Through five weeks of the season, the Buffalo Bills have gotten off to a 3-2 start to the season, which has shown they’re at least ahead of the generally accepted schedule both fans and media had of the team heading into the 2017 season.
As is the case for NFL teams through a bye week, it’s a time for reflection about what has happened, and what’s to come. With that said, what are the biggest questions for the Bills as the season continues? We’ll be counting down the top seven throughout the week.
No. 3: Can the offensive line improve enough to help the offense in 2017?
Through five weeks of the 2017 regular season, there has been one commonality: the play of the offensive line just hasn’t been consistently good enough to help the team take over a game.
We saw it most consistently against the New York Jets in Week One, and only briefly at times against the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons. Against Carolina and Cincinnati? The line couldn’t get the push necessary up front to jumpstart a significant rushing attack, which essentially made the offense into a non-factor last week.
And without some key options in the passing game, the pressure is on the offensive line, even more, to pave the way for LeSean McCoy. However, across the board, the individual play just hasn’t been good enough.
Left tackle Dion Dawkins has been up and down — as expected — in his rookie season, right guard John Miller proved to be an untrustworthy option at right guard, Jordan Mills has continued to struggle at right tackle, and even Richie Incognito, while still solid, has played below the form we’ve come to expect from him over the last two seasons.
Now, there is at least some reason for optimism that the offensive line will get better because they provide something that the wide receivers simply do not: options and versatility.
The Bills made the switch at right guard in Week Five against the Bengals to make Miller inactive, and to roll with Vladimir Ducasse as the starter. The expectations, based on his poor preseason play, were as low as you could get for Ducasse. And while he still was beaten a few times, he performed far better than I thought he would have — and turned in a better performance than any single game Miller played in through the first four weeks.
Even if Ducasse can’t sustain that level of play, the Bills can still turn to backup center Ryan Groy, who has proven to be a dependable starting option based on what we saw from him late in 2016.
At left tackle, I think it might just be best to leave the rookie Dawkins there for the rest of the 2017 season unless he really, really struggles. He is this regime’s handpicked offensive tackle, and with the future for left tackle Cordy Glenn looking unclear with the Bills, it might be in their best interest for the long term to keep him there — especially if he keeps showing signs of being a really good player, much like he did in Atlanta.
To add even more fuel to the fire of Dawkins staying at left tackle, head coach Sean McDermott was outright noncommittal to Glenn being the starter at left tackle, when healthy, on two separate occasions following the loss to the Bengals. That could signal the Bills could stick with the rookie.
Left guard and center aren’t going to be switched around, so that leaves us with the right tackle spot. If the Bills want to get some production out of that position on the line, they must do whatever they can to find a more dependable replacement than Mills.
If Dawkins indeed stays over at left tackle, that frees up Cordy Glenn to mix in at right tackle for the Bills should he be deemed healthy enough to be an every-down player once again. If Glenn doesn’t work at right tackle, the Bills still have Seantrel Henderson coming back from his suspension and soon to be on the active roster. He has started a lot of games at right tackle in his career and would be worth a look to see if there’s anything there — despite a so-so preseason.
So, if the goal is to find the best five offensive linemen on the roster and play them, the Bills have a bunch of different options to do so at their two worst positions. And if one, or both of those players significantly upgrades the previous starters, the Bills offense — and LeSean McCoy could be back in business.