After starting the 2017 regular season with a victory over the New York Jets, the Buffalo Bills went on the road to face Sean McDermott’s former employers, the Carolina Panthers. In a game where both sides has some distinct advantages due to familiarity, coaching was always going to play a part in the outcome of the game.
Unfortunately, the Bills fell to a 9-3 defeat in the humid Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. This puts the Bills 1-1 for the season but does harm their chances of being ‘In The Hunt’ in December a little. We’ll take a look at who played well, who played poorly and what this result and performance means going forward.
Last week, I said that the Bills would only go as far as quarterback Tyrod Taylor would take them. In Week 2, that place was nowhere fast. After a solid outing against the Jets, Taylor regressed back to the player we’ve all seen before in the face of a relentless Panthers defensive line.
To some degree, Taylor is a victim of circumstance. His pass protection is prone to near-fatal errors a few times a game. His weapons aren’t exactly the cream of the NFL crop. On Sunday, his run game disappeared.
That being said, he’s still got to be willing to make tough throws and hang in the pocket a lot more than he did in Week 2. We see fleeting glimpses of Taylor’s ability to do so but, at some point, he needs to understand that risky throws are going to be necessary against a team with as much speed as the Panthers. Taylor also needs to understand that time in a two-minute drill is important and throwing it away isn’t a bad play.
When your best pair of options at running back combine for 14 yards on 15 carries, it’s probably not the fault of the ball carriers. In Week 1, there was a right side of the line issue. In Week 2, the whole thing fell apart. Seldom few holes opened up during the game and the offensive line got bullied. The offense isn’t built to handle 3rd & 8 situations on a regular basis. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison needs a better ‘Plan B’ than whacking Mike Tolbert between the tackles.
A lot of credit needs to go to the Panthers for creating a perfect storm. The Bills receivers didn’t find much separation. When they did, we saw a combination of poor ball placement and catchable balls being juggled or dropped. The main hope is that rookie Zay Jones can bounce back mentally after a tough game that saw him drop one target and fail to haul in what could’ve been a game-winner.
When a team finds itself defending for nearly 39 minutes of a game in tough conditions, the chances are that they eventually wilt. To the credit of the players, they didn’t. It wasn’t perfect but, under the circumstances, the Bills performed admirably on defense. For a team that’s still starting to gel, keeping the Panthers to three field goals may be a miracle (albeit with some luck along the way).
The star of the game was defensive end Jerry Hughes. Hughes was supposed to see a benefit after switching from Rex Ryan’s defense to Sean McDermott’s, that’s definitely bearing out after two games. Hughes has reprised his ‘Wide-9’ role from the halcyon days of Jim Schwartz leading the BIlls defense and absolutely terrorized left tackle Matt Kalil to the tune of two sacks and four hurries on 28 pass rushing snaps. Kalil was beaten inside and out and Hughes set up his spin move perfectly; using it to great effect.
The onslaught from Hughes overshadowed what was probably Shaq Lawson’s best game as a Bill. The former first-rounder from Clemson was fantastic against the run, setting a violent edge on a number of snaps. Lawson was also one of five defenders to register a sack on Cam Newton. In fact, only second-year defensive tackle Adolphus Washington failed to register a stat. Washington looked overmatched taking the place of Marcell Dareus and two of the Panthers longest runs went through his gap.
In the linebacker corps, it was a mixed day. Against the run, both Lorenzo Alexander and Preston Brown had decent outings. Ramon Humber had a slightly embarrassing moment early on, turning matador and allowing Newton to run for a first down.
— Nick Veronica (@NickVeronica) September 17, 2017
In coverage, the group had some positives and some negatives. Humber looked to struggle at times gaining enough depth from a double A gap blitz look, had trouble finding Christian McCaffrey on a wheel route and slipped at the goal line defending McCaffrey on a whip route (which Newton inexplicably missed.) Humber still remains the best option in nickel packages for now but it’ll be interesting to see if new signee Jelani Jenkins can work his way into the rotation.
In the secondary, we’ll start with the bad. The next time that an opponent puts its best receiver in the slot, have someone follow him. Leonard Johnson was given the task of covering Kelvin Benjamin a few times in the slot and it did not go well. Without a great play in the end zone by Jordan Poyer, the experiment could’ve looked even worse.
The Bills’ coverage on the back end looked far too soft and Newton managed to pick it apart with chunk plays to Benjamin and Devin Funchess early on. When the pressure didn’t get home, it was pitch and catch stuff. From the broadcast copy, it’s hard to apportion blame accurately but it did seem like something the safeties could’ve broken on a touch faster.
The old adage says that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Last week, I argued for the activation of Kaelin Clay to add to the Bills passing attack. That move shouldn’t have been at the expense of returner Brandon Tate. Clay looked iffy under the high ball and was close to essentially killing off the game as a contest by fumbling one return attempt.
The same adage can also go for the news on Monday that the team worked out former Dolphins punter Matt Darr. I’m a fan of Darr and his big leg but if the coaches are all about rewarding the best players, it might set a bad example to cut Colton Schmidt after his best game since Week 1 of last season.
As much as coach McDermott might want to play the occasion down, this obviously meant a lot to him. Perhaps the occasion got to him because some of his game management was interesting, to say the least. For now, the prudent thing is to chalk it up as inexperience but bear it in mind for the future.
Leslie Frazier defenses are bend but don’t break. It’s an admirable trait but it’s not altogether sustainable over a 16-game season. At some point, the offense is going to need to reward the defense with a decent rest on a Sunday. If the Bills can play with a lead and force teams to be one-dimensional, this pass rush could decide games.
Week 3 sees another huge test for the passing attack, facing the likes of Von Miller, Aqib Talib and Chris Harris. It’s not time to jump off the bandwagon entirely just yet but the true cracks have shown against a quality opponent, the key is how they adjust to them.
Editor’s babble: Many thanks to Stephen Culley for his contributions to our blog. You can follow Stephen on Twitter @StephenCulley.