Joe B: 7 observations from Bills - Steelers (12/11/16)

Posted at 7:45 PM, Dec 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-11 19:45:18-05

December 16, 2012 — almost four years to the day — the Buffalo Bills served up a 50-17 loss to Seattle that was so terrible, so unenthusiastic, and so embarrassing that it led to one conclusion: something had to change, and that something was the head coach.

At the end of the season, Chan Gailey was relinquished by the Bills, and the process started all over again.

On December 11, 2016 — the same can be said for head coach Rex Ryan. With a small chance remaining to make the postseason, the Bills needed a victory over a playoff caliber team in order to live to fight another day.

What happened against Pittsburgh? The Bills came out flat, and any hopes of the playoffs have quickly gone out the window.

How did it all happen so quickly for the Bills? Seven observations from the game:

1) This was a coach-gets-fired sort of game
- You could almost tell there was a bad moon rising over the stadium in Orchard Park ahead of the game. Within an hour before kickoff, multiple reports came out about Rex Ryan that he could be fired in season, and CBS Sports even reported it could be as early as Monday. Whether it’s going to be the case or not, it’s clear that the message has gone stale with Rex Ryan. The Bills came out flat, unenthusiastic… they were embarrassed on both sides of the field. Everything the Bills tried to do on either offense or defense, outside of Ben Roethlisberger throwing the ball right into the arms of the Bills defender, went awry. The game ended by a score of 27-20, but it wasn’t anywhere near being as close as the score indicated. In a huge spot where the Bills needed someone… anyone to step up and make a play when the game mattered, it all went silent — just as the playoff hopes for the Bills did on Sunday for the 17th straight season. The snowball effect that took hold of them in Oakland didn’t end when they got back home this week… it merely continued to an even more embarrassing degree. Tyrod Taylor was nowhere to be found, the offensive line couldn’t protect him, the Steelers were stuffing the run, the defense couldn’t stop the Steelers to save their playoff lives. It’s in the clutch moments when a team gets tested and you learn about the true personality of the team. In the 2016 season, their personality reads as follows: a talented, yet underperforming team that should have won more games than they did. A team that couldn’t beat a winning team that wasn’t quarterbacked by an injured third-string rookie when the season mattered. A team that mirrored the personality of their head coach: all talk, no substance. The Bills are now 6-7 on the season, and the normally deflecting Rex Ryan should shoulder much of the blame. Will he be out of a job before the season is over? ‘Should’ and ‘will’ are two different things. I do know one thing, though: The Bills, in the biggest spot to save their season, came out flat and made the rest of the season essentially meaningless. It’s reflective of Rex Ryan, and his seat — as it should — will only get hotter as the hours and days pass — if they pass at all.

2) The Tyrod disappearing act continued
- For the second time in as many weeks, Buffalo Bills starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor was nowhere to be found. The statistics for Taylor are damning, ever since his ultra-impressive first quarter in Oakland. Taylor, for the second week in a row, could not get himself — and the team — out from the hole in the passing attack that has been evident for minutes on end. And instead, it’s helped the fan base morph into an overwhelming malaise of mediocrity. The stats were bad last week in the final three quarters: 89 yards over 45 minutes. Those 45 minutes, plus the first three-plus quarters against Pittsburgh when the game actually mattered? 160 yards over 95 minutes. That comes out to 1.7 yards gained through the air per minute of game time — and that performance came in two of the biggest games of the 2016 season. Bills offensive coordinator said this week that he believed Tyrod Taylor seemed like the type of guy that thrives under the pressure, heat, and scrutiny of this past week. That couldn’t have been more wrong. Taylor has shown, in the biggest of spots this season, that he clearly doesn’t have what it takes to help get the Bills over the hump on offense. When the running game isn’t working, the Bills were effectively muted by the Steelers defense. I wrote this week, that not only was this the biggest game of Taylor’s career to this point, but that if he didn’t show signs of improvement that the Bills should move on. With the season’s importance now gone after an embarrassing loss, I believe that question has been answered for all of us with the same authority of a door slammed shut.

3) The defense, flat out, was run over
- The stat of the day goes to the ELIAS Sports Bureau, who uncorked this gem:



Keep this in mind, this happened at home, in the biggest game of the season for the Bills. Also, 142 of the 275 yards came in garbage time — which means the Bills offense could only muster up 133 yards of total offense when they had a legitimate chance to win the game. So, in this vaunted Rex Ryan defense that he exclaims — whenever he’s given the opportunity — that it’s “obvious” this year’s defense is better than last years, the Bills have allowed two different 200-yard rushers, and let up nearly 300 yards of total offense to one player. Rex Ryan was pretty quick to give the stat that they held Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a 37.8 quarterback rating, which deserves all the Doug Marrone eye rolls in the world. The Pittsburgh offense ran them over, got yards at will, and wouldn’t have done much of anything if it weren’t for Roethlisberger missing as badly as he did on three separate occasions. This was a total meltdown by the defense for the second week in a row, and with a defensive-minded head coach, it gives further credence to the what seems like an inevitable parting of the ways between franchise and coach.

4) Should Whaley go, too?
- With all the rumors that came out ahead of the game about both Rex Ryan and Tyrod Taylor, it all was with a key element: Doug Whaley escaped all the ‘firing’ talk all the way through. The only bits about Whaley, from CBS Sports, was that he wanted to see Cardale Jones at the end of the season to get a gauge of the rookie’s progress. However, is that fair? Should Whaley escape any and all blame? I do believe Whaley has put together a talented roster, and has a lot of key roster moves that have proved savvy over time. His biggest whiff to this point is trading an additional first-round pick to draft Sammy Watkins. Watkins is an incredible talent that makes the game look easy, but the move was made in lieu of having a quarterback, and robbed the Bills of another player that could have helped the team the next year. EJ Manuel was selected when he was the heir to Buddy Nix’s throne, but logic would indicate that he would try to disassociate himself from that pick being his idea to the current decision makers at One Bills Drive. Whaley’s only crack at drafting a quarterback has been Cardale Jones, with Tyrod Taylor being a dart throw to see if they could find something for essentially nothing. That hasn’t worked out. I think Doug Whaley has done a lot of good things as the GM of the team, but he deserves blame just as much as anyone for this thing not working out. For not establishing depth at safety, wide receiver, and offensive line in the offseason when they were able to. If he is indeed back like it seems like he will be, he should only be back on one condition: he has to fix the quarterback situation, and quickly. If he doesn’t, his time in Buffalo should be numbered as well.

5) LeSean McCoy deserves much, much better
- The rushing totals on Sunday notwithstanding, this residual effects from this game have such a bigger picture than what we saw from the Bills against the Steelers. When we recall the 2016 season and think about both the successes and the pitfalls before the inevitably of a 17th straight season took hold, there’s one thing I don’t think anyone will be able to forget: just how good LeSean McCoy has been all season long, and how the Bills essentially did him no favors to try and get them to the postseason. McCoy has been as dynamic as a player that you’ll find, and even with huge performances, we saw the defense falter… or the passing offense not be able to make a play to balance it all out. No, instead, the Bills wasted a year of McCoy’s prime in which — so far, anyway — he averaged more yards per carry than any other season he’s been in the league. The Bills have gone as McCoy has, and even that wasn’t enough sometimes. In no way should any negative parts of this season be pinned on him. He has been everything that they’ve wanted and more. The rest of it falls on the failures of the defense and the passing attack.

6) Safety play burns the Bills again
- Once more, the play of the safety lining up on the field in place of Aaron Williams, showed why it has been such a weak point to the defense. This time around it was Corey White lined up deep, and the Steelers took advantage of it. It’s hard to fully blame White, who has been working at safety about as long as Logan Thomas has been at tight end in the NFL. However, a few things are at fault in his overall poor performance on Sunday. First, his tackling was incredibly poor — and as the last line of defense for the team, he can’t afford to be whiffing on those attempts. Second, he didn’t trust his instincts in coverage which is part of his problem in the first place. We’ve seen him be a half-second too late on a number of plays this season for the Bills. And third, it’s quite confusing as to why the Bills would put him in a situation as the single-high safety against a passing attack as good as the Steelers. Predictably, the Bills got burned by this because Roethlisberger easily manipulated White with his eyes, which freed up Antonio Brown for a deep reception. Even before White, it was Robert Blanton, who was equally as bad. It all enhances the point that the single biggest injury of the season was when Aaron Williams was lost for the year, and the Bills haven’t been able to cope since then. With an aging Corey Graham entrenched as a starter, safety is going to be a huge need for the Bills in the offseason.

7) The game summed up in one beautifully awful moment
- The opportunity that presented itself in the form of this game was a great one for the Bills. With a win over a tough team like the Steelers, they would have beaten a team directly in front of them in the AFC Wild Card standings with an extremely winnable schedule through the final three weeks. They still would have needed some help along the way, but getting this one could have been the gateway to a four-game winning streak to end the season. Instead, rather than showing up with a big effort, the Bills went missing for the first three-plus quarters. The Bills were able to put together a garbage time touchdown late in the game, which led to a seven-point deficit and an onside kick opportunity. Like the game at hand, it was a great opportunity for the Bills to get themselves back into it. And then, Dan Carpenter serves up the most beautiful of disasters: an onside kickoff attempt that only traveled two-to-three yards. Oh, what a wonderfully awful moment to wrap up the anguish and hilarity of such an important game. It, in itself, was a microcosm of the Bills efforts against the Steelers on Sunday.

Bills MVP: CB Stephon Gilmore
- He’s had a great four-week stretch of football, just at the right time with the season winding to a close.

Bills LVP: HC Rex Ryan
- When the game mattered, the Bills were out-gained by the Steelers 406 to 133. That seems to be a pretty good indicator of the type of effort this team gave their head coach in a do-or-die game.

Up Next: The Bills (6-7) are home against the Cleveland Browns (0-13) at New Era Field. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m.

Draft Order Update: Regardless of any of the results on Sunday or Monday Night Football, the Bills will hold the 13th overall pick through Week 14 of the season.

Playoff Standings Update: The Bills aren’t technically eliminated from the playoffs yet, but reside in 11th place and face extremely poor odds even with a three-game winning streak to end the season. They are currently behind the final spot by two games with three to play.

GIF of the Game:



Final Thoughts:
- The Buffalo Bills had as good a chance as ever to collect a statement win against the Pittsburgh Steelers… a win that would have defied all the pregame reports that there was an impending doom waiting for the team’s head coach and quarterback. Both men needed a victory in the worst way, and at the end of the day, they were sent home — at home — with their tail between their legs. There hasn’t been a single game in 2016 that the Bills went into a game against a good team and came away with a victory — not one. Tyrod Taylor disappears at the worst times, and Rex Ryan’s defense has let the opponent run all over them in big spots all season long. Let’s face the facts on the 2016 Bills: They’ve played one of the easiest schedules in the league and have stumbled to a 6-7 record with multiple opportunities to win close games against good teams. They blew late leads against Miami and Oakland, they spoiled every opportunity they had to win in Baltimore in Week One…. those are three games against teams in the race for the playoffs, and if they actually had the temerity to finish the job, the Bills could be 9-4 with a great shot at the postseason. Instead, here we are… another wasted year for fans who are just holding on and hoping for the best — the same fans that saw one of the most talented rosters the Bills have assembled in recent memory all go for naught. I've written it before, and I’ll write it again — this has all the makings of a coach-gets-fired type of game. If reports are true, the Rex Ryan era is mercifully coming to an end in the not-so-distant future -- and based on what we saw on Sunday and the rest of the season, it’s seemingly for the best.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia