The Buffalo Bills went into SoFi Stadium and dismantled the Los Angeles Rams, winning 31-10 in what was supposed to be a celebration of the home team’s Super Bowl victory in February. Instead, the game served notice to the rest of the league that the Bills are going to be a legitimate problem.
While we had plenty of reason for optimism, I think that most of can agree that, if we knew that Buffalo would commit four turnovers in a game against a good team like the Rams, we would assume that we’d spend our weekend lamenting a game that didn’t go our way. Instead, Buffalo’s star-studded squad came, saw, and conquered an excellent NFC opponent.
Which of our players to watch showed out in Week 1? We had a few misses on the list, but here’s how our five players to watch performed on Thursday night.
QB Josh Allen
We’re nearly out of things that Allen can do to “wow” us anymore, as he merely came in and carved up the Rams’ defense, looking dialed in all night while taking short throws and making good decisions with his arm and his legs. Allen didn’t attempt a pass of over 15 yards until the first play of the fourth quarter, and he made the most of it, hitting Gabe Davis for a 40-yard completion. Allen also hit Stefon Diggs for a 53-yard score for the final touchdown of the evening. Overall, Allen completed 26-of-31 passes for 297 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. The first interception clearly wasn’t Allen’s fault, as Isaiah McKenzie dropped the pass right into the arms of linebacker Terrell Lewis. The second interception was either on Allen, who threw late over the middle, or Jamison Crowder, who seemed to have incorrectly read that the Rams were playing zone when they were in man. Crowder settled rather than running to space, and the trailing corner, Troy Hill, was able to recover and give the Rams a shot at points before halftime. While the Rams did score, that was the last of their scoring on the evening. Allen wasn’t only a stud throwing the ball, however, as he ran ten times for 56 yards and another score. Whether he was firing 50-yard passes on the run, hitting back-shoulder fades on the sideline against an All-Pro corner, or stiff-arming guys into the upside-down, Allen was in total command of the team from start to finish, adding to his string of success in primetime games.
RB James Cook
It wasn’t a banner debut for the rookie, as he fumbled on his first career snap and touch. After that fumble, which came on Buffalo’s first drive of the second quarter, we didn’t even see Cook on the field again until the third quarter. He only played three snaps in total, gaining two yards and fumbling on his lone carry. Really, the whole game was a walking advertisement for Devin Singletary as Buffalo’s top back, as he was the only running back not to fumble (Zack Moss lost a fumble in the fourth quarter). Moss and Cook combined for 13 touches, 36 total yards, and two lost fumbles. Singletary had ten touches for 62 yards with no fumbles, and he was clearly a step above the others throughout.
WR Khalil Shakir
I didn’t see a healthy scratch coming for the rookie, who was excellent throughout the entirety of the preseason. However, he was a healthy scratch, and the Bills used Jamison Crowder and Isaiah McKenzie in the slot. Those same players returned punts and kicks too, with Crowder returning punts and McKenzie returning kicks. McKenzie caught two passes for 19 yards and a touchdown, and Crowder made three catches for 28 yards on the day. Regardless of who was in the slot, Buffalo was able to attack the boundaries at will, as Stefan Diggs (eight catches, 122 yards, one touchdown) and Gave Davis (four catches, 88 yards, one touchdown) were dominant.
EDGE Von Miller
The future Hall of Fame pass rusher was the exact missing piece we thought he’d be, and while it was only one game in a setting where he had a lot to be motivated about, his presence coupled with some other upgrades up front spelled danger right from the start. Miller only appeared on 52% of the Bills’ snaps, but it felt like he was disruptive on each one of them. He finished with four tackles, three tackles for a loss, two sacks, two quarterback hits, and two pressures on the day. Buffalo didn’t blitz once, yet they were able to sack Matthew Stafford seven times, so the defensive line group was phenomenal as a whole. Combined, the defensive linemen totaled those seven sacks, one interception, six tackles for a loss, two pass breakups, and 13 quarterback hits. We’ve said all along that adding Miller helps the Bills in two ways—not only do they add an elite rusher, but other teams have to account for him, thereby opening one-on-one matchups for the Bills’ other talented players—and Thursday’s success was a perfect example of what can be.
CB Taron Johnson
Johnson’s nine tackles were second only to linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who led the game with ten tackles, and while a corner making that many tackles doesn’t always sound like a good thing, let’s consider what Johnson had to contend with in this one. He was lined up across from Cooper Kupp, who at times seemed to be the only receiver that Matthew Stafford tried to throw it to during the game. Buffalo didn’t have Johnson shadow Kupp, either, as they allowed Dane Jackson and Christian Benford, the sixth-round draft pick who started over first-round pick and fellow rookie Kaiir Elam, take turns covering Kupp. Johnson had one pass breakup to go with those nine tackles in the kind of strong effort we’ve come to expect from him throughout his tenure with the Bills.