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Revisiting five Buffalo Bills to watch at the Cincinnati Bengals

In a big game, Buffalo came up small

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills dropped a huge game to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 9, losing 24-18 in a game that never felt that close in reality as it was on the scoreboard. And yet, as crazy as it sounds, the Bills had plenty of chances to leave Paycor Stadium with a win. Instead, they left with more of the same questions that have plagued this group for the duration of the 2023 season.

Along the way, we watched another frustrating showing from Buffalo in all three phases of the game, really. The offense was bad, the defense wasn’t good enough in spite of the fight they showed in playing shorthanded, and the special teams put them in bad spots all night long. Our five players to watch all played this week, and there were definitely mixed results.

Here’s how our five Bills to watch fared against Cincinnati on Sunday night.

QB Josh Allen

It’s really starting to be much too common. We talk about the play selection, we talk about the missed check downs and forced deep balls that lead to incomplete passes and interceptions, and we talk about how Allen just doesn’t look like the same guy as he was in seasons past. And then, we look at his stat line, and the fantasy football numbers are there. Allen threw for 258 yards, one touchdown, and one interception, adding 44 rushing yards and a score as well as a two-point conversion completion in the fourth quarter. So, if Allen was your fantasy quarterback, you had a good week. However, the number of plays being left on the field is starting to mount. The interception intended for wide receiver Gabe Davis was yet another example of Allen trying to jam a large, square peg into a small, round hole. He had two guys wide open, and a third who was breaking open right in the flat that Davis had cleared out for him. Two of the open receivers were visible even on the TV broadcast angle. Allen instead played hero ball and tried to squeeze one in to Davis. Of course, he did something similar and was successful later on in the game, hitting wide receiver Khalil Shakir deep up the right side on a ball that analyst Cris Collinsworth called him “insane” for throwing. Such is life with Allen, a specimen of a player who can do things that most mere mortals can only dream about doing. However, the lulls, the lack of trust in the reads, and the lack of chemistry he seems to have not with his wideouts, but with offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, is starting to wear on the club. It’s definitely wearing on fans, and has been for some time. Allen was also called for a taunting penalty (it was a penalty, which is absurd given all the posturing that goes on during an NFL game) and an intentional grounding penalty (which was absurd, and Allen let his feelings be known in such a way where anyone could be a lip-reader). Buffalo has to figure it out on offense, and one of the ways they could figure it out faster is if Allen just took the easy money and trusted his guys to keep catching the perfect passes he throws them underneath.

WR Khalil Shakir

Speaking of Shakir, the second-year man has really taken advantage of the opportunity he’s seeing with tight end Dawson Knox out with an injury. Shakir played on over 7% of the team’s snaps, and while he was targeted just four times, he caught all of those targets for a total of 57 yards. Only tight end Dalton Kincaid (11 targets, 10 catches, 81 yards) and wide receiver Stefon Diggs (10 targets, six catches, 86 yards, one touchdown) were busier in the passing game than Shakir, who has shown more consistency now that he’s seen more consistent snaps. Sorry if that sounds like something Captain Obvious would say, but it’s hard for a player to establish a rhythm when they aren’t playing much. Now that Shakir has been given some run, he’s looking like a solid piece for the future — and the present — in this offense.

DE Leonard Floyd

I saw the calls for edge rusher Von Miller in this space, and those of you writing those comments have a great point. Eventually, it has to be Miller making plays like the routine tackle he botched at the end of the game that would have at least given Buffalo a prayer at the end of the game. However, it’s Floyd who’s been Buffalo’s most consistent edge player, and he notched another half-sack on Sunday, bringing his total to seven on the season. He’s on pace for 13 sacks and 26 quarterback hits. If he hits that sack number, he’d be the first player in head coach/defensive coordinator Sean McDermott’s whole tenure to achieve double-digit sacks, as Lorenzo Alexander in 2016 is the last Buffalo player to do it (Jordan Phillips had 9.5 in 2019, which is the high-water mark for a McDermott club). Floyd also jumped offsides and missed what would have been another sack for him on a separate play, as quarterback Joe Burrow continues to display better mobility after healing from that calf injury that limited him early on in the season. Floyd had one tackle, half a sack, and two quarterback hits on 35 snaps. That snap total was the highest for Buffalo’s edge players.

DT Ed Oliver

Oliver played more snaps than any other Bills defensive tackle, checking in with 64% of the team’s total snaps. He had just two tackles on the game. Exactly what happened last year when DaQuan Jones went down happened again on Sunday night: when teams don’t have to respect Buffalo’s 1-tech, they double-team Oliver and dare the “other” guy to beat them. Give the Bengals’ offensive line credit for protecting their quarterback, but give head coach and offensive play caller Zack Taylor credit for devising a quick-throw attack that neutralized Buffalo’s pass rush, which led Sean McDermott to blitz Burrow, which led to Burrow picking apart a depleted secondary in easy one-on-one matchups. Buffalo needs more out of its front-four right now, and Ed is a guy with the potential to wreck a game plan. He just has to do it more consistently.

CB Rasul Douglas

Unsurprisingly, Douglas didn’t start just six days and two practices after arriving to One Bills Drive. Thanks to injuries to cornerbacks Dane Jackson and Christian Benford, though, Douglas ended the game as one of two boundary corners who weren’t even with the Bills three weeks ago, as Josh Norman was the other corner outside. Even with a short week of preparation, Douglas didn’t look lost, which bodes well for what may be to come. Given that Benford’s injury was to his hamstring, and those injuries tend to linger, we may be seeing more of Douglas as early as this upcoming week against the Denver Broncos.