I’m back this week with another edition of The Extra Point. Last week, a Bills win made it so that I couldn’t WAIT to sit down and write about the team. This week, my desire to write takes on more of a…therapeutic role. Here goes.
1.) Maybe the critics are right. An awful lot of attention has been paid this year by the Bills players and fans to the fact that the national media doesn’t believe in them. For the third time this year they had the opportunity to prove the doubters wrong, and for the third time, they failed.
While the Browns didn’t boast the pedigree of teams like the Eagles and Patriots, they represented a supremely talented opponent and a chance for the Bills to thumb their nose at those silly Vegas odds makers for declaring the Bills the underdogs.
A Bills win today and a subsequent 7-2 record would have gone a long way toward changing the national narrative. Instead, the Bills looked like a walking embodiment of the old Dennis Green “We are who we thought they were!” rant.
Another strong defensive performance. Another listless offensive performance. Another wide open receiver running down the field for Buffalo, watching the ball sail 8 yards past him. Another winnable game, lost. At some point, if you want to earn national respect, you have to go out and take it. The Bills once again failed to do that on Sunday, and fans are left to wonder whether they are capable of doing it at all.
2.) Sometimes it’s the Xs and Os, sometimes it’s the Willies and Joes. The tendency after a loss is to want to figure out who and what was primarily to blame for the outcome. Against the Browns, the Bills coaches and players were both to blame.
The lack of carries — the Bills only ran the ball 13 times all day — for Gore and Singletary were baffling, sure. But within the scope of the offensive game plan that WAS utilized, there were plays to be made, and the players often did not make them.
Josh Allen again failed to complete a deep pass to a wide open receiver that may ultimately have led to a Bills victory. He also had a costly fumble in the red zone that Jon Feliciano luckily had the alertness and athleticism to recover, saving Buffalo’s offense from catastrophe.
There were numerous failures to convert manageable 3rd and shorts and 4th downs. And what of the Bills defense? It’s easy to question the call to send pressure against Mayfield on his 4th quarter touchdown throw to Rashard Higgins, but that would ignore how badly Higgins beat Levi Wallace on the play. Sometimes it’s the Xs and Os, sometimes it’s the Willies and Joes, and on Sunday, both deserved blame for the Bills’ loss.
3.) Keep it simple, stupid. After a string of games in which the Bills were mostly unable to exhibit any kind of offensive identity, they finally stumbled upon a formula that worked last week against the Redskins: give Devin Singletary the ball early and often.
Singletary was a revelation, touching the ball 24 times against the Redskins for 140 yards and a score. On an offense mostly devoid of playmakers and clearly incapable of executing a competent vertical passing game, Singletary made it clear that he was the most explosive player the Bills had in their offensive arsenal.
This week, it seemed like a safe assumption that the Bills would continue to give Singletary the ball — especially considering that they were facing an opponent that was giving up 141 rushing yards per game.
Instead, to the extreme frustration of Bills fans everywhere, they gave him the ball just eight times. The Bills, in fact, only ran the ball 13 times total — and on a day when they were never far behind on the scoreboard, no less. Josh Allen, by comparison, threw the ball 41 times.
Now I readily admit that I don’t know one tenth as much about play-calling as professional football coaches do, but even I know that giving Singletary the ball just eight times while asking Josh Allen to throw it 41 times is a losing recipe.
Football can be a really complicated game. Sometimes, though, the best answer is the simple answer. The Bills, with a mauling and nasty offensive line that is better at run blocking than pass blocking, an explosive rookie running back, and facing an exploitable run defense, just needed to give Singletary the ball.
I mentioned above that the offense needs to make more plays regardless of what the game plan calls for, and that’s true. But it’s the coaches job to put their players in the best position to succeed, and it’s nearly impossible to see how Brian Daboll did that today.
4.) “We’re not in Foxborough any more, Toto”. Given the seemingly obvious good fortune of having a rookie running back with a hot hand and facing an opponent who is bad at stopping the run, it seems absolutely crazy that Brian Daboll rolled out the gameplan that he did. So why did he do it?
It has become clear over his two seasons with the Bills that Daboll wants to import the New England offensive philosophy of tailoring each week’s offensive gameplan to the opponent in a highly specific way.
The Patriots offense looks different every week. Sometimes they’re a power run outfit, sometimes they sling the ball all over the field. It makes sense, in theory, to want one’s offense to possess this type of flexibility.
The problem for Brian Daboll is that the offense he currently oversees in Buffalo does not seem to have the personnel to execute this type of varied offensive scheme. They certainly don’t have Tom Brady behind center.
Josh Allen is an ascending player who looks to have a bright future, but his ability to consistently threaten defenses with his arm is not yet at the level where the Bills should ever consider such pass heavy offensive game plans.
I understand Daboll’s desire to have his offense be adaptable and multiple, but the Bills don’t seem to have the horses to accomplish that task. With that being the case, the only reasonable thing to do is scrap the “highly specific, tailored gameplan” stuff and go with what works: Running the ball, controlling the clock, and setting up play-action opportunities.
