Apologies to all who read this. I’m uninspired today, and I’m afraid this Rockpile Review is uninspired, too.
The Buffalo Bills inspire me. They energize and excite me. Almost everything about the Bills’ 31-13 loss to the Eagles on Sunday was uninspiring. So today I’m uninspired, too. If what follows is as disappointing as the Bills were on Sunday, I apologize.
Come to think of it, the Bills should apologize, too. That performance was pretty bad.
I don’t mind losing. I went into the game thinking there was a good chance the Bills would lose. I mind not showing up, and that’s all I could think about the Bills’ performance on Sunday.
Was there bright spots? Oh, yes, I’m sure there were bright spots, and I’ll probably think of a few to talk about, but the fact that I, a confirmed homer, have to work to think of positives in that game is some evidence of how poorly the Bills performed.
Note to Bills: In order to win football games at home, it is not enough to stand on the sideline, waving your arms to get the fans to make more noise. You actually have to play football.
I’m working on a theory: Sean McDermott’s teams go flat in the middle of the season. McDermott is 20-19 in his career as a head coach. In games six through ten in his career, he is 4-8. I know, there are too many variables to draw any serious conclusions, and it’s probably too small a sample size, but nearly half of his losses have come in the middle third of the season.
Think of it this way: Two-thirds of the season, McDermott has a winning percentage that matches the career winning percentages of guys like Pete Carroll, Mike Holmgren, and Bruce Arians. In the middle third of the season, his winning percentage puts him in a group with Jay Gruden, Eric Mangini, and Mike Mularkey.
Recall for a minute these lowlights: In 2017, in the middle third of the season and after not competing in a loss to the Jets, the playoff-bound Bills lose at home to the Saints, 47-10 and follow it up with a loss on the road to the Chargers, 54-24.
In 2018 they lose four out of five in the middle of the season, including blow-out losses to the Bears and the Colts, not exactly powerhouse teams. This season they don’t show up against the Eagles after a lackluster win over the winless Dolphins.
It seems like McDermott figures out how to win games early, his opponents discover how to stop the Bills in the middle of the season, and McDermott reinvents the team to finish the season strong. Two thirds of that formula is pretty good. One third isn’t.
Many people put these losses on the players, but I don’t. I think it’s a coach/QB driven league, and although Allen didn’t play well enough, Allen wasn’t the difference in the game. You can’t blame the Eagles’ 218 rushing yards on Allen. Here are a few examples of why coaching is so important:
1. When a team is well-prepared for a game, they get a lot of easy plays. Fitzpatrick got a lot of easy throws against the Bills last week, and the Eagles got a lot of easy runs this week. I haven’t studied the film, but I noticed on several of the Eagles’ successful runs up the middle of the Bills defense, Edmunds was nowhere to be seen.
Often he was stuck in the wrong gap, just watching the ball carrier go by. That happened to Edmunds often last season, but it wasn’t happening very much this season. Now, maybe Edmunds all of sudden reverted to his rookie bad habits, but it’s much more likely he was handling his assignment as coached and that the Eagles figured out how to take advantage of how the Bills defense attacked gaps.
It happened too often to be an accident. On Sanders’ 74-yard touchdown, on the other hand, Edmunds just didn’t work hard enough to beat the block.
2. Here’s something the Bills did well. Sometime in the third quarter, the Eagles put Agholor in motion from the left. He was sprinting hard. The instant he went in motion, three Bills defenders shifted quickly and by the time Agholor got the handoff, Milano was sprinting past the line of scrimmage and made the tackle for a loss. The Bills knew exactly what was coming. It wasn’t football instincts; they were prepared.
3. Same thing on Singletary’s touchdown. The Bills knew something.
4. For the second week in a row, the Bills passing attack was not generating many easy throws like the Singletary TD. Allen got some, to be sure, but more often than not he was in the pocket wondering where he could go with the ball. Often, he threw to guys who were tightly covered. That tells me that once again this week, Daboll failed to identify successful ways to attack the Eagles defensive schemes.
Sunday, the wind was fierce but the rain held off for most of the game. The ball probably was wet often, but the wind seemed to be the only factor that seriously affected play.
There were a lot of Eagles fans in the crowd, and they made a lot of noise, especially as their team got the upper hand, just like Bills fans have performed on the road a few times in the past couple of seasons.
It was odd to see green McCoy jerseys in the stadium.
A few one-shot comments:
1. I’d be really excited about Josh Allen if he were a rookie and played that game. He isn’t a rookie, and he needs to be better.
2. The Eagles’ offensive line dominated in the run game. The Bills’ offensive line didn’t. In the passing game, it was more or less a standoff – some nice pockets, some pressures and some sacks, both ways.
3. What in the world was Foster doing on the deep throw in the second quarter? Sure, it was under-thrown, but Allen’s been overthrowing deep balls all season, and with that wind at his back, I’m sure he took something off of it. Foster seemed to make no effort to make a play on the ball.
4. I seriously under-appreciated Milano for two seasons. No more. Dude is a stud.
5. The Bills still are short on offensive playmakers. Beasley and Brown get open when the scheme creates openings, and good as he is, Gore just gets everything that’s there, but not much more. Singletary needs more touches, because he’s the only guy who looks like a true playmaker.
6. And Kroft. Kroft looks like he could be special at TE, one who can exploit defenses.
7. The greatness of the Bills’ defense was a myth. It’s good, but great defenses don’t get outplayed like that. They repeatedly failed to make the stops they needed. Ultimately, though, it was the offense that lost the game.
Despite the offensive struggles, the game was more or less even at the half. The Bills trailed at the half because of Allen’s fumble and the missed field goal, but the stats and time of possession all were more or less even. In the second half, after one touchdown drive the Bills offense had nothing and the Bills defense had no answer for the Eagles.
Good teams win the games they should win, and they win some of their tough games. The Bills have five wins because they’ve won the games they should win, and they have two losses because they haven’t been able to win tough games. The Bills now have three in a row that they should win, but it’s the middle third of the season, so we’ll see.
The Rockpile Review is written to share the passion we have for the Buffalo Bills. That passion was born in the Rockpile; its parents were everyday people of western New York who translated their dedication to a full day’s hard work and simple pleasures into love for a pro football team.
Editor’s babble: Due to a lost internet connection for three days, I was unable to get posts out until now. Apologies for the rural Wyoming internet connection. Thanks to Mark Korber for his contributions to our blog. You can’t find Mark on Twitter (he’s smart) but you can find him posting on twobillsdrive.com’s Stadium Wall message board.