There are no style points for winning pretty or demerits for not playing a thing of beauty game awarded in the NFL. None. The Bills victory over Tennessee was just as forecast: low scoring, tough, grindy/ploddy, a slog, every yard, every first down, every play perhaps making the difference between winning and losing.
The Bills hunkered down on defense, made enough plays on offense, overcame a ton of penalties, a ton of injuries, enjoyed having another team’s kicker meltdown for a change, enjoyed having a coach decide irrationally to try a 53 yard field goal when down 7 points (with a kicker ready for a pink slip and with only 6:35 left) and won their 3rd straight road game.
It will take till later in the season to determine how important this one was but from where I sit (hey, it’s the geezer’s chair for a reason) I think this was an extremely important game. Winning in conference, on the road and with 3 straight home games coming up, 2 against currently winless teams (though that is likely to change since Washington plays Miami next week) – the Bills have set themselves up for a legitimate playoff run and have separated slightly here in the early going from the pack of AFC teams behind them. Winning tough games like that is confidence building and augurs well for other games down the road.
It seems clear the Bills defense is good enough to key such a run if they can keep people healthy. Seeing Milano, Murphy and Poyer get hurt is a testament to how quickly a team’s fortunes can change in this league.
The bye is coming at a good time. The fact that they held on with backups stepping up on both sides of the ball is a tribute to the front office and the position coaches that prepare them every week. It’s hard to score on this defense when having to drive the field against them. They are very assignment sound and the continuity of having most of the component pieces in a place for a while now helps greatly.
The offense, however, is a different story. I thought Allen was much better today. If nothing else he threw away those passes that led to such horrifying decisions and ultimately picks in past games. That said, the one turnover did lead to the Titans touchdown. Without knowing what the route Yeldon was running but accepting Allen’s postgame commentary, it seems that one was on him. It is a step in the right direction though that he didn’t force the matter.
This is not an explosive offense. At all. My Twitter feed was jammed with those moaning for deep strikes and some explosion. From halftime of the Bengals game on, it’s been like watching a Dick Jauron offense.
Fortunately, they got one play from McKenzie and it proved to be critical. There is not a ton of team speed on offense, except maybe Brown (and Foster when healthy). The line does not seem to hold up well blocking for longer developing plays.
While Gore is steady, savvy and a definite plus, he is not fast and explosive at age 36. (McKenzie looked like he had rockets on after watching the rest of this offense all day). They miss Singletary and his ability to make things happen out on the edge.
Yeldon is not a substitute in running the ball for Singletary, though his pass protection might be better. In any event, the offense needs to be a complimentary piece to the defense. It is NOT going to be it’s equal. Score what you can and don’t turn it over and they will win their fair share of games.
Onward to the things I disliked:
- I wish they’d scrap the QB sneak on longer than 1 yard tries or at least work on it so Allen isn’t pushing straight ahead (rather than looking for a crease) like it is a short yard to make.
- Cody Ford as a tackle. He just keeps getting beat wide by speed rushers. I know Nsekhe was out and they had little choice but it may be time to acknowledge what is obvious.
- The officiating. My goodness there were some bad calls both ways including but not limited to: the holding penalty on Ford, holding penalty on Milano, holding penalty on Lewan negating a huge opening play, missing the face mask on Phillip’s first sack, penalty on Lewan for twitching his foot (apparently). The Bills may have gotten a break on the over the line call on Mariota (at least as I understood the explanation) and the off sides on Murphy seemed like he was drawn off. There were others as well. It’s hold one’s breath time every time there is a flag and a review.What’s a penalty? What’s not a penalty? Who the heck knows anymore. I preferred the old days (grumpy old guys says “get off my lawn”).
- The penalty on McKenzie on special teams that killed what would have been great field position.
- Dropped passes by Sweeney and Knox. In tight games those can be critical.
- No forced turnovers. As limited as this offense is, it would be a great help if the D could force one in plus territory. They’ve been great but not forcing turnovers is a two year problem at this point.
- Corey Bojorquez had a much better game this week than prior ones. That said, I do wish he could have dropped a couple of those bombs inside the 20 instead of having them roll through the end zone. I don’t mean to be too critical because it was definitely better this week than in the past on special teams.