5.) The Dick Jauron Award for “Bend but don’t break” goes to…The Bills defense deserves major credit for the Bills even being in the game in the fourth quarter to begin with on Sunday. Yes, they gave up too many rushing yards. Yes, they allowed the Browns to score the go-ahead touchdown with just minutes left in the fourth quarter.
At the end of the day, though, they allowed only 19 points and tallied two points of their own on a safety. That should be good enough for a win most weeks. Their eight-play goal line stand culminating in a 4th down stop was a thing of beauty.
Later, with the Browns again in the red zone and poised for a back breaking touchdown, the Bills defense held them to just a field goal. Once again, they failed to collect a turnover, but they played good team defense throughout the game and did a good job limiting the points scored against them.
If you need a bright spot to focus on after Sunday’s heartbreaking loss, go back and watch Tre’Davious White’s performance. White did an absolutely masterful job shutting down Odell Beckham Jr. If there is one Buffalo Bill that deserves more national attention and praise, it’s White. He shadowed OBJ on all but 10 plays and essentially turned him into a non-factor. With his stellar play this season, #27 has catapulted himself onto the short list of best cornerbacks in the league.
6.) Tale of two halves, redux. Just like in last week’s game against the Washington Redskins, the Bills defense looked positively toothless against the run in the first half. The Browns were seemingly running the ball at will, with Nick Chubb breaking off three runs of 15 or more yards.
Sometimes the defensive tackles were pushed off the ball. Sometimes the linebackers took bad angles or got lost in the wash. Whatever the cause on a given play, the Bills defense looked like it was in for another long afternoon against the run.
Then a funny thing happened: The second half began. Just like in last week’s game, the Bills defense flipped some sort of switch. While they didn’t completely stymie the Browns running game in the second half, they undoubtedly curtailed its effectiveness.
Instead of runs of 15 and 20 yards, the Browns were getting gains of 3 to 5 yards. What is Leslie Frazier saying to the players in the locker room at halftime? What adjustments are they making? Why can’t they seem to replicate their recent second half run-stopping efforts in the first halves of games? What gives?
Things don’t get any easier in the run defense department, with a rematch against a Dolphins team that already gashed the Bills on the ground once this year on deck, and games against the Cowboys and Ravens still to come.
The Extra Point
This one hurts.
Bills losses always hurt, at least a little bit. But this one REALLY hurt. The Patriots game was upsetting, sure, but Bills fans could tell themselves that if Allen hadn’t been knocked out of the game, things might have been different.
The Eagles game was disheartening, sure, but the Bills were simply outclassed by a superior opponent. For some reason, those types of losses are easier to take. If the guys lining up across from your team are just better, then so be it. There’s nothing you can do.
But when the opponents AREN’T clearly better, when the game is there for the taking and some combination of bad coaching and bad execution causes a loss in a game that could have been a win — those losses really hurt.
This game had the sting and the stink of so many bad BIlls losses of the past. Games against the Browns are strange. They always are. Whether it’s a Bills running back dropping a pass in the end zone in a playoff game, a kicker missing wide right on Monday Night Football, or a hideous punt bonanza that the Bills somehow lose 6-3, Browns game are strange. Today was the latest chapter in a nightmarish tome authored over the years on the shores of Lake Eerie.
This game hurt because there were so, so many missed opportunities and squandered chances. There were bungled third and shorts and failed 4th down conversions. There was bad play calling and bad execution at inopportune times.
Most egregiously of all, there was the absolutely horrendous final Bills drive, in which the Bills coaches exhibited a hideous double-dip of coaching no-no’s: Poor clock management and playing to tie rather than playing to win.
Indeed, between the missed opportunities, the poor play-calling, the lackluster execution, and the head-scratching clock management, the Bills squandered multiple precious opportunities today.
They squandered the opportunities to win the game, to take a commanding lead in the AFC playoff race, to exorcise the ghosts of Browns games past, and most of all, to prove to the nation at large that they’re contenders instead of pretenders.
The road certainly doesn’t get easier from here, with games against opponents like Dallas, New England, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh looming. Even games against opponents like Miami and Denver no longer seem like sure Bills victories, such is the strength of the impression of ineptitude that the Bills have left in recent weeks.
I pleaded with Bills fans last week in this space to learn to enjoy the Bills’ winning ways while still wanting and demanding more from the team. I spoke of the dangers of falling into the trap of extremes.
To be clear: the Bills’ season is not over. Their hopes are not dashed. They are 6-3 — still a darn good record for a team that many picked to win no more than six games ALL YEAR — with the opportunity to make the playoffs still in front of them.
However, if the Bills don’t figure out a way to create greater offensive production and iron out their coaching foibles quickly, Bills fans will begin to feel another old, familiar sinking feeling all too common to this fan base the past 20 years.
“Here we go again”.
Editor’s babble: Matthew nailed it. Big thanks to Matthew for his contributions to our blog. You can find Matthew on Twitter @MatthewtheRule.