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Three things we learned about the Buffalo Bills against the Carolina Panthers

Pass rush is great, Shady can’t carry offense by himself

Buffalo Bills v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills have split their first two games of the 2017 season, knocking off the New York Jets by a 21-12 score at home before suffering a tough 9-3 setback in a defensive slug fest Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

Through two games, the Bills are averaging only 12 points a game on offense, good for sixth-worst among the teams that have played two games. Buffalo ranks 24th in total offense (292 yards per game), with most of that damage coming during a 408-yard outburst vs. the Jets.

Defensively, Buffalo has impressed, allowing only 21 total points in two games, an average of 10.5 points per game, good for third-stingiest among defenses with two games played.

What did we learn after the Bills efforts at a big-time upset win in Carolina came up just short?

The pass rush is good

Very Good. Like 2014-Jim-Schwartz-good. Led by a resurgent Jerry Hughes, the Bills brought down Cam Newton six times Sunday afternoon, and that total could have been more as Buffalo enjoyed a dominant performance out of its talented front seven. Hughes, who looks like the dominant pass rusher who posted double-digit sack totals in 2013 and 2014, posted a pair of sacks as Buffalo’s defensive line was able to have its way with the Panthers’ offensive line. Jordan Poyer, Lorenzo Alexander, Shaq Lawson, and Eddie Yarbrough also sacked Newton. The Bills six sacks led to a loss of 50 yards. It was Buffalo’s highest sack total since recording seven sacks during a 38-3 win over the New York Jets Nov. 24, 2014. It was the most sacks of Newton, the former NFL MVP, since the Minnesota Vikings sacked Newton eight times during a 22-10 loss on Sept. 25, 2016.

Shady can’t do it alone

Tyrod Taylor was average at best against the Panthers, and the crazy thing is, if he delivers a better ball to rookie Zay Jones on fourth-and-11 late in the game, the Bills STILL could have pulled off the upset. Taylor’s stat line was decent on the surface, completing 17 of 25 passes, but his passes only gained 125 yards, an average of five yards per attempt. Taylor struggled all day to move the offense, especially in the first half, when Buffalo bungled its way to just 15 passing yards and 39 net yards during a scoreless opening half. From the get-go, Ron Rivera’s defense was keyed in on LeSean McCoy, putting eight men in the box to stymie Shady’s running lanes, and it worked. McCoy gained a net of zero yards on three first-half carries, and he didn’t get any better after halftime, gaining nine yards on nine carries. His average of 0.8 yards per rush was one of the worst of his decorated career, and as much credit goes towards Carolina’s talented front seven, as much blame needs to fall on the offensive line for failing to open sufficient holes. If the Bills continue to struggle passing the ball, McCoy is only going to get more frustrated as team’s continue to stuff the box and neutralize Buffalo’s best (only?) proven offensive playmaker.

Jordan Poyer is Buffalo’s best free agent signee

When the Bills inked Poyer to a team-friendly four-year, $13-million dollar contract, the move made sense at the time, as Buffalo needed to replace a pair of veteran starters in Corey Graham and Aaron Williams. But Poyer’s signing didn’t move the needle much, if at all. Through two games, he has proven himself to be an invaluable member of the secondary. Taking on the Panthers, Poyer posted a team-high 11 tackles, and for the second straight game, Poyer successfully blitzed from the safety position, bringing down Newton for a seven-yard loss. With three pass breakups, Poyer led the Bills, and he saved his best play for the biggest moments of the game: once the Panthers had driven into the red zone and were threatening to score. On the opening drive of the game, the Panthers drove to the Buffalo 16-yard line and had a second-and-6 situation. Newton lofted a perfect pass to Kelvin Benjamin, but Poyer made an excellent read on the pass, delivering a bone-crunching hit that knocked the ball free and kept Carolina off the scoreboard. Leading 3-0 later in the second quarter, Newton once again had the Panthers poised to find the end zone, and once again, Poyer delivered. On a third-and-goal from the 10, Newton targeted an open Russell Shepard, but Poyer left his feet and batted away the ball to deny a sure-fire touchdown pass. Carolina settled for a field goal, a common theme of the bend-don’t-break Bills’ defense.