2009. Matthews leads the wideouts with 10 receptions for 162 yards with one TD. Andre Holmes (six receptions for 35 yards and two touchdowns) and Zay Jones (five receptions for 66 yards) need to step up, and fast, to make up for the injuries.
The offensive line is in trouble
LeSean McCoy is a fierce competitor, and he blamed himself for another lackluster performance Sunday, when he rushed for 63 yards on 19 carries (3.3 yards per run) and added six receptions for 26 yards. But Shady gained many of those yards thanks to his elusive moves, and he did not get a lot of help from his offensive linemen. Rookie Dion Dawkins has had his moments early in his Bills career, but he allowed a pair of sacks and another quarterback hit, and did not provide much in the way of pass protection. Even worse? His run blocking regressed on Sunday. Guards Richie Incognito and Vlad Ducasse, along with center Eric Wood and right tackle Jordan Mills, did not do enough to energize a Bills ground game that led the league in rushing in 2016 (164.4 yards per game). When Taylor dropped back to pass, he faced consistent pressure from an underrated Bengals front four that recorded six sacks and limited Taylor to a 63.6 passer rating, the third-worst effort of his Buffalo career.
The sky is not falling in Orchard Park
Despite the road loss to the Bengals, things are still looking up for the Bills. Gone are the pre-season talks that this team is tanking with an eye on securing a top-five pick in next spring’s NFL Draft, and the Bills are technically still alone in first place in the AFC East thanks to a slew of tiebreakers. Heading into the bye week, Buffalo possesses the second-best record in the AFC, behind the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. With a 2-1 record in the conference, and with a pair of victories under their belt against Super Bowl contenders (the Atlanta Falcons and the Denver Broncos), there is still reason for optimism in Buffalo. Trust the process.