- Allen’s one INT.
- The series Brian Daboll called after the missed field goal at the 6:35 mark of the 4th quarter. Two short incomplete passes plus a short completion ran less than a minute off the clock and were not designed to get first downs either. They overcame it but it could have been a disaster.
- The lack of a good screen pass. Again. Josh tried one to Sweeney that he had to throw away. If they want to take some pressure off the pass rush it would be nice to work more on this. The Titans had a beauty to try to negate the Bills D line pressure.
- The 3rd quarter offense. Allen was ineffective and the team was too. Other than a score against the Patriots in the 3rd quarter, the Bills have been dreadful after coming out of the break. They really need to do some self study off the bye and see if they can fix that, especially if they are going to keep deferring and taking the ball in the 2nd half if they win the toss.
- The injuries. Hamstrings, as we are seeing, are tricky. It looks like Milano may be out a while and that would be a serious loss. Definitely hoping for Morse, Milano, Ford, Murphy and any of the others to heal up during the bye week.
- Jordan Phillips! Not just the sacks but he was a force all day inside. The Bills D line, I thought, played really well and at times was dominating. I thought Shaq Lawson was a force as was Ed Oliver. They pushed the pocket all day long. Henry is a load and he rarely had room to get up a full head of steam. The 25 yard gain over Darryl Johnson early in the game was one of the few times they let Tennessee get outside of them.
- The Butch Rolle play! (Younger Bills fans may have to ask their elders about it or just Google him and look for his number of catches vs touchdowns caught between 1987 and 1991). Dragged out of moth balls after lo these many years it was a thing of beauty. Whereas Butch used to run it right near the goal line, the Bills dusted it off from the eight yard line, having Lee Smith (a blocker with a role similar to Rolle) fake a block, spring up, and stay uncovered in the end zone. I’ve called for that for a long time and it was great to see it work!
- Duke! The call for him to come off of exile on the practice squad was heard and he delivered with a really nice tough catch for a first down early in the game and the touchdown to win it. 4 targets, 4 catches. The yardage wasn’t great but having a guy work to make 1st down catches and who is a unique weapon for this team in the red zone is not to be understated.
- Tremendous blocking and running by Yeldon and Gore from the 4 minute mark on plus Allen’s excellent work to finally ice the game. Just a dominating performance, at a key moment, when there really hadn’t been much all day.
- The Bills D held the Titans to 4 of 14 on 3rd down, 252 total yards, 14 first downs and sacked them FIVE times. Masterful!
- The D showing the mental discipline to come off that great dominating performance against New England and not lose their edge against a Tennessee team that, while not a juggernaut, still has weapons.
- Winning the game despite losing the turnover battle (though I guess 4 missed field goals might as well be equal to at least one turnover).
- Delanie Walker not killing them. It seemed like every game against the Titans, Walker made big contributions.
- Corey Bojorquez’s punting. In a perfect world some of the kicks that rolled into the end zone would have died inside the 10 but on the whole he did great job of pinning Tennessee back and forcing them to drive long distances. It was a nice bounce back after some shaky early game performances.
- Excellent substitute work by Bates and Long (both of whom seemed solid from watching the game on television, All-22 might say otherwise, I don’t know). Feliciano also seemed to do quite well at center. That kind of depth, without huge drop-offs in performance, really helps.
- Watching Hauschka’s kickoffs go out of the end zone. It eliminates the drama. These tight games have enough in them without kick returns being added to it.
- Bills Mafia in Nashville! Man there were a LOT of Bills fans at the game!
The Bills are on a bye next week and so am I. Rest up, watch non pressurized other NFL games, root against the Patriots, cheer for injuries to heal and no players to do anything stupid while on break. It is all out there for them in 2019 if they keep grinding.
I suspect there will be some real nail biters as we head to the backside of the schedule, so take a deep breath and enjoy yourselves and the mini vacation.
Editor’s babble: A bye week for the fans after all these heart-attack inducing games is more than welcomed by this old geezer. Thanks to Joe Tauriello for his bang-on contributions to our blog. You can find Joe on Twitter @Joe_Tauriello.