During the Buffalo Bills 16-6 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, the weather heading into the contest mirrored the start by the teams itself. It was a wet, cold, and subdued day that had much of the same output from the two opposite teams.
Even still, the Bills battled through and improved their record to 7-8 on the season. How did it all happen?
Seven observations from the Bills’ victory over the Cowboys:
1) Step forward, step back with Tyrod
- The Buffalo Bills came into the game with the mindset that they would try to run it as much as possible, use the weather conditions to their advantage, and come away with a victory. It’s a very simple premise that outlined the more nuanced game plan, but, their plan of attack worked. However, they did need to rely on quarterback Tyrod Taylor at times. It wasn’t a ton, but enough to develop an opinion on how much he contributed to the winning effort. There were times that Taylor dazzled in the first half, with two throws specifically coming to mind: The 19-yard corner route completion to Chris Hogan right after the two-minute warning in the first half, and, the 37-yard completion to Sammy Watkins — scrambling and throwing against his body — on that same drive that set the Bills up at the 13-yard line. He also had a couple others, including a fourth-down pass that hit Chris Hogan in hands that, at worst, would have set the Bills up right near the goal line. Taylor had all these quality throws, but when the team needed him to make a play at the end of the first half, he had either a miscommunication with Hogan, or he under threw the wideout by a lot as Dallas picked off the pass, and the Bills limped to halftime with the game tied at 6. His game was underscored by his ability to get out of the pocket and scramble, but he nearly had himself taken out of the game by how many hits he was taking. Against Dallas, there were both great plays and ones that he would wish to have back. However, all he did was continue to exemplify that there is plenty to work with for the Bills, and that he’ll likely get 2016 to prove he can progress.
2) Defense makes sure of Moore’s struggles
- On Sunday, the Bills were up against the worst quarterback that they’ll see all season: a weak-armed lefty that the Cowboys, in no way, wanted to have to try and pass them back into a game. The task for the Bills on defense was simple as well, wanting to stop the run game well enough to make the Cowboys throw the ball more than they’d ever wanted to. For the Bills, that goal was accomplished not by totally stopping the run, but by getting key stops down the stretch to keep giving their offense chances. Then, late in the game, the Cowboys had no other choice than to turn the keys of the offense to the arm of Moore. His final statistics: 13-of-31, 186 yards, 1 interception. Even without Ronald Darby and Nigel Bradham, some of the younger players on the defense and helped them better live up to the reputation that they set for themselves ahead of the season. The Cowboys ended the contest with just 307 yards of total offense, which is 53 yards less than they allow on average in the 2015 season.
3) RBs, minus fumble, showing versatility
- Without LeSean McCoy in the lineup, the Bills took an extended look at the two players that will likely make up the running back portion of the roster in the 2016 season. Rookie Karlos Williams and former practice squad player Mike Gillislee have each flashed ability, and the Bills could use the game against the Cowboys to see how they’d respond to a bigger workload. With the pair, the Bills found themselves a solid one-two punch that have ability to not only run the ball, but as receiving options as well. Williams did fumble the ball, but other than that, the combined stats for both players was fantastic. Between both running backs, they gained 169 yards on 26 carries for two touchdowns, along with four receptions for 37 yards. Williams showed power and vision, while Gillislee showed speed and explosiveness. Both players have been pleasant surprises for the Bills in 2015.
4) Cornerback rotation with McKelvin implications?
- The Bills placed Stephon Gilmore on Injured Reserve last season, and against Dallas, they were also without rookie and starting cornerback Ronald Darby. That meant someone on the Bills roster, who had not gotten much playing time at all in the 2015 season, would play meaningful snaps for them on defense. It was between backups Mario Butler and Ron Brooks, who between them, have 67 total snaps (as compared to Darby’s 893) on the season. Instead of just one of those two players getting the majority of time, the Bills elected to rotate the pair — and not the way that you’re thinking they did. Butler got the start on one side of the field with Leodis McKelvin, but on the next series Ron Brooks was in the game. No, it wasn’t for Butler — it was for McKelvin. On the following drive, McKelvin came in for Butler, and the rotation continued through the game. For a player that started for the Bills and took all but one snap against Washington last week, being funneled in and out of the lineup is not a great look for McKelvin, who will account for $4.9 million on the 2016 salary cap. And if the Bills were to cut him, they would save $3.9 million. He’s a player to keep an eye on this offseason, especially after struggling when called upon due to various injuries.
