The Buffalo Bills took care of business on Sunday against a team that they should have beaten — although they certainly made it interesting following an incredibly slow start. The Bills defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 28-21, giving them a winning record (6-5) for the first time since Week Seven of the season.
If it wasn’t for one player in particular, the Bills might not have gotten the victory they so desperately needed. Seven observations from the win:
1) McCoy wakes the Bills the heck up
- LeSean McCoy was the focal point of the Bills offense on Sunday. The Bills knew it, the Jaguars knew it — heck, most everyone in the stadium knew it, too. The Jaguars had been allowing a lot of big performances to opposing running backs and McCoy is one of the most dynamic at his position in the league, which is why it made a lot of sense for Jacksonville to be playing him the way that they were. The Jaguars were simply stacking the box against McCoy and the rushing attack, and highlighted their team speed on defense to try and thwart what the Bills have done so well this season. Through the first half, it certainly worked. McCoy ended the first half with only five rushing yards, and even the runner admitted that he was growing frustrated by the lack of running room. The Bills were essentially sleepwalking on offense and in certain spots on the defense, and were quite fortunate to only have been down 7-6 at the half. McCoy helped the Bills wake up, jump cutting his way into open space and jetting down the field for a 75-yard rushing touchdown. McCoy made another critical play in the second half, making himself available for Taylor when he was under duress, catching the pass, and making a man miss before ultimately pulling up and running out of bounds. McCoy admitted that the reason he pulled up was because he was “gassed.” Based on how important he was, I think he can have a pass for that one. If the Bills make the playoffs this year, you can firmly thank the ability and vision of LeSean McCoy to pull them out of the doldrums.
2) The Tyrod debate adds more fuel to the fire
- Simultaneously on Sunday, we saw the highs and the lows of what Tyrod Taylor brings to the table. The good parts: Taylor’s ability to keep plays alive with his legs, find yardage where it isn’t (see: his touchdown run), and throwing an accurate deep ball that made up a majority of his pass yardage. The bad parts: a maddeningly inconsistent accuracy on short-to-intermediate throws, blatantly missing wide open receivers on the field, and panicking in the pocket far too early instead of staying put and letting the routes progress and seeing the open man down the field. Plus, the reason the Jaguars played the way they did on defense — stacking the box against the run — was because they wanted to see Taylor prove it to them that he could beat them through the air. At this point, though, those attributes are exactly what Tyrod Taylor is as the starting quarterback of the Buffalo Bills. He doesn’t turn the ball over because he doesn’t take chances, but he keeps fans coming back with his flashy run plays and deep throw. It all sets up for an incredibly interesting debate once the season ends on whether or not the Bills should actually allow the second year of his contract to kick in, paying the quarterback $27 million. Is he worth it? Can the Bills do any better at quarterback? Can he get better? With tauntingly and tantalizingly promising games like the one he played in Seattle being a rarity, Bills fans are left struggling to answer the question themselves. Over the final five weeks, Tyrod Taylor can go a long way in shutting the door on any lingering thought that they might not pick up his option — and everyone in the building, along with their fan base, would be happy if that is in fact the case.
3) Watkins' presence felt
- While he didn’t play a ton of snaps, the return of Sammy Watkins to an actual game was something they sorely needed. No Robert Woods, no Percy Harvin (which Rex Ryan confirmed was due to his longstanding migraines acting up again this week), and a cast of characters at wide receiver that opposing defense’s simply do not fear, Watkins was needed in the worst way. While his exact snap count isn’t precisely known just yet, even having him out there as much as they did helped relieve some pressure off of both Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy. He flashed what he was able to do, in a one-on-one matchup against rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey and easily got behind him for a huge gain. After the game, Watkins told reporters that this was the best his foot has felt in a long time, and he feels like he can “play fast” again. That news couldn’t get much better for the Bills, who will look to increase his snaps, manufacture more targets, receptions, and yards for their star wideout, and take some pressure off of the rushing attack. This was an important first step for the star player, and his talent is easily noticeable even in just his first game back.
4) Secondary’s two-fold problem
- With a poor offensive line for running the football, the Jaguars have mostly had to rely on winning through the air — but they haven’t done much winning. Quarterback Blake Bortles will chuck it up and give his receivers a chance, and players like Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns proved in the past that they can string some big games together. That hasn’t been the case this year, but Bortles and company found some success in the form of attacking two players in particular: cornerback Corey White, and safety Jonathan Meeks. White was in the game for an injured Ronald Darby, who left the game due to a concussion in the first half. The Bills had originally intended for White to play safety next to Corey Graham. White simply refused to raise his arms in coverage — even though he was there — and had receptions caught over the top of him because he didn’t read the receiver properly. They need Darby to come back very quickly — especially considering their next opponents are the high-powered Oakland Raiders. Because of the shift due to Darby’s injury, that forced Jonathan Meeks into the defensive shuffle at safety, and the results were lacking if you side with the Bills. Meeks, as he’s proven all season long, is a liability in coverage. The touchdown throw to Marquise Lee was his doing, in being both slow to react, and running in a direction that really went to cover nothing and no one. At this point, you can’t have Meeks in the game against a team like Oakland, so if you’re the Bills. you just have to trust that the veteran James Ihedigbo can play strong safety and Corey Graham can fill the role of free safety. With how steep the drop-off has been at safety, Aaron Williams has proved to be the biggest loss to injury of the season. Even though he was playing at an average level, Blanton and Meeks have been terrifying at times. At least with Sammy Watkins, the offense could still rely on LeSean McCoy to keep it afloat unlike what the Williams injury did to the secondary’s ability to defend the deep ball. The Bills need to figure out a bandaid to put on the position for the final five games until the offseason gets here.
5) Dareus dominates the first half
- As previously noted, the Bills were effectively asleep at the wheel in the first half of the game against Jacksonville. The offense couldn’t do much of anything, and the defense kept yielding first down after first down in the early stages. As the first half went on, the play of Marcell Dareus helped put a stop to what the Jaguars were trying to do, otherwise it could have been a lot uglier of a deficit heading into the second half. When he’s on, there aren’t many offensive linemen that can handle him in a one-on-one situation — and if he’s on the field, he’s usually ‘on.’ That much was the case in the first half, with the big nose tackle accounting for two sacks and multiple tackles, along with thwarting drive attempts by the Jaguars. Near the end of the first half, Dareus fired through the line and brought down Blake Bortles for a sack that put the Jaguars in a 3rd-and-17 hole. The Jags merely ran a play to get seven yards back, which set up the huge 43-yard punt return by Brandon Tate. It got the ball all the way down to Jacksonville’s 22, the Bills cash in the opportunity with a touchdown, and pull it to within a point at halftime. For as bad as they looked really for much of the first half, the play of Dareus and LeSean McCoy helped them afloat and to the victory.
6) Red zone woes
- The Buffalo Bills officially have a defensive red zone problem. The Bills allowed both Jacksonville red zone attempts go for a touchdown on Sunday, which is an alarming trend over the last four games.
Red zone TD conversions vs. BUF defense:
— Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) November 27, 2016
So, over the last four games, the Bills have given up the score in the red zone 11-of-12 times — or if you’d rather a percentage, 91.7-percent of the time. Rex Ryan said after the game that they can’t stop anybody in the red zone — and he’s right. Some problems in the secondary, mainly at safety, lends itself to why the Bills have been so poor at keeping their opponents out of the end zone. And if there was an opponent to get themselves right, it would have been the Jaguars — a team that seemed to turn the ball over at the most inopportune of times. The Bills, of course, didn’t do that and it doesn’t get any easier next week for them. A date with the high-powered Oakland Raiders on the road is on the horizon, but there’s little doubt that this current trend simply cannot continue.
7) The EJ hard count-timeout snafu
- Near the end of the game on a 4th-and-short deep in their own zone, the Bills trotted backup quarterback EJ Manuel on to the field, and afterwards many were left wondering: “What just happened here?” Manuel, as he’s been brought in to do a few times before, entered the game to try and draw the Jaguars offsides. He didn’t get the Jaguars to bite, saw the play clock run down to one second, turned to the official and called an ill-advised timeout. The timeout was an absurd one to take given the situation, because yielding five more yards on a play that they were going to punt really isn’t that big of a deal. However, Manuel didn’t understand the situation and cost the Bills a timeout they could have needed had the game gone in a different direction. Rex Ryan said the idea to put Manuel out there was his idea, and took full responsibility for it. I didn’t necessarily have a problem with the idea, but not explicitly communicating with Manuel to just let the play clock run out is a major misstep by the coaching staff. Manuel deserves some of the blame too, which is effectively what Rex Ryan did after the game by making a face as he sarcastically said he takes responsibility for everything to do with the play. The Bills were lucky that timeout didn’t cost them.
Bills MVP: RB LeSean McCoy
- Without LeSean McCoy, I don’t think the Bills win this game. He was the offense on Sunday.
Bills LVP: S Jonathan Meeks
- Meeks cannot be trusted in coverage, and he gave another shining example of why that the Bills should look elsewhere to fill their void at safety.
Up Next: The Bills are up against the Oakland Raiders on the road on Sunday, December 4 at 4:05 pm.
AFC Standings Update:
The Bills (6-5) are now in ninth place in the AFC. Barring a tie between the Chiefs and Broncos, the Bills will be within one game of the final Wild Card spot. The two Wild Card teams are Kansas City and Denver, trailed by Miami (7-4, 7th place) and Pittsburgh (6-5, 8th place — better conference record than Buffalo)
Draft Order Update:
Through Week 12 of the season, the Bills currently have the 16th overall pick in the first round. If the Eagles defeat the Packers on Monday Night Football, the Bills will move up to 15th overall.
GIF of the Game
"Wait wait wait, you're telling me the Bills went for a two-point conversion?" pic.twitter.com/BI58vYB4q1
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) November 27, 2016
- For the second straight week, the Buffalo Bills played in an ugly game but ultimately came out as the victors. The Bills desperately needed this game against an opponent that they should have beaten. Jacksonville limped into the game with a five-game losing streak, and although the Bills made it interesting at times, they collected the victory at home as they should have all along. The game also further cemented the fact that LeSean McCoy, by leaps and bounds has been the most important player on the roster for them in 2016. While other players have had great seasons, the role McCoy plays — and really how much they depend on him to perform on a weekly basis — can’t be matched by any other player on the team. I’ve written it multiple times now, but it’s the truth: the Bills do not win this game with LeSean McCoy. So, what’s next for the Bills? They have to be perfect, or as close to perfect as possible in the final five games of the season. The last time they went out to Oakland, the Bills effectively had their playoff hopes dashed late in the season. This time, the Raiders are much improved and one of the best teams in the league. If the Bills can pull off a victory in that setting, their bid for a playoff spot should be taken very, very seriously. It’s a big week coming up, and prove it time for the Buffalo Bills.
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