Joe B: 7 observations from Buffalo Bills - New Orleans Saints (11/12/17)

ORCHARD PARK, NY (WKBW) - Woof.

Just two weeks ago, the Buffalo Bills were flying high with a 5-2 record and the playoffs seemed like a realistic possibility. Two games later, the Bills have been flat out embarrassed in consecutive games, they dropped to 5-4, and now head out for two straight road games against AFC West opponents.

To call the result against the New Orleans Saints ‘a disappointment’ would be an extreme understatement. That game was an abject disaster from the Saints first offensive drive to the final whistle sounding off.

How did it get away from the Bills so quickly? Seven observations from the Bills’ blowout loss:

1) They got punched in the mouth… again
- The first time around that it happened, it was a huge surprise. The Bills were playing on a short week, but still against a New York Jets team that they had beaten previously. The manner in which the Bills were dismantled by the Jets was a simple reminder to them that similar efforts on a weekly basis are needed to keep racking up victories. This time around, the Bills were well-rested and knew they had a whopper of an opponent coming up in the New Orleans Saints. There was no surprising anyone, and the Bills simply got their doors blown off for the second game in a row — and this one was even worse. The Bills were hapless on offense and were completely run over by the New Orleans Saints on the ground. If you’re a Bills fan, I’m sure you found it quite hard to watch — especially when the Saints had so much success on the ground that they decided to run the ball 24 times in a row — and with success. They marched down the field 94 yards on 10 straight running plays and put an exclamation point on their victory with another touchdown. The Bills keep saying that this isn’t the standard of their team — but the trouble is, it’s been the standard of the last two games. And in the NFL, it does not take long for a streak to become a trend, and a trend to become an identity. While the Bills should still get some benefit of the doubt (not a lot, after Sunday), the wiggle room they previously afforded is gone. This is when we learn the most about the Buffalo Bills: not when everything is going their way. This is the first true adversity of the season, and if they can’t battle back from it, they didn’t deserve to make it to the playoffs anyway.

2) The interior run defense is a huge problem
- How bad were the Bills on run defense? Well, the Saints had two individual 100-yard rushers in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, they would have had 300 total yards on the ground had it not been for kneeling the ball at the end of the game, they had six total rushing touchdowns, and third-string running back Trey Edmunds was two yards shy of having more rushing yards than LeSean McCoy. Yeah, it was that bad. And the most disheartening part? All the Saints did was to attack the same area that the New York Jets exploited the previous week... and it all starts along the interior of the defense — most noticeably, the poor play of the defensive tackles and linebackers to limit what the Saints were able to do. It’s not as though the Saints were doing anything that was at all that unexpected. Lorenzo Alexander said after the game that there were times that the Saints were just running the same play over and over again because the Bills couldn’t figure out how to stop it. It starts with the defensive tackles: Kyle Williams, Adolphus Washington, Cedric Thornton, and Jerel Worthy. They were getting blown off the ball for the entire game — and this is the second game in a row in which that was the case. Williams has had an average-to-below-average last month and a half, which also brings up the issue on if his best days are behind him. I watched Washington get pushed back five yards on one play and the Saints easily gained all the ground that he was vacated from. Thornton has not played well the past couple of games, and Worthy is more of an interior pass rusher than anything. That group has let them down quite a bit the last two weeks, but the linebackers haven’t been much better. The front seven was just run over, quite literally, and they’ve got Melvin Gordon on deck. Not great, Bob.

3) All day to throw for Drew Brees
- The Saints didn’t get an overwhelming performance as a passer from Drew Brees, but they didn’t need it. However, when they needed him to make a play he was afforded as much time as he possibly could have wanted in the pocket. As this season has gone on, it’s become abundantly clear that the front four of the defensive line is getting next to no pressure on the quarterback, which puts more pressure on the secondary with having to cover players down the field for longer. And in a mostly zone defense, if the quarterback is getting four or five seconds to throw, at least one receiver is going to find a soft spot in the zone. They did, and Brees is as good as he usually is at being able to exploit it for big yardage on clutch downs that even yielded loads of yards after the catch. It just seemed like anytime the Bills had a flickering light of hope to shut the door on the Saints offense, the lack of a pass rush blew the light out and the Saints continued their march down the field for points. Jerry Hughes has been the only consistent pass rusher for the Bills this season, and even he has struggled in that area the past few weeks. Eventually, one would think that the Bills have to do something different on defense. The current formula just hasn’t worked well enough, and they can’t continue to force the issue by doing the same thing every week if it isn’t yielding any results.

4) No counterpunch, no creativity condemns offense
- The first drive for the Buffalo Bills offense was pretty solid. They were moving the ball well, they got some chunk plays in the ground game — something that had been missing the previous week — and while they had to settle for a field goal it still had Bills fans feeling more optimistic that this week would be different from last week’s disaster against the Jets. Not only was it not better for the Bills, it was even worse. From that point forward, the Saints adjusted what they had done on defense and stymied the Bills the rest of the way in every capacity. But the even more frustrating part was not in how they didn’t move the ball, it was as though the Bills just didn’t even try to do things differently. Heck, there were even plays that they called that were flat out head-scratching. Third-and-two? A deep ball to Deonte Thompson. Sure. A wide run to the much slower Mike Tolbert that was predictably stopped and set the Bills up with a massive amount of yardage to gain the first down? Baffling. Down 37 points with a 4th-and-1, and pitching the ball to fullback Patrick DiMarco? Now they had to be messing with everybody. The play calling was predictable, it was stale, and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison needs to take a hard look at what he dialed up and figure it out. If he doesn’t, this offense can only depend on the defense for so long — and eventually, it’s just not going to work any longer. That’s been the case the last two weeks, and it simply cannot continue.

5) Tyrod missed throws
- One aspect of Tyrod Taylor’s game that led to much frustration through his first two years of starting was missing open receivers down the field. It hasn’t been as much of an issue in the 2017 season for Taylor and the Bills, but the problem came back against the Saints. Multiple times, there were some receivers running open down the field that could have instead turned a negative play into a positive one, but Taylor either didn’t see it or didn’t pull the trigger. Coupled with that was an overall inaccuracy by Taylor that the Bills were never really able to overcome. Even on their most productive drive, Taylor missed KelvinBenjamin on an out route on third down that the receiver won on the route. The throw was behind Benjamin, and an opportunity for an impressive first drive was no more. Now, I don’t think that throw, in particular, would have been the difference between a Bills win and a Bills loss, but those plays add up and the overall inefficiency of the passing offense in a blowout loss was terrible.

6) Big down letdowns 
- The Bills were unequivocally awful in most phases of the game, but one of the biggest reasons for their demise in the game — when it was still close — was the overall inability to take advantage of key chances on the defensive side of the ball to get a stop for the offense. You can run right through the list of plays when the game actually mattered:

1. Up 3-0 in the first quarter, allowing Mark Ingram to gain 25 yards on 4th-and-1. The Saints scored a touchdown later in the drive.

2. On the same drive while down 7-3, the Bills took two penalties on third down that gave the Saints new life. Ramon Humber was called for a neutral zone infraction on a 3rd-and-4, and then later, Lorenzo Alexander was whistled for a facemask penalty on a 3rd-and-10 that the Bills had stopped the Saints short. Both resulted in first downs, but they were bailed out deep in their own zone by the forced fumble.

3. In the second quarter, still down 7-3, the Bills allowed Brandon Coleman to gain 30 yards on a 3rd-and-13 to set up the Saints deep in their territory. A few plays later on the same drive, the Bills let Alvin Kamara rush for a nine-yard gain on a 3rd-and-1. The drive resulted in a touchdown.

4. Down 14-3 in the second quarter, the Bills allowed a 28-yard reception to Michael Thomas on a 3rd-and-4. The drive resulted in a field goal.

5. Trailing 17-3 in the third quarter, the Bills allowed Alvin Kamara to gain 12 yards on a 3rd-and-5. Later in the same drive, the Bills forced a 2nd-and-20. The next play, Ramon Humber was whistled for an offsides penalty which lessened it to 2nd-and-15, and then Michael Thomas brought in a 21-yard reception for a first down. The drive resulted in a touchdown and an insurmountable 21-point lead.

The Saints continued to run and pass all over the Bills at will for the rest of the game, but those crushing and crucial moments when it mattered were especially cringe-worthy for Bills fans. Had a few of those went the Bills’ way, this probably isn’t a disaster of a showing. That’s the difference between the Saints and the Bills on this Sunday, though. One team took advantage of their opportunities, and the other just was nowhere to be found.

7) Keeping Peterman in perspective
- For the first time in 2017, the Buffalo Bills brought Nathan Peterman on to the field when the game was well in hand for the New Orleans Saints. At that point, both the Bills and Saints were trying to get through the remainder of the game without any other injuries. It was, however, the first chance for fans to see the rookie quarterback in action — and something a certain portion of the fanbase had been clamoring for. Following the game, head coach Sean McDermott said that the game situations that Peterman entered into have to be factored into the evaluation of the rookies first few plays as a pro. To the head coach’s point, the Bills were going up against a soft, prevent defense that was close to one that you’d see in the preseason. With that written, Peterman did throw a few anticipatory throws — which was a welcomed sight. He threw a touchdown pass to Nick O’Leary to give the Bills some semblance of an offensive output. However, there were a few throws that got away from him that just weren’t accurately thrown. There certainly was some good to take away from the rookie’s performance, but it wasn’t anything that is going to force the Bills’ hand on who they’re going to play at quarterback. Tyrod Taylor is their quarterback, and Sean McDermott once again made that abundantly clear once the game was over.

Bills MVP: K Stephen Hauschka
- Every time he was called upon — twice — he put the ball through the uprights. Yeah, it was that type of day for the Bills.

Bills LVP: The interior run defense
- This was a toss-up between Tyrod Taylor, offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, and the defensive tackles and the linebackers that make up the interior defense. However, nearly 300 yards allowed on the ground and six total touchdowns were enough to push the run defense over the edge.

Up Next: The 5-4 Buffalo Bills next take on the 3-6 Los Angeles Chargers on the road at StubHub Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, November 19 at 4:05 pm.

Final Thoughts:
- For the second straight week, the Buffalo Bills were completely embarrassed on a large scale and have a lot more questions than answers at this point in time. The defensive tackles are playing at an extremely low level, the offensive coordinator can’t seem to get out of his way, and the combination of the two have forced the Bills to go away from what they’re best at on offense: running the ball. That not-so-dynamic duo must change in order for the Bills to have a chance at the playoffs down the stretch. I know… you’re probably thinking, “Come on, there is no reason you should be talking about the playoffs for this team.” Am I right? Well, most years after that performance, I’d probably agree with you. But look around in the AFC — it’s awful outside of the top three teams. Jacksonville and Tennessee are duking it out for the AFC South with the other team currently with the top Wild Card spot. And wouldn’t you know it… even after the 47-10 trouncing by the New Orleans Saints, the Bills will remain the 6th seed through the first 10 weeks — no matter what Miami does on Monday night. Their main competitors for the spot? Miami, Baltimore, Oakland (who they’ve beaten), maybe Denver (who they’ve also beaten), and maybe the L.A. Chargers (who they’re about to play). In the suck that is the AFC in 2017, nine wins might just get the job done. They still have a lot to correct and this was just an awful performance — and their second straight game in doing so — but of all their remaining games, the Saints one hurts the least. I know it hurts now, but keep a broad perspective here…. The Bills aren’t dead just yet — even it feels like it right now. If they continue to play the same way they have the last two weeks, though, the thought of playoffs becomes laughable. Seeing as how they’ve been in 7 of their 9 games this season, let’s see how they respond against the Chargers — because that’s one they need to not only win but to correct most of the failings of the past two weeks… and they need to do so in the worst way possible. If they don’t, they could be missing their best opportunity to end the playoff drought in 13 years.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

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