At the beginning of this season, what did you think the Buffalo Bills were going to be? Sitting at 5-2 and/or exceptionally well-positioned to potentially notch 10 or 11 wins was a bit ambitious for most fans.
Despite the Bills perhaps already having taken their next step from 2018 to 2019, fan frustration has begun to simmer as the Bills were demolished by the Philadelphia Eagles at home on Sunday. The game was an opportunity to make a statement; not only are the Bills the kind of team that wins the games they should, they also beat the teams they are evenly matched with. We all know how that played out.
The initial underpinnings of fan frustration began to pop Sunday as the game wore on with the usual suspects; quarterback Josh Allen, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Those are almost to be expected anytime a team puts up a lousy 13 points at home against a team with defensive inadequacies of its own. However, there was another (potentially more astute) scapegoat finding blame as well; the trenches.
There is no question that the Bills were outright MANHANDLED at the line of scrimmage against the Eagles. On multiple plays, holes opened on the defensive line like saloon batwing doors from the old west that pivot and continuecontinue flapping in the empty air after their user is done with them. Perhaps that metaphor works on another level in how the wooden furniture in the bar fights you see in westerns snaps and explodes into splinters with the minor force of any old sod swinging it onto a cheating card-player’s head. On several plays, it seemed the Bills’ defensive line was made of a similarly splinter-prone material.
The offensive line was comparably poor. Leaving Josh Allen scrambling far too often and perhaps causing him to preemptively scramble. The line lacked productivity in both the running and passing game.
The OL woes can specifically creep into consciousness and are often hard to immediately evaluate. Was the offensive line put in positions to succeed or were they asked to consistently do “left-handed” work against the strengths of the Eagles defense? If the answer is the latter, then Brian Daboll deserves at least some blame for picking a losing battle (or not picking a more competitive one). However, it appeared even a greater offensive mind would have struggled to get production out of that unit on Sunday. It sure seemed that the Eagles’ defenders ate their Wheaties on Sunday morning while the Bills o-line smashed some garbage plates.
The offensive play calling also garnered some familiar complaints: Josh Allen runs too much, there isn’t enough Devin Singletary, the Bills need a better screen game, and they abandoned Frank Gore so quickly.
The obvious comment is that Daboll and his staff thought those decisions would result in the most points from the offense. If that’s true, just imagine what it would have looked like with a worse game plan. If that’s incorrect, then the everlasting question why. Why were these the decisions that were made? Why does Daboll believe Singletary shouldn’t be used more? Why does he believe running Josh Allen as much as he does on top of the scrambling Josh does spontaneously is a good idea? Why haven’t the Bills made it a priority to get a better screen game going? Why was it decided so early that Frank Gore was a lost cause as a weapon? And, in addition, why wasn’t T.J. Yeldon active for a change of pace if Gore wasn’t going to be used.
These are questions I can relate to wondering, and will yield to my smarter and analyst-minded colleagues for their best guesses at answers in the coming days.
Refusing to take the next step
At the beginning of this year, rightly or wrongly, I believed the Bills to be a 9-7 team. Buffalo is on pace to well exceed that, and no one is complaining about it. However, this has become about the opportunity the Bills have in front of them, which is adding fuel to the frustration fires. You have to strike while the iron is hot in the NFL and it doesn't get much hotter than the weakened 2019 AFC.
The question is, have the Bills already taken the step we all wanted from them? Amidst this season with the environment around the Bills paving the way for the fifth seed or better, they’re being pushed to capitalize now.
My 2019 prediction was 9-7 with a wishlist of an improved offensive line (which they have even when considering this debacle on Sunday), an improvement in Allen’s decision making, offensive command, a mid-range passing game (triple check), and a better pass rush (not great, Bob).
So again, the question is, have the Bills already taken the “next step” we all wanted two months ago? Maybe. But there are still games to be played and it’s hard to settle for the plan when it seems the Bills are ahead of schedule.
You can follow me on Twitter @NickBat and look for episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” podcast on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network.