Joe B: 7 observations from Bills - Seahawks (11/7/16)

Posted at 2:31 AM, Nov 08, 2016

The Buffalo Bills went to Seattle, challenged the Seahawks all game long, but ultimately fell short in their bid for an upset of the heavily favored home team. With the 31-25 loss, the Bills have dropped to 4-5 on the season — their third straight loss, and now have a lot of work to do if they want to end the playoff drought at 16 years.

They put up a valiant fight, but some clear deficiencies throughout the game ultimately led to the Bills’ demise. How did it all happen?

Seven observations from Buffalo’s loss to Seattle on Monday Night Football:

1) Even in the loss, Tyrod has his best night yet
- If you’ve read my analysis over the past year-and-a-half, you’ll know that in 2016 I’ve been fairly critical of the job that Tyrod Taylor has done in 2016. However, the job that Tyrod Taylor did on Monday Night Football was his strongest effort of the season by leaps and bounds, and he showed a great deal of progress as a starting quarterback against an incredibly strong defense. As the game wore on, Taylor kept getting better and better. He was keeping plays alive with his feet like he usually does, but in this game, he was setting his feet and letting the ball fly with confidence. The two strongest throws of his night both came in the second half — a perfect rainbow throw over an outstretched and jumping linebacker, and perfectly to Marquise Goodwin along the sidelines. Then on the final drive of the game, the ball he delivered to Robert Woods to the sidelines on a third-and-long while getting absolutely crushed might just be his most clutch throw of the season. While of course, the fact that they’ve lost three games in a row and are now 4-5 on the season doesn’t make things ideal for Bills fans heading into the final 7 games of the season. However, if they’re to take solace in one thing, it’s that the quarterback had his strongest performance of the season against the best defense they’ll see in 2016.

2) One key injury helped the final drives crumble
- During specific times of the Bills’ final offensive possession of the game, it seemed like everything was going right for the visiting team. They converted on big plays, had some penalties go in their favor to set them up on the Seattle doorstep, and had four potential cracks at the end zone. However, this is where the injury to starting center Eric Wood must be accounted for. A broken leg will likely end his season, and at the same time on Monday night, it prevented the Bills from cashing in on the opportunity due to his replacement: Ryan Groy. In spot duty during the 2016 season, Groy has been a below average offensive lineman, so the drop-off is obvious from Wood — a top-tier center in the league — to his replacement. On multiple occasions, Groy was beat by his man and it led to big losses on the field. It also had an effect on right guard John Miller, who was beat late in the game along with Groy on the crucial 3rd-and-goal with under one minute to play. Would things have been different with Eric Wood in the lineup? Perhaps they would have, but there is little doubt that the replacement had a profound impact on the outcome of the game.

3) The end of the first half was an absolute joke, but they still had their chances
- A mess, a joke, a fiasco, a travesty… whichever word you’d like to describe the end of the first half due to many contributing factors is probably appropriate. We all know how it went down: The Bills lined up for a field goal, Richard Sherman goes offsides and crushes kicker Dan Carpenter (without penalty) causing Carpenter to have trainers come on the field, he has to leave the game for one play forcing the Bills to do a quick spike, comes back out on the field without the play clock getting reset to surrender five yards on a delay of game penalty, and Carpenter goes on to miss it. First, Sherman should have been hit with a 15-yard penalty — and the NFL admitting it after the fact is so utterly convenient, while at the same time completely laughable of how it was handled and not corrected. Had the penalty on Sherman been called, then Carpenter doesn’t have to leave the field, meaning the Bills wouldn’t have to spike it, and the play clock fiasco doesn’t happen either. I understand that there are a lot of things happening at once for the officials, but resetting the play clock is something they do every single play. Tyrod Taylor, almost uncharacteristically, said that the refs had made some “horrible” calls. Rex Ryan called the end of the first half “ridiculous,” and he was right to. However, let’s not pretend that the Bills didn’t have their chances to win the game. They had two separate opportunities in the fourth quarter to pull ahead of the Seahawks, and they didn’t take advantage of it. Some will argue that having that extra three points at the end of the first half would have meant they would have only gone for a field goal at the end of the game. If you really want to go down the rabbit hole, here you go: had the Bills successfully kicked a field goal, and the events leading up to the Bills’ final touchdown stayed precisely the same, the Bills would have only been down 28-26 before the proposed two-point try. At that point, there was still over 14 minutes to go in the game, which means the usually conservative Rex Ryan likely would have just taken the extra point attempt. The two-point try was done to bring them within three points, and with the extra Seattle field goal, that makes the game 31-27. But again, believing that every decision and action stays exactly the same after a made three-point kick at the end of the first half is grasping at straws. The Bills had their chances to win, and they couldn’t finish the job — it’s that simple.

4) Bills secondary is a shell of its 2015 form
- In Rex Ryan’s first season with the Bills, the secondary of the Buffalo Bills played extremely well — and most notably the play of the two starting cornerbacks stood out among all else. With Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby as the two starters, the Bills thought they had two bonafide shutdown corners coming into the season — but what they’ve gotten this year is a maddeningly inconsistent duo that just doesn’t have anywhere near the success as they had. In fact, they have become weaknesses of the defense at times, and an area for offenses to pick on. Darby had a strong game last weekend, and Rex Ryan said he was trying to battle through an illness on Monday which could explain his night. However, once more, Gilmore wasn’t playing physical at the line of scrimmage, missed tackles, and was getting beat in coverage as well. He has been a complete disappointment. However, the worst player in the Bills secondary was safety Robert Blanton. In coverage, he is a liability and doesn’t react quickly enough to the play — allowing plays to be made in front of him and for receivers to get behind him. Even though Aaron Williams was playing around average ball, it is still far better than what we’ve seen from Blanton in just two weeks.

5) Avril will be haunting Mills’ nightmares
- Early in the game, before Tyrod Taylor started getting hot and making players miss while delivering solid passes all over the field, Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril was making his presence felt. He was going up against right tackle Jordan Mills, and it was a complete mismatch for the Bills all game long. Avril was getting into the backfield with ease, and Mills had to resort to both holding Avril as he was getting back to Taylor, and by trying to jump the offense’s snap to get a half-step more ground against the much quicker Avril. He was clearly overwhelmed by how well Avril was playing, and this is now three straight weeks where the right tackle has been a below average player. He started off the season strongly, but that has all but dissipated with his recent stretch of play.

6) Danny Crossman was behind the Hughes punt block
- The game couldn’t have started out much better for the Bills, and it reached an exclamation point early on when the Bills were able to block Seattle’s first punt and recovered it at Seattle’s three-yard line. The man who blocked the punt was none other than Jerry Hughes, who isn’t normally on special teams units. However, the Bills believed they had potential to flip the game, and special teams coordinator Danny Crossman was the man that pushed to have Hughes in the punt block formation:

“It was Danny Crossman,” head coach Rex Ryan said. “We knew that they had a rookie long snapper who had struggled a little bit in protection. We put our best player in there and Jerry made a great play.”

Crossman deserves a definite hat tip for that one, because Hughes almost got another one later in the game. A great plan by him that was executed well by the hell-raising Hughes.

7) Woods has a day-and-a-half
- It went in a loss, but Robert Woods caught the attention of the nation with one of the best games he’s had while with the Buffalo Bills. Woods managed to rope in 10 catches for 162 yards, and that was a great reflection of the success that he was having all game long. He was finding the weak spots in the Seattle zone in the middle of the field, making himself available to Tyrod Taylor, and even converting with yards after the catch as well. Not to mention, he was doing this all with a lingering foot injury — one that clearly made him less than 100-percent on the field both against New England and on Monday night against Seattle. He even showed off his blocking ability, one of the Bills’ favorite things about him. This was one of the best performances, and in a humongous spot, his agent must be an incredibly happy man. Woods is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, and with how much some free agent wide receivers were paid this past offseason, there’s no reason to believe that it would go any differently for Woods on the open market.

Bills MVP: QB Tyrod Taylor
- Jerry Hughes earned some consideration here, as did Robert Woods, but Taylor continued to give the Bills opportunities to sustain drives and keep the Bills in the game. That’s MVP-worthy in my book.

Bills LVP: RT Jordan Mills
- Robert Blanton was a close second, but Mills just never got his feet on solid ground against Cliff Avril. It was a massive mismatch.

Up Next: The Bills have their yearly bye weekend, and then get back to work the following week. They’re up against Cincinnati on the road on Sunday, November 21.

GIF of the Game:

This sums up the end of the first half pretty well...



Final Thoughts:
- The Bills are now 4-5, and will likely need to win six of their next seven games in order to successfully attain a playoff position in the AFC this season. It certainly makes it feel like a daunting task, and one that hasn’t usually gone the Bills’ way in the past when that type of run was needed. The fact that the bye is next weekend only adds to frustration of the fans, too. However, that’s about as good of a loss as the Bills could have in that spot. They pushed a heavily favored Seahawks team to the limit, and were at one point only seven yards away from beating Seattle on the road. Plus, Tyrod Taylor was the biggest reason why the Bills stayed in the game, and he did it against one of the best defenses in the league. A lot of good can be taken from this game, and Bills fans shouldn’t lose sight of that. However, the deck is stacked against the Bills for the final seven games of the season. They’ll definitely need five — and maybe even six win to get the playoff monkey off the back of the franchise. One thing is for sure, the Bills have hit the bye week at the absolute perfect time. They need to get healthy… and fast. It’s one step at a time, and it starts in two weeks in Cincinnati — what could serve as an essential elimination contest for them. Is it too little, too late? Maybe it is. But considering what we saw on Monday night, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the fight in Rex Ryan’s team just yet.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia