As I’m writing this piece, it’s a dreary, rainy night in Western New York. Though it was a beautiful day in Orchard Park on Sunday, many of the moods of the Buffalo Bills faithful leaving the stadium lots probably felt similarly dreary after enduring a brutal second half against a team that the Bills have lost to more than any other in the NFL over the past decade-plus. The mood walking back to the parking lots must have been pretty melancholy to put it mildly and it was a long ride home from there.
After playing to a 13-7 score at the half behind a strong defensive effort, Bills fans had every reason to think that this would be a competitive game until the final whistle; a game that could even be won if the offense stepped up and matched the defense’s play in the final 30 minutes. And then the second half began. And then the Patriots completely dismantled the Bills defensive game plan, to a tune of 24 points and zero punts. The Pats had made offensive adjustments at half time, began exclusively spreading the field, and Tom Brady picked the Bills secondary apart – no need for the run game. Though the Bills offense began moving the ball themselves, it wasn’t nearly enough.
The 24-15 scoring margin in the second half doesn’t begin to paint the picture in regard to the New England dominance; sending the Bills to a 3-3 record and into their rear-view mirror in the AFC East. It was yet another loss to a team that the Bills have lost to far too often. It was déjà vu all over again. It was pretty bad, right? Well, I’m here to tell you that the sky truly isn’t falling quite yet.
The single biggest reason for my maintained optimism with this team actually has nothing to do with the team itself, but about the other teams around them. The AFC East is still very winnable. Though Tom Brady is certainly looking like Tom Brady again, making the Patriots the favorites, they have their flaws. Their running game is virtually non-existent at times, particularly with “featured back” Steven Ridley done for the year. On the other side of the ball, they will have difficulty stopping the run without their best linebacker and captain Jerod Mayo, who was also lost for the year with a knee injury vs the Bills. They are beatable. The Jets showed as much in Foxboro on Thursday night.
Speaking of the Jets, does anyone believe in Geno Smith yet? Anyone? Beuller? They are a 1-6 team with an extremely unproven (at best) quarterback. I don’t see the Jets as much of a factor in the division. The Dolphins are 2-3, with one of those losses coming in Buffalo, and have their own quarterback questions. Ryan Tannehill has barely completed 60% of his passes thus far and has turned the ball as often as he’s thrown a touchdown. He is much more of a question mark than an answer at this point. Though both of those teams have strong defenses, they will struggle offensively more often than not under the leadership of flawed quarterbacks.
I believe the Bills, with Kyle Orton, are in a better spot at the most important position in sports than both New York and Miami. All Orton has done since taking over the starting job is complete 66.7% of his passes, with a healthy average of just under 7.5 yards per attempt. These are really nice numbers. I believe he can continue to direct an offense that will prove to be much more potent than the Jets and Dolphins have to offer. Particularly if the Bills can ever find a way to fix the guard spots and get the running game going. Orton certainly has the skill players around him to make his life easier, and I think you will continue to see a greater impact from both Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods under his direction. Suffice to say, I feel much better about the Bills’ quarterback situation than that of two of the other three teams in the AFC East.
The Jets and Dolphins both have pretty good defenses. Despite what the pass defense showed in the second half last week, I believe the Bills defense still has the potential to be much better than “pretty good”. This is the best run defense in football, bar none. The Bills give up about 67 rushing yards per game and suffocate opposing ground games to a tune of 2.8 yards per carry. 2.8. No other team in the league is under the 3.0 mark. With the best defensive line in football and the play of Brandon Spikes, Keith Rivers, Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown, this is a feared run defense. We haven’t been able to say that in quite some time.
Once again, this is the best run defense in football. Now, are there questions in regard to the pass defense? Absolutely. They’ve been picked apart by two very good quarterbacks this season – Phillip Rivers and Tom Brady – and that needs to change. But there is still talent that can answer these questions. Stephon Gilmore, Aaron Williams and Corey Graham have all played great football at times this year. If they can remain consistent and the Bills can somehow get better play from Leodis McKelvin and Nickell Robey, a lot of those questions may get answered. The latter two have played about as bad as they possibly could’ve so far this season. They almost have to be better than that moving forward. Keeping Aaron Williams healthy would also go a long, long way to helping the situation. Bottom line: This is a truly great run defense and a pass defense that has the potential to be at least good. Last week notwithstanding, I still really like where the Bills are at on defense.
Looking for some more reasons for optimism? How about the next seven weeks of the Bills schedule? It reads as follows: vs Minnesota, @ New York Jets, BYE, vs Kansas City, @ Miami, vs New York Jets, and vs Cleveland. That is as nice a stretch as you will find for just about any team in the NFL this season. Though I believe Cleveland is steadily improving, those are all average football teams. Is there any reason to believe that the Bills can’t win any of those games? At worst, I see a 4-2 record through those next six contests, which would have Buffalo sitting at 7-5 through 12 weeks and squarely in the playoff hunt. If they go 3-3 or worse during this stretch, it should be considered a failure and would make their lives very difficult down the stretch.
So, folks, I believe that the sky if far from falling on the Buffalo Bills right now. Was the second half of last week a step back? Sure. Were weaknesses exposed? Probably. Was it tough to watch at times? No doubt. All that said, the Bills are playing in an AFC that is down this season and an AFC East that is even worse. They finally have a quarterback that is playing well and allowing the skill players around him to utilize their considerable talent. They have a defense that is already the best in the league against the run, and despite recent results, I believe the pass defense will begin to mask their flaws. We’re six weeks into a sixteen week NFL season. We’ve really just begun. I believe there are better times for the Bills just around the corner.
What do you think, Bills fans? Is the sky really falling? Are there reasons to remain optimistic? Let us know, and as always, go Bills!