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Buffalo Bills’ situational football needs to improve

It’s the bye week, so let’s do some Bills self-scouting

Buffalo Bills v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

You may have heard that the Buffalo Bills won a thriller against the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium last Sunday. The win helped the Bills accomplish several things, chief among them first place in the AFC and the head-to-head tiebreaker over Kansas City. Sunday’s game also further exposed one of the team’s biggest deficiencies—the idea that there’s a lot left to desire from Buffalo’s situational football plan.

Following such a win, it may seem disingenuous to nitpick over anything, because wins are very difficult to find in the NFL. But it’s the bye week, and this is an important issue to discuss.

During the first half, the offense seemed off. The running game was humming along, especially on first down. But Josh Allen appeared more rattled than we’ve seen him the last couple seasons. To his credit, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had an excellent game plan that nearly took away Allen the entirety of the second quarter. The exotic blitz packages he fielded confused and fooled Allen, who went 2-of-11 during one stretch.

Fortunately, things began to click for Allen and offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey. Buffalo’s offense marched down the field on an improbable 96-yard drive just before halftime, in a drive that paid homage to the best of the K-Gun days.

On the other side, quarterback Patrick Mahomes was surely watching the clock. The Bills scored, but time remained. Onto the field marched Mahomes to direct the offense into position for kicker Harrison Butker to score a game-tying, 62-yard field goal. Buffalo’s defense seemed to alter the scheme to better counter what happened during last January’s playoff game, and special teams utilized a squib kick to run time off the clock. But it didn’t work.

None of us were in Buffalo’s locker room at the half, but it’s possible a ghost made its presence known, saying: “You gave them the ball and 12 seconds of clock to work with, on their home field. What did you expect?”

Thankfully, the offense that scored the fleeting go-ahead touchdown before halftime, showed up for much of the second half. There was hope the defense that crumbled had already hit the shower after allowing Mahomes to give his team three points. But they didn’t get the memo, and allowed the Chiefs to march down the field following the second-half kickoff towards yet another long field goal attempt. It went wide, and all was right. Or was it?

Just after the fourth quarter began, it was still anyone’s game (well, anyone with Allen or Mahomes at QB). Buffalo was staring at the possibility of a seven-point hole, but the defense mustered enough of a wall to hold Kansas City to another three. After Allen found tight end Dawson Knox for the go-ahead score, the Chiefs were given the ball back once again at the end of another half. There would be no overtime, the difference between the clubs at four. Last score wins.

As we know, the defense played out of its mind that last drive, especially edge rusher Von Miller. The combination of his pressure and nickel corner Taron Johnson’s savvy play to pick off Mahomes sealed the victory.

So why are we discussing this at length? The defense did what it needed to do, perhaps defying odds against a generational quarterback across from them. It’s also quite possible that the Bills were just lucky on Sunday—that if pressure didn’t get home, things end differently. But that’s the nature of the sport, where luck has more to do with the outcome than might sometimes feel fair.

But there’s a problem that needs addressing at One Bills Drive. It’s a matter of time, specifically handing their opponent precious seconds to orchestrate an improbable win. While many have pointed to the defense giving up points at the end of regulation last January and again before the half in Week 6, they could do so only because the offense didn’t burn more clock. Clearly, they need to reconsider defensive alignments as it relates to the incredible talent in players like Mahomes.

Thankfully on Sunday, the biggest gaffe came before halftime. Otherwise, the game could have once again gone to overtime—and Buffalo hasn’t had any luck with the coin toss in ages. Hopefully during this bye, OBD is working on new ways to confuse and confound the likes of the Kansas City Chiefs and other deadly offenses during crunch time. Every week won’t be a blowout, and the Bills need to better plan for every close-game scenario when their backs are against the wall. That said, the offense also needs to better utilize time as a weapon of choice, not chance.