Joe B: 7 observations from Bills - Rams (10/9/16)

Joe B: 7 observations from Bills - Rams (10/9/16)
Posted at 12:04 AM, Oct 10, 2016

While the Buffalo Bills were left for dead after the first two games, something has happened over the last three weeks. Head coach Rex Ryan has helped the Bills find themselves, and in the process, now they are firmly in a playoff race after the team’s first three-game winning streak since 2011.

Oh, the times, they are a changin’.

The Bills, following the 30-19 victory on the road against the previously 3-1 Los Angeles Rams, have now shaken off a slow start and find themselves with a winning record through five weeks — 3-2. And while there is still much of the season to go, the Bills find themselves in a tie with both of the current AFC Wild Card playoff spot holders.

How did the Bills pull off the win out west? Seven observations from the game:

1) The Bills go as McCoy goes
- Since Sammy Watkins has gone down with his foot injury, the message has been pretty clear from the Bills on offense: Everything goes through running back LeSean McCoy. Through three weeks, it’s been working in a big, big way. Since Anthony Lynn has taken over as offensive coordinator — and coincidentally, since Watkins was placed on Injured Reserve, too — McCoy has had three straight weeks with over 100 total yards. He has had at least 20 touches in all three games, and, the opposing defense has failed to keep him in check at all. The Bills were quite fortunate that the injury report went their way this week, as the Rams had to play without three of their four starting defensive linemen (Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, William Hayes), and that helped an already potent offensive line to give McCoy all the operating room he needed. It was one of those games where it seemed like every time he touched the ball, you would sit on the edge of your seat and think to yourself “Wow, he might break this one.” The elusive factor was at its highest of any of the five games in the 2016 thus far. Simply put, McCoy could not be stopped, and the Bills will continue to ride that wave as long as they can for the rest of the season. It also cannot be stressed enough, McCoy is the most valuable player on the team moving forward, because he is the one guy the Bills can afford to lose least.

2) Game was harder than it needed to be
- Oh, the Bills really made themselves work for it, didn’t they? In the early going, the game was all Buffalo. The defense did the ‘ole bend-but-don’t-break routine on a couple of key possessions, the offense put together a touchdown drive, and by the end of it the Bills found themselves up 10 points on a team that struggles significantly on offense. Then, sloppy play helped get the Rams right back into it, and allowed the Bills to get to a point where one huge play could have shifted the game in favor of one team. Luckily for their sake, it was the pick-six that led the Bills to victory… but the game was in doubt at a few different points. The Rams had the ball with a tie game deep into the third quarter, but the Bills were able to flip the game. They kept shooting themselves in the foot with big penalties that continued to give the Rams chances — five in the first half for a total of 50 yards. The Bills should have been able to wrap it up far before they did, but to their credit, they didn’t melt under the pressure and adversity of allowing a less-talented team to come back and tie the game.

3) Robey-Coleman shines, Gilmore struggles
- With the game hanging in the balance, the Bills watched their quarterback miss a huge play on a third down throw to Robert Woods that likely should have gone for a touchdown. They were forced to punt, but as it has been for the majority of the season, the defense bailed out the offense in a key moment. On the ensuing drive, Case Keenum spotted his receiver making his break on an out route, threw it a tad late and behind him, which allowed the quick-reacting Nickell Robey-Coleman to step in front of it with a clear path to the end zone, giving the Bills a 23-16 lead — and one they wouldn’t surrender for the remainder of the game. Robey-Coleman added a second interception late in the game to put a pretty little bow on his return to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — the place in which he played his college ball for USC. Robey-Coleman also played some of the quick hitting routes that the Rams tried to gain big yardage with extremely well, and helped the Bills come away with some big stops during the game in addition to his interceptions. Not bad for a game that he had to have circled on his calendar some time ago. On the downside, Stephon Gilmore has now struggled significantly twice out of five games this season. It’s at least a tad bizarre that some fans love to bury Gilmore whenever he struggles in the slightest bit, but for the most part in his career he’s been a good player. Sunday against the Rams was not a shining example of that, as Gilmore struggled for much of the game with both his reaction time and in something he’s usually pretty sufficient at: Tackling. Gilmore was beaten for a few big plays by the Rams, and missed a tackle on a crucial third-down that would have stopped the Rams third quarter drive from continuing, but Todd Gurley ran through him for a first-down. The Rams went on to kick a field goal, to the tie the game once again at 16. Gilmore needs to prove he’s a top flight cornerback on a consistent basis if he wants top flight money, and to this point, he’s only done it for 60-percent of the season. However, the one explanation that could be made: Gilmore did injure his ankle at practice early in the week. Perhaps that was a reason for some of his gaffes in coverage, but even so, if he’s out there, he’s expected to play at a high level. The Bills need a more consistent effort than that from Gilmore moving forward.

4) Run defense steps up again
- The Bills front-seven have been stalwarts all season long against the opposing team’s rushing attack, and against the most talented runner they’ve faced all season (David Johnson of Arizona is a close second), they stepped up once again. From Zach Brown running all over the field making tackles, to Kyle Williams forcing the issue in the backfield, to Jerry Hughes setting the edge, and then with the rookie Adolphus Washington having the best game of his young career… the Bills defense stepped up once again. Todd Gurley, the Rams running back, gained only 72 yards on 23 carries — an average of 3.1 yards per carry. He was stifled for the most part, and the Rams had to try and get creative to get him into some open space. The Bills came into a game with a matchup against an offensive line that they could overpower, and they did so all throughout.

5) Taylor shows a flash, but little else
- The Bills have been waiting to see a version of Tyrod Taylor that is consistent from the beginning to the end of a game. It doesn’t even have to be a game that the quarterback takes over, just one where he is a consistent performer all throughout. On Sunday, the Bills received a glimmer of what special things could be in store during the team’s first offensive drive of the game. Taylor was able to shake off lining up in shotgun behind the guard — a play he said is worthy of a ‘Not Top 10’ moment — and helped the Bills gain 28 yards in two plays to keep the chains moving. The Bills were able to move the ball right down the field, and finally on a third-and-goal attempt, Taylor evaded multiple defenders in the backfield, kept his eyes down the field long enough, and found Justin Hunter in the corner of the end zone for the first offensive touchdown of the game. That was the good. Then, we saw the inconsistent Tyrod Taylor from that point forward. He was missing easy throws by being slightly off, which then allowed the defender to make a play on the ball. The Rams hemmed him in the pocket to try and avoid what Arizona let happen to them in Week Three. It worked, as the Bills were unable to sustain drives well enough to keep the Rams from making a comeback. The worst miss of the day, by far, was in the third quarter when Taylor flat out missed a wide open Robert Woods that could have had a touchdown on a third-down play. The Bills defense bailed out the miss with Robey-Coleman’s pick-six, but that’s a throw that Taylor must make almost every single time. He had enough time in the pocket, he stepped into the throw, and Woods had two yards on his defender. We’re still waiting to see a more consistent Taylor — and it would help the Bills significantly if he found it.

6) Oh, Jeff Fisher
- Ah, yes, the markings of a mediocre coach. The Los Angeles Rams, who withstood the Robey-Coleman pick-six well enough to drive the ball down the field in the fourth quarter and into the Bills red zone. The Rams, at the time, were down 23-16 in the fourth and just four yards away from getting into the end zone. The Rams faced the 4th-and-4 decision, and rather than trying to capitalize on what would be their best look at the end zone for the rest of the game, the Rams trotted out Greg Zuerlein on to the field and kicked a 22-yard field goal to make it a four-point game — still down by more than a field goal. Then, Fisher really outdid himself on the next drive. After the Rams successfully snuffed out the next Bills drive in just three plays, Buffalo did the same thing to them on Los Angeles’ next offensive possession. What happened from there on out, was hauntingly awful and beautiful all at once — considering how conservative Jeff Fisher is as a head coach. On a 4th-and-3 at their own 23-yard line, the Rams decided to run a fake punt to try and catch the Bills napping — and they were not. The Bills stopped it, had a shortened field and punched in the ball for the nail-in-the-coffin touchdown. I don’t mind the fake punt call, but perhaps something a little more creative should have been in the works if the Rams were going to try and continue their drive. The Bills took advantage, and promptly ended the game. Fisher gonna Fisher.

7) A bigger role for Justin Hunter on the way?
- A little over one week after the Bills claimed him off waivers, they quickly have found a role for wide receiver Justin Hunter. The tall, lanky, and vertically-gifted wideout was put into certain red zone packages early in the game, considering how much of an advantage his height gives him. Tyrod Taylor found him open when a play broke down for the team’s first touchdown, showing that he can make a play when called upon. The potential of Hunter has always been something that has drawn teams to him, but no one has been able to pull it out of him consistently enough. However, with the adversity the Bills currently have at wide receiver (Sammy Watkins and Greg Salas both on Injured Reserve), the team is low on wide receivers, and they don’t have someone like Hunter. I even saw Hunter in on a non-red zone play, which means the Bills are quite interested in getting him more involved with the offense as he continues to learn Anthony Lynn’s playbook. He will be an interesting name to track over the remainder of the season, seeing as how Marquise Goodwin and Walt Powell have yet to really shown enough to keep their lofty positions in the offense at the moment.

Bills MVP: HB LeSean McCoy
- How good was McCoy? 158 total yards, 150 rushing yards, an average of 8.3 yards per carry, and he felt like he could have had way more. This was a truly outstanding game for the Bills runner, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down right now.

Bills LVP: CB Stephon Gilmore
- The Bills cornerback was a weak link for the team on defense, and allowed multiple big plays happen on his watch. He has been much better than what he showed, and he needs to turn it around next week against a matchup he can dominate in Week Six.

Up Next: Sunday, October 16 vs. San Francisco (1-4) at New Era Field, 1:00 p.m.

GIF of the Week:



Final Thoughts:
- It wasn’t a perfect, overwhelming victory for the Buffalo Bills. In fact, it had moments of peril where Bills fans even thought the Rams would inevitably take the game right out from underneath their favorite team. The Bills still have a ways to go on offense from a passing perspective, but, on the positive side of things they haven’t really turned the ball over much. The defense has more than done their share through five weeks, showing well in four of the team’s first five games. If the Bills can find their rhythm in the passing game, they could have their fans thinking big. However, they couldn’t get out of their own way in the second half, and needed the defense to bail them out in order to secure the game. To the Bills, and Rex Ryan’s credit, they didn’t fold in the face of the Rams coming back on them, and instead made the plays they needed to win the game. Now with two winnable games on the horizon against San Francisco and Miami, the Bills have a real chance to make this one hell of a first seven games. However, they must do what their opponents over the last three weeks have failed to do: Avoid the letdown game from taking hold. If they can, Bills fans might be thinking big by the end of Week Seven.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia