The Bills cruised to 20-3 win over the Denver Broncos Sunday, moving to 8-3 and leaving their fans pinching themselves in disbelief. Eight and three?
The Buffalo Bills fans around the country may still be discounting that record, or ignoring it altogether, claiming that the Bills have piled up wins against many of the worst teams in the league.
They may be correct, but there’s still something, a lot actually, to be said for piling up wins in the NFL. There are only eight teams in the league with three or fewer losses, and the Bills are one of them. At this point in the season, the Bills are in the position that all teams want to be in.
The win over the Broncos was satisfying on many levels. It was good, finally, to have a win where the Bills took control of the game early and followed good play with good play, winning without being the least bit threatened in the second half.
They didn’t dominate on the scoreboard in the first half, but they were in control of the game. They’d gone on two 80+ yard drives for field goals – you’d rather have seven, but long, clock-eating drives ending in points are good. Then they opened the second half with the rarest of Bills rarities – a begin-the-half touchdown drive, and the game was over. The Bills were a good team taking care of business.
It was fun to be in the stadium to watch Frank Gore pass Barry Sanders to move into third place in career rushing yards. It’s just good to be around greatness, even if we only have Gore on loan from the Hall of Fame.
He doesn’t belong to Bills fans in quite the same way as Cookie and OJ and Joe Cribbs and Thurman and Fred and even Shady, but he’s ours for now, and we’ll take him. If this is his last season, or his last in Buffalo, he still will be part of Bills history for what he accomplished on Sunday, and for how he modeled the perfect teammate as Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott build the culture they want.
The Bills finally put up four quarters of stifling defense. Total yards – 134. Third down conversions – 2 for 11. After the Bills opened the second half with a touchdown, the Broncos went on a ten-play drive to the Bills 22 – as close as they’d get to the red zone all day – and kicked a field goal, their only points of the day. After that, the Bills held the Broncos to five consecutive three and outs to end the game. Five.
Yes, it was only the Broncos, and they may turn out to be the worst team in 2019, but the Bills gave them nothing. That’s what good teams do.
I realized Sunday what makes the Bills’ pass defense so good: they play six defensive backs in their base defense. Really. Six. Two of them, Edmunds and Milano, just happen to be built like linebackers.
Those two just keep making plays in the passing game, Milano particularly. I’m surprised that teams actually keep throwing at him. He defended three passes on Sunday, to go along with a fistful of tackles. After Tre’Davious White, Alexander, Edmunds and Milano have defended more passes than any other Bill.
Plays, players and other things of note:
1. I’ve been on the Josh Allen bandwagon since early in his rookie season, and he keeps progressing nicely. Sunday, he played the way a good, young, growing QB should.
Statistically Denver has one of the best pass defenses in the league, and Allen beat them by putting up the same stats they’ve been allowing all season. The Broncos have given up twice as many TDs passing as they’ve gotten TDs, and Allen went 2-1.
The Broncos are giving up 207 yards per game, Allen got 185. Opponents complete 65% of their passes against the Broncos, Allen completed 60%. Allen didn’t slice and dice the Broncos like a star QB would; he just did what you’d like to see out of a second-year quarterback.
By the way, when your rushing offense is pounding out 244 yards, you don’t need your QB to do more. (Except, of course, contribute to the 244.)
What did I like? The Bills ran a lot of no huddle – not hurry up, just no huddle, which meant Allen was calling plays at the line of scrimmage. He handled those duties calmly, completely in control. He made only two really bad throws – the interception and a possible INT along the left sideline.
Apparently, he misread the defense on the interception; he didn’t see and didn’t expect the safety to be back there. I suspect a receiver read it correctly and cut off his route. I think Allen probably threw it to the spot where the receiver would have been if the Broncos had been in the defense Allen thought he saw.
The result was an amazingly ugly throw. But Allen’s good throws way outweighed the mistakes. He hung in the pocket nicely and found Beasley for the first touchdown, he read the defense and found Brown for the second, both beautiful throws.
He consistently hit crossing routes to all of his receivers. He’s fearless in the pocket – on the Beasley TD he was a split second late in deciding to throw it, and he was hit just as the ball left his hand, but he didn’t get happy feet. He stood his ground and made the throw.
I like how the Bills are using Allen in the running game. By giving him a few designed runs every game, the Bills force defenses to plan and prepare for his running. He isn’t particularly productive on his designed runs – his big gains on Sunday came on scrambles, but the scrambles demonstrate that he’s a threat running, so defenses have to account for Allen as part of the run game.
2. Between them, Shaq Lawson and Ed Oliver had three tackles and three sacks. All nice plays – Shaq’s came on third downs, and Ed’s pinned the Broncos on the goal line, which resulted in the Bills getting good field position that led Brown’s TD catch.
I would love to see those guys celebrate with their teammates, rather than their look-at-me post-sack dances. Yes, you made the play, but often it was your teammates who put you in that position.
3. It’s fun to watch Tre’Davious White. The Broncos targeted Courtland Sutton eight times, and he caught one for 27 yards. White picked one and could have had two more. Amari Cooper on Thursday.
4. The Bills had an American flag that covered the entire field for the opening ceremonies. 100 yards long, 53 wide. They had a couple hundred people around the flag to hold it up. When it was unfurled, about 40 people had to run across the field holding the bottom side of the flag.
About half way across the field, one of the runners around the 30-yard line stumbled and fell and was covered immediately by the flag spreading across the field. I assume he scrambled on all fours under the flag to the sideline and resumed his duties holding the flag. One of life’s embarrassing moments that you hope no one saw. Well, I saw it.
5. The fans hate McDermott’s conservative decision making, but the wisdom in his choices was rewarded Sunday. At the end of the first half, he decided to run and let the clock run out instead of passing and using the timeout in his pocket.
But the Bills had looked kind of ragged on the drive, taking three penalties, and the Bills were getting the ball to start the second half. Turned out to be a good move. The Bills regrouped at half-time and came out cooking, getting the touchdown to make it 13-0 and, it turned out, to end the game.
Later in the second half, it appeared that McDermott would go for it on fourth and four from Denver 36. It would have been a 54-yard field goal into the wind, so that wasn’t an option.
Instead of snapping the ball, the Bills did what they regularly do – try to draw the defense offside, then take the delay of game penalty and punt. It’s a conservative, field-position approach, disliked by the fans but smart when the wind is affecting play and when your defense has been in control. McDermott’s players rewarded him, with a nice punt to the 11.
After the fair catch, Oliver got his sack, the Broncos went three and out, and two plays later Allen hit Brown for the touchdown. With a better team or a worse team, taking those chances makes more sense. A better team can afford to take risks, a worse team has nothing to lose.
6. The Bills seem to be blitzing more than earlier in the season. They don’t get consistent pressure rushing four and the threat of the blitz complicates things for the offense, like Allen’s running does to the opponent’s defense.
7. For the second season in a row, Robert Foster seems to be emerging as a threat late in the season. Awesome speed. It looked like he pulled up with a serious hamstring problem – not surprising for a thoroughbred who can run like that, and that’s unfortunate for him and for the Bills. The door appears to be open again for Duke Williams to be a factor in the offense.
The Cowboys are desperate for a win, and the Bills have an opportunity to make a statement on the national stage. Are the Bills just another team, or are they among the best? Can they beat a good team on the road? We’ll see.
Have a happy Thanksgiving.
Editor’s babble: Thanks to Mark Korber for his contributions to our blog. You can’t find Mark on Twitter but you can find his posts on twobillsdrive.com’s Stadium Wall message board. From all of us at the BillsMafia blog, have a Happy Thanksgiving!