After back-to-back upset victories over the Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons, Week 5 saw the Buffalo Bills travel to Paul Brown Stadium. Standing in the way of momentum before their bye week was the Cincinnati Bengals, a team that started 2017 very slowly.
It was an horrendous day of weather with rain pouring down prior to kickoff. The weather was a precursor for the action, a damp squib and thoroughly uncomfortable for everyone involved. The Bills fell to their second defeat of the season with a final score of 20-16. Buffalo remains atop the AFC East for now but will lose their grip on first place with the New York Jets and New England Patriots playing one another next weekend.
We’ll take a look at some of the valiant heroes, the villains of the piece and where it ultimately went wrong for the Bills in Week 5.
As already mentioned, it was wet. You go into the game missing your best wide receiver. During the game, you lose your biggest receiving threat in tight end Charles Clay. What on Earth possesses you to call 40+ passing plays? I gave offensive coordinator Rick Dennison credit last week but he carries some of the blame for this one.
I’m not going to completely hang Tyrod Taylor out to dry after this game. He’s not built to be an effective volume passer, his 1-11 record when throwing 30 or more passes is a clear indication of that. The conditions obviously had a bearing on his performance but Tyrod had chances to play better than he did.
I’ve wanted to see Tyrod hang in the pocket more often. If his progressions aren’t open, he can’t just sit there like a pinata and let defenders tee off on him. His mobility is a plus, he’s got to find the correct balance between fight and flight. His placement on a number of throws was subpar, a couple of which were drive killing plays. Calls for his benching are ridiculous but Tyrod needs to avoid many more outings like this one.
I’m starting to feel for LeSean McCoy. McCoy is showing leadership qualities that I didn’t think he had. He’s doing everything in his power to take what’s given and trying to create once the structure of the play breaks down. When he finally cuts one loose, it’s brought back for a stupid hold. Even if the production isn’t showing on the stat sheet, I don’t doubt the heart of the man. McCoy is on pace to have the most receptions of his career and is one of the few reliable weapons still left for Taylor to utilize.
The passing attack is looking bleak. Zay Jones and his quarterback still look like guys that met five minutes before kickoff, there’s no feel for each other at the moment. Brandon Tate got a revenge game touchdown for the ages. Kaelin Clay and Andre Holmes went catchless on two combined targets. They need an infusion of talent from somewhere, this ragtag bunch just won’t cut it if Jordan Matthews misses time after the bye.
Perhaps the lone bright spot in the passing attack was the gloveless wonder himself. Did you know that his grandfather is Jack Nicklaus? Nick O’Leary is what he is. Sure handed, underwhelming athletically. He’s either solid or poor as a blocker depending on which side of bed he rolled out of that morning. O’Leary caught everything he should have in Week 5. As a number one option going forward, it’s a big dropoff from Charles Clay.
Like with receiver, the current options won’t do. I like the Logan Thomas experiment but the million dollar body is going to waste if he plays with a ten-cent brain. He ignored explicit direction from Taylor to run his route toward the end zone for a score and his hold brought McCoy’s 44-yarder back. Those two plays alone had the potential to cost the team between 7 and 11 points.
Veteran options are still on the market at the time of writing. Both Gary Barnidge and Jacob Tamme have recent experience with Kyle Shanahan, the son of one of Dennison’s biggest influences. They may stand a chance at quick integration in the offense over the bye.
To the shock of nobody, the Vlad Ducasse move didn’t work. Ducasse started off okay as a run blocker but got overwhelmed as time went on. On one play, he was so comprehensively beaten, I needed to rewind half a dozen times to check if it was a screen. John Miller hasn’t been great but his peaks are higher than Vlad’s. To continue to play Ducasse after the bye is egregious and should cost offensive line coach Juan Castillo his job.
It was a game to forget for rookie left tackle Dion Dawkins. It was always going to be a long day for the kid, up against Carl Lawson. Dawkins can lack authority with his punch, a violent technician like Lawson stands a great chance at undressing him on any given play. If Cordy Glenn is healthy enough to play, he needs to. If Dawkins is the right tackle of the future, bite the bullet and let the transition happen.
