“What on earth will I write about this week?”
The panic crept into my consciousness as I awoke with a start, grabbing my diet soda with one hand and my small dog with the other. As the veil of sleep lifted from me, the inevitable doom returned: How do you write a weekly strategy column without an opponent?
I went to my editor with subconscious hopes that he’d tell me there were MORE than enough articles this week and my byline on the site wouldn’t be missed. It was not to be.
So I took to Twitter to solicit ideas from Bills Mafia (or at least, the ones who follow me). Ideas were presented, but how would I decide?
Then one brisk fall day while standing outside trying desperately to get my dogs to stop barking at the neighbors, it came to me: an epiphany of table-smashing proportions...
“How do you attack a bye week?”
Well, I have some thoughts...
An obvious strategy, though one easier said than done, Cody Ford, Mitch Morse, Matt Milano and Devin Singletary are among the players who were partially or completely absent from the game in Tennessee, and all of them are contributors for this team. Balancing the extra opportunity for rehabilitation with the extra opportunity for preparation will be very important for the Buffalo Bills’ training and coaching staffs this week.
The Bills are 4-1. Their only loss is by six points to the defending Super Bowl champions in a game where the New England Patriots scored a special-teams touchdown off a blocked punt and Tom Brady played one of the most mortal games of his professional career.
That absolutely does not mean that all is perfect with this team, and failure to recognize your shortcomings is a sure way to see to it that they show up again.
The Bills’ pass rush could use some extra juice, the potential of having to platoon Ty Nsehke at right tackle is something that needs to be addressed, and there may still be a need at receiver depending on who you ask. Some of these shortcomings can be addressed through scheme modification or focused coaching with specific players on specific things, but Brandon Beane and the pro personnel department have never been shy about making a move, and evaluating trade targets during the bye week after intensive discussions with the coaches is something that must be considered.
“What all do you think can be fixed within the scheme? What all can be fixed with specific and focused coaching? Is there a possibility that there is something else you need that isn’t currently on this roster?”
These are the questions to be asked of Beane to the coaching staff, much like my queries to my wife:
”Hey honey I’m running by the store on my way home. Do you need anything or can you make dinner without it?”
That’s essentially the conversation. The Bills are in a playoff window NOW. The last time they were in a playoff window, Beane swung a trade for Carolina Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin (who was instrumental in winning the Joe Webb “snow game”) at the cost of a third- and seventh-round pick. Beane admitted after the trade that the Bills’ current situation was part of the thought process in making the trade, and they find themselves in a similar (or even better) situation now.
Perhaps that means a trade for Minnesota Vikings receiver and rumored Duff’s aficionado Stephon Diggs, Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green and his expiring contract, or simply a lower-level depth move a la Ryan Bates-for-Eli Harold. Simply stated: The bye week is a good opportunity to evaluate and take stock of the pantry.
Figure out the deep ball
Josh Allen has become an efficient underneath and intermediate passer. JOSH ALLEN HAS BECOME AN EFFICIENT UNDERNEATH AND INTERMEDIATE PASSER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
Allen has looked like an entirely different quarterback this year. Gone are the 50-yard quarterback scrambles and deep bombs. Gone are the “three-and-out or 60-yard touchdown” binary choices on offensive drives. In their place we have a QB who just set a new career-best completion percentage in a game and already possesses a 2019 completion percent TEN PERCENTAGE POINTS HIGHER than his 2018 mark...
...but where’s the deep ball?
Allen has yet to connect on a deep ball of note during the 2019 season, and the bye week is a good opportunity to investigate why that is. Is the lack of snaps from Robert Foster the primary culprit? Is it really as simple as “chemistry with a deep-ball receiver”? With the trade of Zay Jones to Oakland, one might immediately think that Foster would get more playing time, but there’s just as high of a probability that Duke Williams simply usurps all of Zay’s snaps and the world keeps right on spinning as it did before.
I suspect that the lack of deep connection is a combination of the relative newness of Allen’s relationship with John Brown, the lack of Robert Foster snaps (he needs also to get healthy as outlined above), trying to drill into Josh to take the shorter throws when they’re there, and the defense daring Allen to pick them apart eight yards at a time in the hopes that his mechanics will fail him enough times on a given drive to stall it out. Allen needs to find a balance and know when to take the shots and when the defense is allowing him to do so, and he needs to figure this out earlier in the down.
...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter @BruceExclusive and look for episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!