Joe B: 7 observations from Bills - Panthers (9/17/17)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WKBW) - The Buffalo Bills, fresh off their Week One victory, traveled south for their first road contest of the season and found themselves in a defensive slugfest for 60 straight minutes. The Bills couldn’t quite get it going enough offensively, falling 9-3 to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

Although the defense was superb for much of the game against a really good starting quarterback in the NFL, the Bills just could never break through enough to secure a victory.

Where did it all go wrong? 7 observations from the Bills Week Two loss to the Carolina Panthers:

1) Too little, too late for the passing offense
- Oh, what could have been for the Buffalo Bills. Despite all the struggles, despite all the horrible statistics leading up to that point… somehow, the Bills had just under three minutes to go with two timeouts and a chance to win the game with a touchdown drive. For how poorly the offense played, you really couldn’t have asked for anything more in that situation. However, the Bills just could not do anything for the entire game — and a big reason for that was because they were unable to get anything established through the air. Tyrod Taylor ended up with 125 total passing yards, which sounds bad enough for a full 60-minute game. However, 72 of those 125 yards came in the fourth quarter, mostly when the Panthers were just trying to keep everything in front of them without allowing the Bills to get in the end zone. That means — by the power of subtraction — Taylor had only 53 total passing yards through the first three quarters of the game, which is as putrid a statistic as you’ll find. In those three quarters, Taylor completed only two passes to his outside wide receivers — an equally concerning statistic for a team that needed to find an edge on this defense by attacking their young cornerbacks. For the Bills to move forward, they must get Tyrod Taylor on the same page with his receivers. Otherwise, defenses will just play them from the inside — which takes away what they do best.

2) Bills need to figure out their running game
- Keep in mind, the Carolina Panthers might have one of the best front-seven defensive groups in the entire league, so that certainly led to a lot of the trouble. However, the Bills couldn’t even do what they were best at, which is running the ball with LeSean McCoy. He was bottled up all game long both on the ground and through the air — thanks to the ever-so-quick linebacker play of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. McCoy amassed only 43 yards on 18 total touches — a far cry from his 159 yards on 27 touches during their Week One victory. It was against a good defense, yes, but the discouraging part for the Bills is that now they’re going to have to prove they can beat teams when they stack the box with eight defenders against McCoy. If they can’t establish a passing attack to help alleviate some of the pressure on McCoy, then teams will key on him like the Panthers did all game long. The Bills must, without any delay, figure out how to keep McCoy going so their offense doesn’t get stymied like that again.

3) Domination of the edge
- While the offense just did not make enough plays to win the game for the Buffalo Bills, the defense sure as heck did their part. Heading into the game, the potential was there for both Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson, and even Lorenzo Alexander to come away with some pressure of Cam Newton in the pocket. Not just that trio, but even backup Eddie Yarbrough got in the mix to be an outright nuisance all game long to Newton and the rest of the Carolina offense. The edge pressure took advantage of a mismatch against some poor Panthers play from their offensive tackle — and it nearly helped them win a game. Hughes was a big standout with that, using his speed to never allow left tackle Matt Kalil to get comfortable for the entire game. He had two sacks by the end of it but had he used his arms on the one attempt, Hughes likely would have had three. In this 4-3 defense that allows the ends to play a  ‘Wide-9’ role, it puts players like Hughes and Lawson in the type of positions they’re most comfortable in to make plays. It seemed like whenever the Bills needed a stop, the pass rush did their job — and I expect that to continue through the 2017 season. It’s a really talented group.

4) Why not a timeout?
- The learning process for head coach Sean McDermott as a head coach in the NFL had another watershed moment. For the first time in the regular season, McDermott’s team had the ball on a two-minute drive in need of a touchdown and had two timeouts to go along with it. The Bills seemed to be moving the ball quite well, but then a questionable offensive pass interference call on Andre Holmes set them back with a 1st-and-20 from the Carolina 42-yard line with just 53 seconds to go. Tyrod Taylor couldn’t find a target down the field, scrambled, and picked up just four yards on the play. The offense was strewn about the entire field, and it seemed like the ideal spot — with such disarray after the play — to call a timeout and prevent the time from ticking down. However, still with two timeouts in hand, McDermott decided against using one for some reason. Between the time it took to line up, and the time it took for the following play (an incompletion) to be done with, a little over 20 seconds ticked off the clock. After the game, I asked McDermott why he declined to call a timeout in that specific moment. His response: 

“Well, you want to have timeouts in order to win the game at the end. You’re never quite sure exactly. No one has a crystal ball on how it’s going to work out. But, we wanted to have a chance to win the game, and I thought we gave ourselves a chance to win the game.”

This is where McDermott must learn and grow from his mistakes. The offense was sluggish to get up to the line of scrimmage, and if he feels any amount of hesitation and a lack of a plan at the end of the game in such a dire situation, he just needs to make the executive decision and call for the timeout right then and there. Who knows, the Bills could have had a better play call, maybe that incompletion would have been a completed pass with some time to think it through — and you would avoid the helter-skelter nature and losing all that potential time to win the game. This was a brand new situation for a rookie head coach. Just like with players, you have to expect these things to happen from time to time. The big test is what he does next time they’re in a similar situation. With how analytical McDermott is, my guess is he’d handle it differently the second time around. We’ll just have to wait and see.

5) Poyer shines again
- Two games in, starting safety Jordan Poyer looks like he’s one of the steals of free agency for the Buffalo Bills. Having only 11 starts to his name in four seasons before his first year with the Bills, no one quite knew what to expect with Poyer — and once again, he flashed the same instinctive gameplay that made him one of the best players on the field in Week One against the New York Jets. He was jumping routes, he nearly had an interception, he brought the quarterback down for his second sack of the season, and he proved to be a strong tackler once again. It’s a long season and we’re only an eighth of the way through it, but you cannot simply ignore the job he’s done back there. He and Micah Hyde have turned a position riddled with questions coming into 2017, into an outright strength through the first two weeks. I really, really have liked what I’ve seen, and I’m really looking forward to watching just how good he was when the coaches film comes out on Tuesday.

6) Bills should give Dion Dawkins a chance
- Just two minutes ahead of halftime, left tackle Cordy Glenn allowed a sack to Mario Addison on first down, which elicited the following tweet from me:

 

 

The Bills ended up going three and out, had one brief run before the end of the half and then jogged to the sidelines. When they came back on the field, something apparently didn’t feel right with Glenn, either. Rookie Dion Dawkins was with the offense at left tackle to start the second half, while Glenn was nowhere to be found on the sidelines. The left tackle was being evaluated for — what else — his longstanding ankle injury, and did not return to the game in the second half. Now, this is something that just wasn’t a problem against the Carolina Panthers — Cordy Glenn just did not look like the same player we’ve come to know during the Week One win over the New York Jets as well. He just isn’t moving as well as he’s normally capable, and it also limits the offense if they want to run screens to the left side. When Dawkins came in, he was flying high and doing a great job. It was a very encouraging performance by him, especially when the Bills called a screen to the left, and Dawkins completely blocked out two separate defenders on the play. He’s fully healthy and playing well, while Glenn clearly isn’t healthy and struggling on plays that he usually isn’t. This isn’t that hard for the Bills — they need to let Glenn get back to full health with some rest. If they do that, and Glenn comes back from his injury, you can have a conversation as to where both players will play along the offensive line. For now, this seems really simple to me: play the healthy guy and let your talented veteran left tackle to get healthy in the meantime.

7) Middle of the field burns Bills defense again
- The defense was mostly outstanding against the Carolina Panthers — but one bugaboo emerged, just as it did in the second half against the New York Jets. The only time the Jets found success on offense was when Josh McCown was targeting the middle of the field — and more specifically, the middle of that zone where the linebackers are roaming. The Panthers saw it too because when they needed a play on a 3rd-and-long, they attacked the middle of the field and they did so successfully quite often. This is something the Bills have to get in order, but if they cannot, it calls into question who they have lined up at linebacker (Preston Brown and Ramon Humber) and if they can do the job for the long term. Upon the first watch, I thought Humber — despite one really nice coverage of Christian McCaffery — struggled in his zone responsibilities. However, I look forward to seeing the coaches film to see if Humber struggled as much as I initially thought. If he did, the Bills now have a very intriguing, and experienced, weakside linebacker on their roster in Jelani Jenkins. It will take him a while to get up to speed with this playbook, but I don’t think him getting some playing time on defense is out of the question by any means if these struggles continue.

Bills MVP: DE Jerry Hughes
- He was a nuisance all game long to Cam Newton. Jordan Poyer was a close second for the Bills, but Hughes was in the backfield constantly. He was terrorizing left tackle Matt Kalil.

Bills LVP: The entire offense
- They just could never get out of their own way, often times just looking like they were running in place. A tip of the cap needs to be sent to the Panthers defense for their performance, but that was just an awful performance — regardless who it was against.

Bills Co-LVP: Taiwan Jones’ shoe
- The man, on three separate occasions during a special teams play, had his shoe come off. It happened twice in the first half, so you figured he probably would have corrected the problem for the second half — but no… it happened once again in the third quarter. Might I suggest double-knotting the laces?

Up next: Week Three vs. the Denver Broncos at 1:00 pm at New Era Field.

Final Thoughts
- This was the exact type of game that I thought we’d be getting between these two teams that are built very similarly. Everything is predicated on the defense putting the team in a position to win the game, while the offense needs to do just enough to get them over the finish line for a victory. Even though neither team scored a single touchdown, the difference of this game was in the quarterback play. Cam Newton still has some rust, but he started to look like the Cam before the shoulder surgery in the early going for the Panthers. He helped them to just enough first downs to get them in field goal position to win the game. There are some good things to take away if you’re a Bills fan — specifically on the defensive side of the ball. However, the Bills have some serious questions to answer about where they go from here on offense, and they’ve got an equally as tough challenge coming up in Week Three against the Denver Broncos.

Want a full breakdown of the Bills loss to the Panthers? Listen to the Bills Beat with Joe B. and Matthew Fairburn of NYUpstate.com below, or you can subscribe on iTunes here.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

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