ORCHARD PARK, NY - The Buffalo Bills have opened up the 2017 regular season with the victory that they needed to have against a hapless New York Jets team. The Bills made their fans sweat a little bit throughout the game by having it closer than many thought it would have been, but at the end of it all, they came through with a 21-12 victory.
Sean McDermott also got his first ever victory, but he needed some big performances from some individual players to get him there. He also said there is a “long list” of things to work on going forward.
What were both the good and the bad from the Week One Win? Seven observations from the Bills’ victory:
1) McCoy steals the show
- The Buffalo Bills came into the 2017 season knowing their most important piece was LeSean McCoy, and after all the speculation throughout the past several months as to how much he’d be used, they used him exactly as we all thought. McCoy was everything to the Bills on Sunday, totaling 159 yards from scrimmage on 27 total touches. And there was no bigger evidence of that on Sunday than when McCoy was down on one knee in pain due to his wrist going numb, and the Bills touchdown that happened just behind me felt secondary to the bigger picture implications that could have been. Once he darted out of the medical tent, there was a deep sigh of relief in both the stands and on social media: McCoy was okay for now. But that really takes us to a deeper point… without McCoy, the Bills really don’t have much at running back. Sure, Mike Tolbert was effective on Sunday — but part of his effectiveness was because of how McCoy keeps defenders on their heels. Still, the Bills will have their key piece to the offense in full for another week at least, and there’s really no slowing down his usage at this point. He is dynamic, he can make something out of nothing, and he is an outright weapon in the passing game (led the Bills in receptions Sunday) when things break down in the pocket. He may be a 29-year old running back, but he certainly doesn’t look it.
2) Tyrod showed some progress
- It would be easy to criticize Tyrod Taylor for not hitting his wide receivers enough in the team’s 21-12 victory, but that would totally ignore the fact that he showed a little progress in a couple of the areas the Bills and their fans had been wanting him to. Could he have hit his targets on the outside more? Sure, he could have. They also could have won more routes than they did, and he’s working with a trio of players that features a slot receiver working on the outside, a rookie that was having his reps managed, and a career backup receiver as a top three. That’s not exactly a lot to work with. Knowing that, and the matchup issues the Jets were going to have in the air against the tight ends and running backs, the Bills targeted them. Charles Clay has long been someone Bills fans have pined for to either make an impact or really, just to be targeted by Taylor. Clay was far and away the favorite of Taylor on Sunday, accounting for nine total targets, four receptions, and a touchdown on the day. His involvement in the Rick Dennison offense isn’t a surprise. It’s a tight end friendly scheme that will open things up for Clay as long as he stays healthy, so this was a step in the right direction for both him and Taylor. Plus, I even saw Taylor go through his reads a number of times — rather than the one-read quarterback we saw for much of 2016. These are positive steps, but he still has some things to work on: seeing the entire field from the pocket, comfortability on three-step drops, and leading the receiver all need to be better than it was. However, his performance on Sunday should calm some nerves of Bills fans thinking preseason version of Tyrod Taylor would carry over to the regular season.
3) A muted Marcell?
- Ahead of today’s game, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport said that this season was going to be a “make or break” year for Marcell Dareus as to whether or not he would buy into what the team was doing. While Sean McDermott wouldn’t shed much light on that report, the one thing we can analyze is the defensive tackles overall usage rates. He was on the sidelines a lot more than we’ve grown accustomed to here in Buffalo. Sean McDermott said it was an effort to keep everyone along the defensive line fresh, but I’ll be very interested to see just how much Dareus was on the field in comparison to both starter Kyle Williams, as well as backup Adolphus Washington. The snap counts should be coming out on Monday morning when the game books are updated. When on the field, Dareus made only one flash play upon my first viewing of the game — with that coming on Shaq Lawson’s tackle for loss. However, it’s also tough to gauge the defensive line’s effectiveness against the pass because the Jets were doing a lot of quick passing. They knew their offensive line was overmatched by the Bills’ front four and made that adjustment. It would be unfair to judge Dareus and company on that. However, the run game? I’m really looking forward to seeing the All-22 film to see what Dareus did in full.
4) Andre Holmes fully entrenched in several of the Bills’ operations
- Backup wide receiver Andre Holmes caught a touchdown pass, and that was just the tip of the iceberg of his overall involvement in the Bills' game plan.
Holmes, who is probably the member of the Compensatory Trio® that is best known by fans -- and for the position he plays, the most scrutinized of that group. By this point, we know the stakes. If the Bills cut three of their five qualifying free agents by Week 10 of the season, they’ll likely be awarded a third-round pick. The trouble is, Holmes might be positioning himself as one of the core members of the team due to his involvement. Against the Jets, Holmes was on the field more than expected as it seemed like they were trying to slowly work rookie Zay Jones into his first regular season game. On top of that, Holmes was a member of all four main special teams units: kickoff, kick return, punt, and punt return. Utility man Joe Webb and rookie linebacker Matt Milano were the only other two by my count to have played on all four units. That makes them core special teams players, especially given the fact that the team was essentially at full health heading into the game. So if the Bills want to release Holmes, they’ll need to identify another player from within the locker room to take his rather substantial role.
5) The stout run defense exposed a flaw
- The Buffalo Bills, like they had been doing in the preseason, were simply superb at stopping the run all game long. You can’t overstate how good they were because they completely took that part of the Jets game away from them. Neither of the main Jets running backs got it going, which led them to try and figure out a new way to move the ball quickly. What we saw develop, though, was a tad concerning — especially considering who the Bills were up against. The Jets won’t be surprising anyone with their offensive prowess in the 2017 season, but we saw them move the ball efficiently and quickly down the field as they capitalized on lapses in underneath coverage and quick three-step drops. The pass rush couldn’t get to Josh McCown, the zone defenders weren’t getting to their spots quickly enough, and the Jets moved the ball down the field effectively. The middle intermediate area of the field is the most worrisome for the Bills because they have a disadvantage in coverage at linebacker with their starting trio of Preston Brown, Lorenzo Alexander, and Ramon Humber. With the Jets unlocking that as the game went on, I’d imagine the Carolina Panthers will take note of it for Week Two.
6) Poyer’s strong debut
- Heading into the regular season, we didn’t quite know what we’d get out of the brand new starting safeties of the Bills. I had a reasonable expectation that Micah Hyde would be a solid fit in Sean McDermott’s defense, which ended up being the case for the first week of the season. However, with not a lot of experience watching Jordan Poyer take meaningful snaps in the NFL, there wasn’t any real way of knowing what the Bills would be getting out of him. The answer through Week One? A lot… a whole heck of a lot, in fact. Poyer was a sound tackler when the Jets actually made it to his level, he disguised himself well on a blitz — enough to get into the backfield unimpeded for a sack, and he picked off Josh McCown to help secure the game for the Bills. All in all, Poyer had as strong a debut as a safety could have against a team that couldn’t rush the ball, and couldn’t stretch the field vertically. He’ll have a much stronger test in Week Two, but this was a great start for the new addition.
7) Running right is an issue
- Perhaps the Buffalo Bills knew something about John Miller in the new zone blocking scheme that we just couldn’t see during training camp and the preseason: he doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong fit for the scheme they’re running. More of a power-based guard, Miller was caught letting up the pressure a bit too much, which allowed for the Jets to shore up their run defense on the right side of the Bills offensive line. Miller wasn’t the main culprit, though, because historically below average Jordan Mills continued his struggles of the past two seasons into the start of 2017. Mills was a weakness and a big reason the Bills couldn’t run right, but his hold on the starting right tackle job really has no end in sight at the moment. Rookie Dion Dawkins has been putting all his time to the left side as Cordy Glenn continues to need some off the field even during the games as he continues to try and heal his ailing ankle. That side of the line is a weakness, and one area to exploit for opponents as the season goes along.
Bills MVP: RB LeSean McCoy
- He is everything to this offense, and will continue to be unless he gets injured at some point in the 2017 season — and he’s got the talent to back it up.
Bills LVP: RT Jordan Mills
- The biggest and most notable weakness on the field for the Bills was the starting right tackle. He must improve so that the Bills don’t have an area for defenses to attack week in and week out.
Up Next: Week Two at Carolina Panthers (1-0) on Sunday, September 17 at 1:00 pm
- The Bills won the game that they needed to win, against a team that would have created general unrest within the fan base had they lost. Still, the Bills handled their business and got out of New Era Field with a victory — with a good litmus test in hand for where they need to improve against a much more talented opponent in the Carolina Panthers. As Sean McDermott said after the game, it’s only one win, and it needs to be kept in perspective. Should the Bills be able to upset the Panthers on the road next Sunday, then perhaps we’ll have a bit more to talk about and project. For this game, the Bills showed up as the exact team we expected to see versus the worst roster in the National Football League: A winner.