Week 1 of the 2018 NFL regular season is upon us, and the Buffalo Bills will be kicking off their season-opening matchup with the Baltimore Ravens in just a few short hours. If you have tiny shivers of excitement running down your spine right now, you are not even remotely alone.
For the first time in nearly two decades, the Bills are entering a regular season with playoff-level expectations facing them. That’s what happens when a team ends a 17-year playoff drought: the standard raises. Buffalo is still, however, very much a team in transition as year two of the Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott era commences: the roster is still very much in turnover phase, there’s a new franchise quarterback in the pipeline, and McDermott is still trying to iron out his coaching philosophy on the offensive side of the ball.
Every Bills fan has his or her own primary point of focus entering the new year. Speaking personally, mine is that last point from the previous paragraph. Yes, I’ll be paying attention to the general, overall look of the team, how the new additions (chiefly rookie middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds) perform, and the rest of the major talking points you’ve all read about at length this offseason. But the men I am most eager to evaluate are offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, and by extension, the man who hired him this past winter.
Daboll is Buffalo’s fourth offensive coordinator in the past four years, following in the footsteps of Rick Dennison (fired by McDermott after the 2017 season), Anthony Lynn (who took the head coaching job in
San Diego Los Angeles after the Bills fired Rex Ryan), and Greg Roman (who Ryan unceremoniously canned after the first two weeks of the 2016 regular season). He’s also a coach that the Bills aggressively pursued for the role; the team announced the hiring of Daboll just two days after announcing Dennison had been relieved of his duties.
This was an important hire for McDermott, and one that he ultimately did not waste time in making. Now that the Bills are taking on the important, dual-focused work of turning Josh Allen into a franchise quarterback, as well as improving an offense that has not finished in the Top 10 in total offense since 2000 (and was No. 29 a year ago), it is imperative that Daboll stick the landing and manage to stay around for, say, at least a second season.
His job won’t be an easy one, despite having a future Hall of Fame running back on the roster to work with. The Bills have a challenging schedule ahead of them this season, starting with today’s Ravens outfit that is setting out to erase the sting of their own season-ending breakdown in Week 17 last season - one that cost them a playoff berth, and paved the way for the Bills’, instead.
Nathan Peterman was named Buffalo’s starting quarterback earlier this week. He won the job after outplaying Allen and the since-traded AJ McCarron by a considerable margin this preseason, completing over 80 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and one (tipped) interception. He clearly has the best command of Daboll’s offense at the moment, which is why he’s playing over the highest-drafted quarterback in Bills franchise history.
That said, Peterman is merely keeping the seat warm for Allen, and it is his job, as well as his play-caller’s, to try to turn this into the best problem the Bills have ever had. If the Bills are going to have success offensively against not only the Ravens, but a slew of other highly-talented defenses coming up on the schedule, it will be because Peterman is playing well, and because Daboll is putting him and the rest of the Bills’ meager skill talent in position to succeed.
It’s a big ask. Peterman, for as well as he played this summer, is still one of the least-experienced starting quarterbacks in the league. The Bills are replacing three very skilled and tenured starters from their offensive line, and that unit’s play ranged from dodgy to awful in preseason action. Beyond star tailback LeSean McCoy, the Bills do not have a skill position player that is going to require significant game-planning focus for opponents. It’s going to take a smoke-and-mirrors effort for Daboll to turn this offense into a respectable unit, and it’s going to take patience on McDermott’s part to let Daboll try to establish some sort of consistency in his role.
With so many questions surrounding the Bills’ offensive coordinator position in general, Peterman and the timing of Allen’s ascent, the offensive line, and the viability of the skill position pool beyond McCoy, expectations for this unit are understandably much lower than they are for the team as a whole. More than anything else, the Bills really need to start to build a consistent foundation offensively this season. There can’t be a revolving door anymore. That effort - or, at least, our evaluation of it - begins in earnest at 1:00 this afternoon.