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Bills vs. Patriots Week 17 snap counts: The Rasul Douglas show (again)

The returns of DaQuan Jones and A.J. Epenesa

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills topped the New England Patriots 27-21 in Week 17 to bring their record to 10-6 — setting up Week 18’s Sunday Night Football matchup against the Miami Dolphins as a battle for the AFC East. Despite some rough losses and multiple times where I was ready for the season to end, the Bills control their own destiny and somehow have a chance to secure their fourth AFC East Division title in as many years.

First, edge rusher Von Miller was a healthy scratch for the first time this season, perhaps due to virtually zero production with a consistent snap share. He may be healthy, but he’s not back where he needs to be yet. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph joined the inactive list as Jordan Phillips had shoulder surgery following last week’s game and DaQuan Jones returned to the lineup for the first time since tearing his pectoral muscle back in Week 5 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Defensive end A.J. Epenesa also returned to the lineup after nursing a ribs injury he picked up against the Kansas City Chiefs three weeks ago.

As always, let’s take a look at the Week 17 snap counts from Bills-Patriots and talk position battles on both sides of the ball.

Bills offensive snap counts (69 snaps)

It was a rough game for the offense, to say the least. Quarterback Josh Allen (97%) completed just 15-of-30 passes for 169 yards and an interception, ending his passing touchdown streak in the process. He picked up two rushing touchdowns, however, and showcased how dominant he can be when using his legs. The offensive line remains healthy and available but noticeably struggled this time around after stringing together some very solid performances. New England’s only sack came on Buffalo’s first offensive play of the game, but Allen still had very little time to go through his reads.

Considering Allen struggled, the pass catchers did, too. Wide receiver Gabe Davis (91%) led all pass catchers in snaps but hauled in just 2-of-3 receptions for 21 yards while Stefon Diggs (65%) remains limited somehow, totaling fewer than 30 receiving yards for the fourth time this season. Is this a Joe Brady issue? Why is the game plan not centered around feeding Diggs nearly 10 times a game and letting him feast? Still a major head-scratcher to me and it feels like it’s going to be a problem sooner rather than later. Also, one thing worth noting is that wide receiver Khalil Shakir (80%) out-snapped Diggs, 55 to 45, respectively.

Tight end Dalton Kincaid (55%) continues to make big plays as a rookie and now holds the Bills rookie record for receptions in a season (66). I still appreciate Dawson Knox (43%) and love the occasional two-tight end sets but, man, it’s hard not imagining what Kincaid’s production would look like if he was a fulltime starter from the moment the season began.

Running back James Cook (55%) continues to lead the backfield while Latavius Murray (28%) could see his role start to diminish, considering Leonard Fournette is sitting on the practice squad and Ty Johnson (19%) has flashed in limited action in both the running and passing game. It’s clear Buffalo prefers Murray’s blocking abilities in certain formations but his drops and overall lack of effort at times are apparent enough for me to start banging the gavel for Fournette.

Bills defensive snap counts (53 snaps)

Now, it’s time to talk about the reason Buffalo even beat New England in the first place: the defense — well, primarily cornerback Rasul Douglas (100%), who’s turning out to be quite the steal for just a third-round pick. Since being acquired from the Green Bay Packers in Week 9, Douglas leads the league in takeaways (6) and even housed a pick-six in what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown. It wasn’t all Douglas, however, as Christian Benford (100%) forced a fumble that resulted in more free points.

Linebacker Terrel Bernard (100%) also continues to fly all over the field, leading the team in total tackles (10) and picking up two sacks and three tackles for a loss in the process. Head coach Sean McDermott already alluded toward Matt Milano not making a postseason appearance, but it’s hard not to get excited about the Milano-Bernard duo in the future.

Defensive tackle DaQuan Jones (53%) returned to the lineup for the first time since Week 5, which immediately allowed Ed Oliver (68%) to return to his normal chaotic play style, and it worked. Oliver picked off quarterback Bailey Zappe on his first pass attempt of the game on an impressive diving grab. Jones’ presence is massive for the defensive line’s success moving forward — and the timing couldn’t have been any better considering Miami and then the postseason are on tap. With Von Miller sidelined and A.J. Epenesa (42%) back in the lineup, we finally got a taste of what the defensive line rotation could look like in the future. The health and availability of this unit is arguably the most important as the postseason looms.

Bills special teams snap counts (29 snaps)

24 snaps (83%): FB Reggie Gilliam, TE Quintin Morris, CB Siran Neal, CB Cam Lewis, LB Tyler Matakevich

19 snaps (66%): SS Taylor Rapp, LB Dorian Williams, LB Baylon Spector

11 snaps (38%): P Sam Martin, K Tyler Bass, LS Reid Ferguson

9 snaps (31%): CB Dane Jackson

7 snaps (24%): DE Kingsley Jonathan

6 snaps (21%): Trent Sherfield

5 snaps (17%): G Connor McGovern, G O’Cyrus Torrence, T Dion Dawkins, T Spencer Brown, G David Edwards, C Ryan Bates, SS Jordan Poyer, LB Terrel Bernard, DE Greg Rousseau, DE Shaq Lawson, DT Poona Ford, DT Tim Settle

4 snaps (14%): WR Khalil Shakir, RB Ty Johnson, WR Deonte Harty, FS Micah Hyde

What else is there to say other than that special teams coach Matt Smiley could be on the hot seat in the offseason.

Aside from allowing the obvious opening kick-return touchdown, there have been a few other times this season where I had to ask myself what I just watched and how Buffalo allowed that to happen. The Bills rank 22nd in special teams DVOA (-0.9%) — this after ranking first in ST DVOA under Smily for the 2022 NFL season. I believe if they made a concerted effort to address the special teams issues, the ceiling of this team becomes infinite, especially if they can start with better field position.