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Buffalo Bills vs Denver Broncos Week 3 recap

Photo of CB E.J. Gaines from buffalonews.com.

I toyed with a few ways to open this and decided that the first thing that was necessary was a mea culpa on my part. After watching the Denver Broncos completely annihilate the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday, there was no thought in my mind that the game could go any way except a comprehensive beatdown by a dominant Broncos defensive unit. My bad.

The Buffalo Bills pulled out a 26-16 victory over what many fancied as a potential Super Bowl contender, moving Buffalo to a 2-1 record and standing atop the AFC East for the next week. I’ll take a look at some of the performances and storylines to emerge during the game.

Offense

Photo from abcnews.go.com.

How I long for some Tyrod Taylor consistency. These weekly recaps probably make me seem more bipolar than I really am, flipping my thoughts week-to-week on the quarterback. In Week 3, Tyrod gets a lot of credit for his play. This was probably the toughest defense that he’s faced since the Monday Night Football game against the Seattle Seahawks last season.

Taylor managed to play ‘on time’ a lot more this week, utilizing the quick game more readily and reducing his snap-to-throw time. His mobility is still undoubtedly a piece in the puzzle that is the Bills offense. On a day where Pro Football Focus had him pressured on 16 of 34 drop-backs, it was near essential.

Taylor is very clearly starting to develop a rapport with wide receiver Jordan Matthews, something that is going to be vital in sustaining drives. Perhaps the biggest development in Week 3 was the downfield passing game. The deep shots didn’t come often but, when they did, Taylor made a great throw to Kaelin Clay under pressure and a better one rolling left to Nick O’Leary.

For the sake of the run game, that trend has to continue. For a second straight week, the Bills struggled mightily to run the football. Rookie left tackle Dion Dawkins had his hands full with Von Miller and was responsible for a couple of negative plays, forcing LeSean McCoy to stop his feet instead of going with the flow of the play. Teams are stacking the box and begging them to throw and not even running two tight end sets are helping to generate the push required.

When McCoy gets a lane, he still looks as special as ever. It’s just hard to look good with 900 pounds of bad intentions in your face on nearly every play. The move to give Mike Tolbert 44% of the designed carries actually worked with the rotund Tolbert having the ability to move the pile with his significant added weight.

With just 11 targets going to the wide receivers, the field is getting a little condensed at times. Against a team like the Broncos with a pair of elite corners, the gameplan likely was designed not to test them too much. With matchups against Robert Alford and Brian Poole coming on the road to Atlanta next week, it’ll be interesting to see if the ball is distributed differently.

Defense

Photo of CB Tre’Davious White from buffalobills.com.

We’re only three weeks in and I’m already having to dig deep in the well of superlatives for this defensive unit. Once again, they weren’t perfect but they are starting to force mistakes. More importantly, this week saw them become vultures, picking at the carcass of the wounded ducks thrown up by Trevor Siemian.

The run defense had a few lapses that can be fixed. Occasionally, the guys blocking are allowed a win or two. The biggest lapses seemed to derive from Ramon Humber and Preston Brown failing to disengage from their respective blocks on a couple of plays but it doesn’t overshadow the linebackers playing extremely well.

Even with Marcell Dareus, Jerel Worthy and Deandre Coleman inactive, the Bills rotation up front managed to create enough pressure to inspire a great deal of indecision from Siemian. No one player really stood head and shoulders above the rest but they all contributed. This group isn’t playing for individual stats and the team-first ethos that Sean McDermott is trying to instill has caught on. With talent still unavailable along the interior, it’s feasible that the best football is still yet to come.

I had visions that the 2017 season would make me miss Stephon Gilmore. I was sorely mistaken. So far, it’s hard to find much fault with EJ Gaines. Shutdown corner is a title reserved for a select few and widely misunderstood but Gaines is surprisingly in that category after three weeks of the season. Gaines saw 12 targets in Week 3, giving up four receptions for 39 yards. Gaines also got his hands on an interception and broke up a number of other passes. For the year, Pro Football Focus has him with the third-lowest passer rating against in the entire NFL.

It was a slightly rougher day for Tre’Davious White. The rookie had his “welcome to the NFL” game and was routinely beaten by Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders in the first half. I think most could forgive the youngster for dropping his head but it didn’t happen.

We are not immune to adversity as human beings, the mark of us is how we deal with it. To White’s credit, he rebounded in a big way. After some adjustments at halftime, White ended the game with four passes defensed and an interception. The game tape will contain some teachable moments for the rookie, how he responded gives me faith that he’ll be diligent in taking those to heart.

Special teams

ORCHARD PARK, NY – SEPTEMBER 24: Buffalo Bills linebacker Deon Lacey #44 celebrates his 4th down stop late in the 4th quarter with Buffalo Bills middle linebacker Preston Brown #52 as the Denver Broncos play the Buffalo Bills in week 3 at New Era Stadium, Orchard Park, NY. (Photo by Joe Amon/The Denver Post)

The buildup to this game included comments from kicker Stephen Hauschka about racial equality. In being one of the first white players to put his thoughts on the record, it inevitably placed more spotlight on him than normal for a player in his position. With all of that pressure on his shoulders, Hauschka was absolutely flawless. In the process, he became the first Bills kicker in history to successfully convert a pair of field goals from beyond 53 yards in the same game.

Summary

My scathing cynicism is starting to crack. In my time of watching the Bills, I’ve seen one winning record and am yet to see a playoff game. I want to believe for a number of reasons; being exposed to abject futility being just one of those.

This team feels a little bit different. It’s hard to quantify an aura but there is one surrounding this team, especially with home field advantage. It feels nice to have faith that the game plan is adaptable, not just on a week-to-week basis but during games as well. The team will be carried by the defense for now and they seem to be comfortable with shouldering that burden.

The kinks are there to work out offensively. They collectively took baby steps in Week 3 that need to be built upon. Scheme change can be a rough thing to deal with and there’s signs that some players aren’t quite up to speed yet. It’s worth sticking with them for now and hoping that continuity provides chemistry.

This roster might not be equipped for great things this year but the future is starting to look a little more rosy. It isn’t quite the lost season that I anticipated and I couldn’t be happier to have underestimated this team.

Editor’s babble: And we couldn’t be happier for Stephen Culley’s contributions to our blog. Stephen also writes for @TheBillsWire. You can follow him on Twitter @StephenCulley.


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9 thoughts on “Buffalo Bills vs Denver Broncos Week 3 recap

  1. Thanks for the article Stephen. I am very surprised at how the secondary is performing, especially with Darby being swapped out for Gaines. I figured there would be a learning curve and it would take a good portion of the season for the secondary to gel and become an effective unit. Glad to see that’s not the case as this is the best looking secondary we’ve seen in years. This week will be their biggest test to date against Matt Ryan.

    Nice to see Taylor bounce back after a horrific game 2 against the Panthers. Thing is, can he do it again this week? It seems Taylor has two or three games a season where he looks like a franchise QB, but others not so much.

    For the most part, the defense plays very disciplined, they stay in their gaps and quickly close run lanes, and players know their assignments. One guy that we haven’t heard mentioned is Preston Brown. I’m not saying that a good or bad thing, but I’m wondering if he continues to stay quiet on the field, will the Bills look for a replacement at MLB either in the draft or FA?

    I don’t want to drink the kool-aid yet as we’ve seen numerous good starts squandered over the years by the Bills. So far, I’m enjoying the new defense and enjoyed seeing the Bills beat a team they were expected to lose against.

  2. “Thing is, can he do it again this week? It seems Taylor has two or three games a season where he looks like a franchise QB, but others not so much.”

    Agreed.

    “I don’t want to drink the kool-aid yet as we’ve seen numerous good starts squandered over the years by the Bills.”

    I could go and order Sunday Ticket…that would probably put a quick end to things going well! Although with the Bills, their specialty is being in the hunt and coming up short. On WGR, Howard ‘picked the Bills’ to start like 6-3…and then they go on a 3 game losing streak and finish 8-8. I dunno, like you said above, Taylor usually is good for a couple good games a year. Sunday was a good win, but I don’t think it changes the season a whole lot. If they don’t get the running game right and fast, they’ll be back to the 6-10 pace in no time…because yesterday’s game from TT is more typical of they type of game he has when the running game is running the opposition over and Taylor is just piling on. Typical Tyrod usually reverts back to Carolina guy when the running game is MIA.

  3. I agree with Bogyo more often than not…and that’s about where I’m at now. The worse part about all this is the Bills aren’t as bad as I thought and instead might win 8 games…the worst possible finish they could have! Out of the playoffs and not near the top of the draft. Good luck getting your QB now…shy of drafting one no matter what (see NeedsA Manual,) it’s going to require more luck than anything. I think rebuilding was the right move, but could have respected trying to win now. Had they not unloaded Watkins, I could take a couple sips of Kool-Aid think they could maybe make it this year with a greatly improved D. Looks like they might have the D, but I think the O will be too far away. I have roughly 0% faith you can regularly get solid play from Tyrod if the running game is struggling. And a guy like Watkins helps keep D’s from stacking the box while also making big plays for you. Instead, now if they over achieve, they’re just missing the playoffs with the worst draft position possible…I’ll say for the second time in a single comment!

    But hey, maybe when they fall short of being in position to draft a QB and they decide to just stick with Tyrod, they can package their 2 mid to late first rounders to trade up for a WR to replace Watkins!

    • Either an 8-8 finish or 9-7 just missing the playoffs sounds about right for the Bills. Last time they finished 9-7, they drafted 19th, which is way too far down to grab a franchise QB. To move up into the Top 5, they’ll most likely have to package all those extra picks to do so. I’d rather see those extra picks be used on RT, RG, MLB, DT (to replace Dareusworth).

  4. With it being football season, I figured everyone would be more active in here. Where is everyone?

    Dareus returned to practice yesterday on a limited basis. Jerel Worthy is back after suffering a concussion in preseason against the Ravens. I imagine we’ll see a good rotation of Dareus and Worthy as McDermott likes to rotate players on defense to keep them fresh. I remember when Wannstedt did the same thing, but his scheme was twenty years ago and was one of the worst in team history. Glad to see McD/Frazier doing good so far.

    As long as the Bills aren’t in a huge hole on Sunday, I expect a more effective run game. The Bills faced the top two run defenses in the league [Panthers, Broncos], so it should be all uphill for the run game from here. The Falcons are giving up 4.8 yards a carry, granted, a lot of that is from teams having to play from behind as the Falcons have not trailed for one second so far this season. Another key stat, the Bills have not allowed a passing TD through three games of the season. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out on Sunday.

  5. steve,

    so many articles it’s impossible to keep a long comments thread going!
    not giving up a pass play TD over three games is quite an accomplishment in the pass happy NFL where many teams rely heavily on pass plays for red zone and short yardage plays. so far the defense has to be better than anyone’s best expectations. not just the schemes but the drafting and personnel moves.
    i wish we didn’t have to wait until December for the first patriots matchup- although maybe that is for the best….

  6. “i wish we didn’t have to wait until December for the first patriots matchup- although maybe that is for the best…”

    I dunno. It’s not terribly uncommon for the Pats to start out suspect, but then get their chit together and play like the Pats the rest of the way.