The old adage is that it’s better to be lucky than good. I think there was an element of that on Sunday. Some might argue that you make your own luck. Forcing three turnovers might not be lucky in itself. Being granted two of them from one of the best players in the NFL in the same game? It’s at least a fluke.
Once the fan vote opens for the Pro Bowl, I implore everyone to vote for Jerry Hughes. The pass rush was underwhelming in Week 5 but Hughes was bringing the house. If it wasn’t for Andy Dalton throwing the ball as quickly as he caught the snap on a number of plays, he could’ve wrecked the game for the Bengals. Hughes also scored an elite grade as a run defender from Pro Football Focus. He’s been amazing so far.
The rest of the defensive line had their moments, mainly against the ground game. Only allowing 2.4 yards-per-carry takes a concerted effort. Marcell Dareus continued his comeback from injury, racking up the only sack on the day for the Bills. If ‘Mr. Big Stuff’ can get healthy over the bye week, it would be nice to see his playing time increase. Contrary to some beliefs, he’s still really good.
In his first NFL start, the greatest compliment I can pay to rookie linebacker Matt Milano is that I barely noticed he was playing. After a shaky introduction to the NFL against the Falcons, I had my doubts about how ready he would be to take the place of the injured Ramon Humber. Preston Brown seemed to have a couple of lapses in coverage but played well against the run.
Lorenzo Alexander isn’t someone that I’ve mentioned much through the first month of the season. His pass rush productivity (as graded by PFF) has been impressive, his run defense has been immaculate in some games. I still have concerns in coverage but he’s been a productive player this season. I just wanted to congratulate him on his effort, tracking down AJ Green and forcing a fumble with the Bengals entering scoring range. Alexander played 61 snaps on defense and 15 on special teams, the most total snaps by any Bill in Week 5. There seems to be enough gas left in the tank for the grandpa of the group.
Six weeks ago, I would’ve hurt myself laughing at this sentence – please hurry back, EJ Gaines. The former Rams corner has settled in so well in this defense and he was sorely missed. Shareece Wright played every snap and it could only have been out of necessity. Wright got picked on early, finding himself matched up with Green. The first play of the game was a sign of things to come, Wright still running as Green cut his route off beyond the sticks.
With an injury to starting nickel Leonard Johnson, Greg Mabin played 28 snaps. Mabin had an interference call against him, lost contain on Joe Mixon’s touchdown run and dropped an interception in the end zone. Back to the practice squad you go!
Tre’Davious White blew his coverage on Green and gave up a touchdown. That’s another teachable moment for the rookie. I’m not actually annoyed at him for giving it up because I continue to be impressed with his resiliency after making errors. He got tasked with following Green as the game went on and didn’t take a backward step in doing so. He was a little late getting his head around on one occasion but got his hands on another three passes. He’s a fighter, the kid will be fine in the long run.
It was another blockbuster day for the Bills safeties. Both Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer got their hands on a Dalton pass, Poyer also recovered the fumble by AJ Green. I had high expectations for Hyde and he’s surpassing them. I don’t think anyone had a clue what to expect with Poyer but he’s had a few fantastic games. The area he’s most impressive to me is his tackling, he’s close to a sure thing.
The result was disappointing, the offensive performance was tough to watch. I’m also not sure how sustainable it is relying on random chaos going your way every single week. It wasn’t a trap game because the Bills don’t have trap games. When you don’t win even contests often, you’re not expected to overcome them often enough for this to be a shock.
The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time. This team is banged up and a week off will hopefully help a few players recover sufficiently for the hard slog to come. It also represents general manager Brandon Beane’s first true test as GM. If the Bills are serious about winning football games, moves have to be made. For all of his faults, one area Doug Whaley excelled in was plucking nobodies from obscurity and making them functional parts of the roster.
I don’t anticipate trades being made. It would completely undermine the philosophy that lead to the acquisition of the picks in the first place. If they can use the next dozen days to find options to bolster wide receiver, tight end and cornerback, the Buffalo Bills can keep me trusting their beloved process.
Don’t jump off the bandwagon, drink some more of that Kool Aid, things aren’t that bad just yet. After all, we’re hardly the Dolphins!
Editor’s babble: Thanks to Stephen Culley for his always-scintillating analysis. You can follow Stephen on Twitter @StephenCulley.