5) Watkins shines through again
- For Sammy Watkins, it’s just becoming a granted thing. Even with all the extra attention due to both Robert Woods and Charles Clay being out of the lineup, and on a day where the Bills preferred not to throw the ball, Watkins still had a great statistical day considering his total amount of targets. On just six targets, the wideout brought in five receptions for 84 yards, which put the Bills in a lot of great positions for points. Now in his last five games, Watkins has 24 receptions for 543 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 22.6 yards per catch. The most impressive part is that he’s doing it with all the attention of the defense, and in an offense that would run the ball as much as they did today if they had their way every single week. As he develops chemistry with Tyrod Taylor, a breakout season — by everyone’s standards — in 2016 would not be out of the question by any means.
6) Lack of O’Leary, Lewis
- After Friday’s practice, head coach Rex Ryan announced that Charles Clay would not be able to play for a second straight game due to a back injury. That, along with the season-ending injury to Robert Woods, meant that the Bills could have seen some very fresh blood on offense to help move the ball. The two players that best exemplified were both members of the 2015 draft class: sixth-round tight end Nick O’Leary, and seventh-round wide receiver Dez Lewis. On Friday, Ryan said that O’Leary would have a “much greater role” than he had in his previous two games as a member of the active roster. The head coach also said Lewis would be mixed in, but, their absences during the game on offense was notable. Chris Gragg continued to get the majority of tight end snaps while Cyrus Kouandjio continued to moonlight as a blocking specialist tight end, and the Bills went with Marcus Easley in three-wide sets on offense, and once he was hurt, they turned to the recently signed Greg Salas. With only one week to go, it would be in the Bills interest to get a little better of an idea how those two players will react to a real-game setting, to try and see if they’ll be able to contribute significantly in 2016.
7) Why not Kouandjio?
- Under the same premise, but for even more reasons than that, is the curious case of Cyrus Kouandjio. The former second-round pick has made one start in his first two seasons with the team, and to this date, has never started a game in the United States since entering the NFL. It’s somewhat maddening that he doesn’t get an extended chance at this point in the year for a few reasons. First, he is a former second-round pick, and they should give him a chance to play now that the playoffs are out of the question. Second, normal starter Seantrel Henderson is unavailable for the remainder of the season due to an illness, which means they wouldn’t be stunting the growth of any longterm options. Third, the Bills are using Jordan Mills, who has consistently been one of the worst starters since entering the lineup a few weeks ago. Fourth, he hasn’t been listed on the injury report for nearly a month now, so they can’t say it’s his knee that is preventing him from playing. And lastly, Kouandjio actually had a nice pair of outings, once in relief of Henderson against Cincinnati, and in his lone start against Jacksonville the very next game. By no means is he the perfect picture of a technically sound right tackle, but, in his two appearances, he did well enough to warrant a further look. It’s an inexplicable situation, and when asked, the Bills have been typically vague. If he plays and performs so poorly, they can always go back to Mills. But, the current starting right tackle isn’t even an upgrade, so, there really isn’t a reason on the surface to keep Kouandjio on the bench.
Bills MVP: QB Tyrod Taylor
- He nearly cost them with an interception just ahead of the first half, but he made a few ‘wow’ throws that put the Bills in position for points, and, kept drives alive due to his ability to escape pressure in the pocket.
Bills LVP: OT Jordan Mills
- Mills let up a lot of pressures which kept Taylor trying to keep plays alive as opposed to keeping his eyes down the field. He should be replaced by Cyrus Kouandjio for the final game of the season.
Up Next: Sunday, January 3 vs. New York Jets (10-5) at Ralph Wilson Stadium
- The Buffalo Bills played well enough to beat a banged up Dallas Cowboys team, but unfortunately, it’s too little too late for them in 2015. At the very least, the Bills have given themselves an opportunity to finish their second straight season without a losing record — an accomplishment in its own right since the playoff drought began 16 years ago. However, just average isn’t good enough for the Bills, and it certainly won’t be moving forward considering how confident Rex Ryan is in his roster each and every week. However, in Week 16, they took care of business against a team that was so inferior on paper. The defense stepped up, the running game led the way, and the Tyrod Taylor/Sammy Watkins combination provided a few flashy plays along the way. That was the formula they hoped for at the beginning of the season, but, they couldn’t find that balance when it counted most in the season. Now, they’ll hope to spoil the season of Ryan’s former employers, and in the process, to ensure that their former starting quarterback doesn’t make his first playoff appearance as well.
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