Now two weeks into the regular season, the Buffalo Bills are in a situation where they need to do everything in their power to get a win. On tap, they have one of the most talented teams in the NFL on their way to Buffalo — the Arizona Cardinals.
With the game just a couple of days away, I wanted to get to some of the thoughts I had on the Bills this week — seven to be exact. And just for good measure, three random musings, too.
7 Bills Thoughts
- The Buffalo Bills have had a brewing situation over the first three weeks of the season. Their top wide receiver, Sammy Watkins, has been dealing with soreness in his surgically repaired foot for the entire season. It got to the point where he requested an MRI after the Ravens game, and barely rested enough time to get ready for the Jets contest just four days later. Now, a new twist: the Bills were without Sammy Watkins for all three days of practice — further jeopardizing his chances of playing on Sunday. The Bills aren’t giving up hope, though. They’ve listed Watkins as questionable on the official designation list for the weekend. But here’s the thing, is it really that smart to trot him out there at this point? This seems to be a far more serious injury than a two-to-three week hamstring injury. Based on how they’ve handled practice with him all week, rest is much needed for this longstanding injury. However, the Bills are 0-2, and the complexion of their offense is incredibly different — and in turn, much more predictable for opponents — without the threat of Watkins on the field. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. In my opinion, I think the Bills just need to shut him down until his foot makes real progress. He’s in the third year of his four-year contract, and the Bills — if they want to — can keep him for an additional two seasons with the fifth-year option and the franchise tag. So, a long-term lens is needed here. You don’t want to do damage that you can't repair, and that can have an impact on his whole career just because you’re desperate for a win after an 0-2 start. Patience is needed with this foot injury, even if patience isn’t what’s given to a middling coach in need of a victory in the worst way. Really, is he making a huge impact on the field right now, and does he have the potential to if his foot is bothering him this much? The smart move is to rest him until the foot is healed. You need him way longer than for just Week Three.
2) The offensive turnaround is on Tyrod, not the offensive coordinator
- After just two games, the Bills made the controversial decision to switch offensive coordinators. Greg Roman is out, and Anthony Lynn is in to make the offense take the next step. However, is it really just on Lynn? While yes, at some points the offensive play calling was a tad baffling, the overwhelming takeaways from the first two weeks was not about that on offense — it was about Tyrod Taylor missing wide open receivers that were in his field of vision. By my count through two games, the quarterback has missed receivers either running open, or about to break open, 10 or 11 times — mostly over the middle of the field. This absolutely must change if the Bills are going to progress on the offensive side of the ball, and reach the levels that they believe they can. We thought we saw progress of this during the summer, but the same problems from 2015 have continued for Taylor. Perhaps simplifying the offense will help in this respect, but Taylor needs to be much better.
3) Lynn is ideologically sound
- Anthony Lynn has been on the job for exactly one week, but after listening to him speak for the first time, I came away impressed by how he believes an offense should be called. You would think it’s this simple, but some offensive coordinators try to overcomplicate things. Lynn wants to call plays that are driven from the personnel on his offense, which is fairly self-explanatory. He also admitted that throwing it over the middle of the field can help unlock things on the outside, which is precisely what the Bills need to do. At the very least, he’s logical when speaking about offensive theory. We’ll just have to see how he is when actually calling a game.
4) The alarming DB stats
- Heading into the season, one of the biggest sources of strength for the Bills was their top two cornerbacks: Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby. To their credit, they both played fairly well against Baltimore in Week One. But in Week Two, the wheels fell off, and it helped lead to huge numbers against them. How huge? Well, try this on for size: According to his Week 3 Worksheet (a great read, by the way), Rich Hribar of Rotoworld.com wrote that the Bills secondary has allowed a ridiculous amount of big plays for big yardage:
“Through two weeks, quarterbacks facing Buffalo are 15 of 19 (78.9 percent) for 420 yards passing on throws 15 yards or further downfield.”
