Joe B: 7 observations from Buffalo Bills - Kansas City Chiefs (11/26/17)

KANSAS CITY, MO (WKBW) - Having lost their last three games, the Buffalo Bills came into the game against Kansas City as big underdogs against a Chiefs team that appeared to be one of the best teams in the NFL through the first five weeks. And even after last week — an embarrassing loss for the Chiefs to the lowly New York Giants — it seemed like there was a chance for a big bounce-back game for them at home against Buffalo.

Except, Kansas City never showed up, which allowed the Bills to take advantage of their limited opportunities and they claimed their sixth win of the season — a 16-10 victory for the Bills over the Chiefs. It further complicates and ever-so-complicated AFC Wild Card picture, while simultaneously keeping the Bills alive in their quest to end the playoff drought at 17 years.

How did they pull off the win? Seven observations from the Bills’ victory in Kansas City:

1) Tyrod Taylor steadies the ship
- The Buffalo Bills made the decision in the middle of the past week to go back to Tyrod Taylor, in the hopes that it would be the move to get them back into the win column. While it certainly helped in the category of not turning the ball over — something they couldn’t escape in Los Angeles last week — we receiver the answer to one of the last remaining questions we had about Taylor. Would he change the way he played and push the ball down the field a bit more now that his job wasn’t guaranteed from one week to the next? The answer, which is what many of us expected, was no. Taylor was safe with the football for the most part and didn’t force the issue, for the most part, all the while limiting the Chiefs chances to make a game-changing play. He did get lucky on one play in which he lofted a ball up to Charles Clay that Marcus Peters should have picked off, but the cornerback just flat out missed on making the play. Other than that, though, Taylor didn’t give many opportunities to the Chiefs to flip the game. The trouble is, though, is that his limitations kept the Bills from having an overwhelming offensive performance. There were certainly times that his mobility bailed them out and kept plays alive — and he even paired that with a fantastic throw to Zay Jones in the end zone for their lone touchdown on one play. There were also other examples of poor throws that either thwarted the Bills’ chances for a first down with an incompletion (see: the fourth quarter throw to Zay Jones on a 3rd-and-3 that nearly skipped on the ground it was so low), or with such an inaccurate pass that it takes the first down out of the equation even though it was a catch (see: the 15-yard gain by Nick O’Leary that was so behind him that the tight end had to fall to the ground, and was shy of the first-down marker). He proved what we knew already — that with a good defense, he can be a quarterback of a team that makes the playoffs. And that’s going to have to be good enough for the time being at the quarterback position because the Bills still have playoff aspirations in 2017 — even if they are trying to build for long-term success after the year is done.

2) Defense picked them up
- After allowing 45 points per game over their last three, the Buffalo Bills somehow managed to only surrender 10 points to the once dynamic Kansas City Chiefs offensive attack. We are officially in the upside down, and Alex Smith is the Demogorgon. Despite seeing evidence that he had gone back to his normal, conservative self over the last several weeks, the Chiefs said they didn’t consider going to exciting rookie Patrick Mahomes at all in the second half. And to the Bills’ credit, they correctly predicted the entirely predictable Chiefs offense. The Bills sold out to stop the run, with their defensive tackles and linebackers having done enough to completely frustrate the Kansas City running game. Kareem Hunt, at one point the darling of the young NFL season, was contained to 17 rushing yards on 11 carries. Meanwhile, Smith missed numerous opportunities for yardage through the air — which left a visibly frustrated Travis Kelce despondently standing in the spot on the field that he was open for long after the play was over, just staring off into the distance. The Bills’ secondary slammed the door shut when they needed to the most, and rookie Tre’Davious White took advantage of their best opportunity to force a turnover, and it closed out the game for the Bills. They responded incredibly well against a superiorly talented team, and they deserve a lot of credit for doing so.

3) Matt Milano continues to state his case
- While Reggie Ragland was out there tackling everything that moved on running plays for Kansas City, at least the Bills finally took the shackles off of Matt Milano a bit on defense. In my opinion, the rookie has been the top-performing linebacker on the roster — and certainly could be an upgrade over either Ramon Humber or Lorenzo Alexander on the outside. Milano saw what felt like his most time on the field on defense for meaningful snaps since Humber’s injury, and he took advantage of the opportunity once again. Milano was fighting through blocks, getting up the field in the hurry, and stopping rushing plays at the line of scrimmage. Until it becomes a common occurrence, I’ll continue to be a broken record about this. If the Bills are looking to get their best players on the field, Milano needs to be out there on every defensive play. The optimal lineup would be with him and Preston Brown being the main two linebackers, with Humber coming in on-base sets and Alexander working in on obvious passing downs as a pass rusher. It’s been a couple of months now, and his level of play still hasn’t dipped significantly — which means he needs to be on the field, and prominently.

4) Rick Dennison continues to confuse
- The Bills won this game and kept themselves in the playoff race, but the Rick Dennison offensive play calling continued to leave a lot of questions about where that side of the ball is headed. On many occasions throughout the game, Dennison came up with play calls that left many feeling uninspired at best. It was conservative, and it almost as if the Bills were either just playing for a field goal near the end of the first half, and playing to not lose at the end of the game. Their conservative play calling following the Chiefs’ turnover on downs late in the fourth quarter yielded a total of negative-two yards and resulted in only 21 seconds off the clock by the time Kansas City got the ball back. There were other examples, too, like a random third down stretch play on a 3rd-and-1 that was predictably dropped well behind the line, or running the ball up the middle in the first quarter on a 3rd-and-6. He has grown to be a combination of predictability and then plays that make you think ‘wait, he isn’t serious, right?’ His performance as a coordinator continues to peg him as the biggest question mark of the upcoming offseason, considering that he’ll have a significant hand in whoever the next quarterback is for the Buffalo Bills. To a certain point you can argue that the play of the quarterback forces them to be a bit more predictable, but that’s then his job to find new creative and innovative ways to keep the defense on their heels — and to not just hope the field goal goes in from 50-plus and that the defense will win the game for them. I’d say Dennison has a lot to prove, but with only 5 games left, we might already know what he’s all about at this point.

5) Zay Jones rounding into shape
- All the evidence was there in the summer for Zay Jones. The rookie wide receiver played well in training camp on a daily basis, showing off the combination of hands and route running that made him such a promising player heading into the season. His season started off on a very low note, with drops defining the early stages of his career. However, Jones is alive and the Bills have found a potential long-term starter at the position. All of his receptions came in the first half because that’s really when the Bills were trying to push the ball through the air the most, but Jones was, by and large, the most trustworthy receiver on the field for the Bills. He secured their lone touchdown and further showed that the Bills have something solid to work with for the remainder of this season and beyond. He has outshined the likes of Jordan Matthews when both have been on the field recently, which could be a strong indication of what they’ll do when Matthews’ contract runs up at the end of the season.

6) Running game is all over the place
- While the rushing attack helped set up the Bills’ lone touchdown of the game, it has been such an up and down adventure for the team as they’ve gone along this season. Sometimes the offensive line looks like they can force the ball down the field at will, and then other times they get completely run over. Sometimes LeSean McCoy looks absolutely unstoppable, and other times he’ll miss a hole because he’s so used to trying to create on his own because the offensive line hasn’t opened up those holes consistently enough. We saw a nice little taste of both of those worlds against the Kansas City Chiefs. One part of the offense has to be working for this Bills team, and more often than not, it’s going to have to be the rushing attack because the passing game just isn’t nearly as daunting for opponents as McCoy is. Especially with the way the Bills played defensively over the three weeks before this one, the Bills are going to need more than just 16 points to put them in the win column more often than not. A total of 49 yards on 22 carries just isn’t going to cut it for McCoy, and that total was due in large part to the poor play of the offensive line — specifically on the right side.

7) Schmidt, Hauschka were assets
- A lot of times in close games that don’t have much going for it on offense, a big special teams return can really breathe life into a team. The Chiefs have one of the best in the league in wide receiver and return man Tyreek Hill, and the Bills limited Hill to basically nothing in that area of the game. Punter Colton Schmidt did a masterful job in limiting Hill’s opportunities throughout the game, angling all of his punts toward the sideline so well that Hill could only catch the ball and take it out of bounds more often than not. While it’s an unheralded part of the game, Schmidt deserves a lot of credit for the job he did. As for Stephen Hauschka, the Bills have one of the best kickers in the game. It was actually a bit of a shock that he missed the 52-yard try in the first half, but then it made sense upon further review that Hauschka was rushing through the kick as the play clock wore down. He was smooth at the end of the first half with a 56-yard field goal, knocking it through without much doubt. Having a good kicker might be a gift and a curse for a conservative play caller like Rick Dennison who seems to play for field goals at times because Hauschka is so dependable, but the kicker can’t control that. He scored nine of the team’s 16 points and has continued to be a bright spot this season.

Bills MVP: WR Zay Jones
- It wasn’t a huge output by any means, but he did enough with the catchable passes that he was given to make a profound impact on a low-scoring contest. His touchdown reception was fantastic concentration and was Taylor’s best throw to boot.

Bills LVP: RG Vlad Ducasse
- Chiefs defensive linemen were ripping through the line at his spot, and linebackers beat him to the spot. Upon first viewing, he appeared to be a weak link.

Up Next: The Bills (6-5) return home to New Era Field to take on the New England Patriots (9-2) on Sunday, December 3.

Final Thoughts:
- It certainly wasn’t a pretty win for the Buffalo Bills, but it was the type of formula they’ve utilized all season long to get the job done and get into the win column. The team got just enough from the offense — one touchdown and three field goals — while the defense took advantage of the predictability of the Kansas City offense for the majority of the game. The defense has to get credit for stopping the bleeding of the last three weeks and limiting this once prominent Chiefs offense to only 10 points, putting them right in the middle of the race for the final playoff spot in the AFC. What this result also does — unfortunately for Sean McDermott, anyway — is making people wonder what could have been in Los Angeles had the team just continued along with Tyrod Taylor. There really is no way to know what the result would have been if that had been the case, because the number of turnovers in the first half took away so many variables in a game that are usually there, so you would be lying if you were to say you’d know what the result would be one way or another. However, it certainly won’t stop from many second-guessing McDermott’s decision in knowing how far along a quarterback is in development if that decision blew up in his face that spectacularly. With Tyrod Taylor at the helm, the Bills are normally a competitive team that needs their defense to help them get over the hump for a victory. With games against the Indianapolis Colts and the Miami Dolphins twice left on the schedule, there is a path to six wins for these Bills — and perhaps, maybe even a path to the postseason. They deserve credit for going into Kansas City and undoing their trend of being a different team on the road, but this is still a flawed football team that was able to cover it up just enough to get a victory on Sunday. In the poor AFC this season, the Bills can absolutely be a playoff team, but that LA Chargers game and the quarterback will continue to sit in the minds of everyone when looking back on the 2017 season — especially if they miss the postseason by either one game, or on a tiebreaker. Most importantly for the Bills, they got back to themselves and proved that their free fall wasn’t permanent. So now, if they can handle their business in the three games they can win, you could be looking at a 9-7 Buffalo Bills team. What a roller coaster ride this has been already, and we’ve still got five games to go.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

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