That stat line carries an average of 22 yards per attempt on those throws. Now, I don’t expect the struggles for Gilmore and Darby to continue in that grand of a way, but this Cardinals offense is based on a vertical passing attack, so they will be taking their shots down the field. Arizona will try to force that issue all game long.
5) Huge test for Kouandjio
- In his first start at left tackle, Cyrus Kouandjio played fairly well against the New York Jets pass rushers. The third-year offensive tackle went up against the likes of Lorenzo Mauldin, and some other, bigger defensive linemen and held up well. However, on Sunday he’ll be going up against an entirely different animal: Cardinals edge rusher Chandler Jones. This represents a huge test to see just how far he’s come in his third season. His ability to keep Jones out of the backfield will be crucial to the operation of the offense.
6) Cheers to the OL
- With the offense certainly coming into a bad light this week for obvious reasons, it hasn’t been due to the play of the offensive line. All across the board: from Kouandjio at left tackle, to the rest of the line of Richie Incognito, Eric Wood, John Miller, and Jordan Mills, they’ve all been pretty efficient pass blockers. The trouble has been getting things going with the rushing attack, but that’s mostly due in part to the passing attack not exactly living up to their full capabilities in the first two weeks. It certainly hasn’t been the fault of the offensive line, though. I’ve been especially impressed with the play of Kouandjio, Miller, and Mills, after a really poor 2015 season.
7) Preston Brown has lived up to the expectations… so far
- The Bills were building up inside linebacker Preston Brown in the offseason as a potential star. I’ll admit, I had my doubts that he’d live up to that billing set by his coaches. However, two weeks in, he’s been one of the best players on the field for the team. The combination of him and Zach Brown have been a nuisance for the opposing offenses to rush against. Preston Brown hasn’t gotten gobbled up by blockers more than once or twice, and is making plays at the line of scrimmage. He certainly needs to keep it up after a poor 2015 season, but results so far have been quite encouraging.
3 Other Musings, Too
1) What are the Patriots going to do for Week Four?
- Alright, so this kind of has the Bills in mind, too. The most recent news, from Mike Petraglia of WEEI.com, is that rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett tore a ligament in his right thumb, and will likely need surgery — which might rule him out of playing against the Bills in Week Four. With Tom Brady suspended, Jimmy Garoppolo injured, and now the newest information on Brissett, what do the Patriots do from here? They either need Garoppolo to heal rather quickly, sign someone off the street, or prepare former college quarterback turned wide receiver Julian Edelman for battle at his old spot. If the Patriots go with the latter, this is setting up to be the best thing possible for the Bills, or a recipe for disaster. If Edelman starts that game at quarterback, and the Bills still lose…. look out.
2) The Chargers have had the worst luck in the league
- You won’t find much worse luck around the league as far as injuries are concerned than in San Diego. The Chargers, only two weeks into the season, have lost Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson, and Danny Woodhead to season-ending injuries. On top of that, the Chargers are also likely to be without tight end Antonio Gates this week, which would mean their top receiving targets will consist of Travis Benjamin, Tyrell Williams, and Hunter Henry. It was a big year for head coach Mike McCoy, but he deserves some wiggle room just for the terrible luck they’ve had so far.
3) I’m in on Designated Survivor (***Spoiler Alert***)
- I finally caught up on the newest show Designated Survivor with Kiefer Sutherland, and I thought it was pretty compelling. No surprise, he played the part in the pilot episode extremely well as his character evolved even in just that one hour. He went from a bit panicky to a hauntingly cool customer as he interpreted all of the different agendas being thrown out around him. By the end of it, I was on the edge of my seat to see how he’d deliver his speech to the nation, if it would be with his calm demeanor, or if it would be in the way of what the speech writer suggested to deliver it with more power and confidence. I’m completely in on the second episode, can’t wait to see where it goes.
Bob your head to this: Perfect Illusion by Lady Gaga
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— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 23, 2016