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Joe B: 7 observations from Buffalo Bills - Indianapolis Colts (10/21/18)

Joe B: 7 observations from Buffalo Bills - Indianapolis Colts (10/21/18)
Posted at 9:33 PM, Oct 21, 2018

For the second week in a row, the Buffalo Bills suffered a loss on the road. However, if you're to compare the Week Six loss to the Houston Texans, and the 37-5 drubbing by the Indianapolis Colts in Week Seven, the glaring difference is that this weekend's version of the team just wasn't competitive.

The Bills, against a team with a worse record, were completely blown out and now have even more questions heading into a contest with one of the best teams in the league. For the time being, the Bills are 2-5 in what is now coming to fruition as the real rebuilding year in Buffalo.

How did it all happen on Sunday? Seven observations from the game:

1) The big defensive letdown - Part One
- I know many will focus on the woes of the offense in only generating three points, but I think the bigger story is the total ineffectiveness of the defense from front to back -- especially since that is the unit that has led the way for a month now. The key to success over the past month for the defense has all started up front, and that's where we begin the breakdown. In a matchup that appeared advantageous in a couple of spots, the Bills were getting beat time after time when the Colts dropped back to pass. As a result, Andrew Luck had plenty of time to go through his progressions and to also allow for his receivers to make adjustments to find open areas against the Bills defense. Without the pass rush getting heat on the quarterback, everything else they do on the back end is fruitless. Luck didn't have to do a ton in this game which has been unusual for the Colts this season, but when he did, the Bills didn't put up much of a fight, and that's because they couldn't win the battle up front. That also extends into the run defense which, before Sunday, was a strong point to the Bills efforts through the entire season. Just as it happened when Luck dropped back to pass, the offensive line of the Colts dominated the Bills up front and particularly right up the middle. With all the resources the Bills put into those four positions over the offseason, seeing them underperform against a Colts rushing attack that is below average. That should have been a matchup they dominated, but instead, the Colts did the dominating. However, it wasn't only the fault of the defensive line.

2) The big defensive letdown - Part Two
- That leads us to the other primary problem area for the Bills defense: the young linebackers. In the case of weakside linebacker Matt Milano, he's played at an extremely high level for most of the season. With middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, he hasn't been quite near the level of Milano, but he's showing clear signs of progress and settling in. However, both struggled in no small degree against the Colts, which only multiplied the problems that the Bills had up front with the defensive line. Both Edmunds and Milano were getting covered up by blockers on the second-level far too quickly, which led to some gaping holes for the Colts to run through. Then in pass coverage, Andrew Luck turned the zone coverage against Edmunds and Milano. As the Los Angeles Chargers did in Week Two, Luck used the middle of the field to his advantage and manipulated the linebacker with his eyes to allow his target to find the space. As such an essential part to the defense, that duo needs much better days than what they gave the Bills on Sunday. Because if they don't get a positive performance from that group, it usually turns into a long day. And when that is in unison with the defensive line playing as poorly as they did, that creates just an outright disaster on game day -- which is precisely what we saw in the 37-5 blowout loss to the Colts.

3) Anderson shows visible rust, but also a concern in some success?
- Alright, now to the offense -- and offense that couldn't muster up six points or more for the third time in seven weeks to begin the season. This week, the struggles were a bit more predictable. After all, Derek Anderson went from being mostly a stay-at-home dad with his three children to the starting lineup in under two weeks of being with the organization. So, when you saw Anderson make some foolish decisions and sail passes in areas down the field, that much was to be expected for someone that has been away from the game for months, and for a player that has thrown to Bills receivers on only eight different occasions -- including warmups ahead of the Texans contest. However, there were times throughout the game where Anderson showed a bit of a spark -- as fleeting as they were. Better than any quarterback has for the Bills this season, Anderson was seeing the field better and delivered some passes that allowed his receivers to gain some yardage after the catch. Now, in comparison to the green-by-comparison Josh Allen, it's fair to expect that Anderson sees the field better at 35 years old and with plenty of years of experience under his belt. However, for a complete stranger to walk in with minimal time on task and move the offense more effectively than the rookie did, is a bit of a stinging aspect to the loss. Allen has to make those flashes that he showed at the end of his time in the Texans game more commonplace, and he also has to exhibit signs of growth in the pocket when he gets back to the starting lineup. In the meantime, the Bills better hope that Allen sees Anderson scanning the field in the film room as a sign as what he needs to improve upon before the end of the year is here. It's not a panic-level concern for fans, but it was a tad jarring to see Anderson have some small degree of success in a terrible spot start for him given his situation.

4) Clay's fumbled loomed largely
- I don't want to belabor the point too much about one play, especially when you see the final score of the game and how well the Colts were performing in all phases, but it's at least worth a mention. Tight end Charles Clay deserves a big 'ole thumbs down for his colossal error early on. With the Bills down 6-0, they started the next drive on their 25-yard line. In four plays, the Bills moved the ball 53 yards and to the 22-yard line of the Colts. At worst, the Bills had a chance to cut into the lead and make it 6-3 with a field goal. If they kept moving the ball, they even could have taken the lead in the second quarter. On the fifth play, Derek Anderson found Clay on a nine-yard reception, to which Clay promptly had the ball ripped away from him -- and the Colts jumped all over to force the turnover. The Colts went down and scored a touchdown on that drive, forced the Bills to go three-and-out, and then scored another touchdown to give them a 21-0 lead. At that point, expecting three touchdowns out of the Bills offense seemed as improbable as my odds of winning the Mega Millions lottery. So while you can't blame Clay for the entire performance the rest of the way from the offense and the defense, that was a massive misstep in a focal spot that would have given the Bills some success to lean on. Considering his role on the team and his salary, that's unacceptable for a struggling offense.

5) The time to trade Kelvin Benjamin is now
- If you're looking for a showcase game for Bills wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, his performance against the Indianapolis Colts is about as good as its going to get. Benjamin set a season-high for most catches and receiving yards in a single game by corralling four receptions for 71 yards. To be fair, Benjamin has been playing much better over the last three weeks than he had been to begin the season, but that still doesn't mean he factors into the future of the organization. Benjamin is on the final year of his contract and likely isn't going to field a substantial free agent offer in March, so the hopes of procuring a compensatory pick for him are likely low. However, it's getting right around 'desperation o'clock' in the NFL, and teams that need something to add to their wide receiver room could easily sell themselves on a big target like Benjamin. The trade deadline is now just a little over one week away, and considering the Bills moved a third-round pick for Benjamin with a minimal return on the field, the time to recoup something for him in the form of a draft pick is here. There was a report from Dan Graziano of ESPN that linked Benjamin with the Dallas Cowboys. At this point, the Bills need to get something for him. They're 2-5 on the season with a 2-6 record staring them right in the face given the dominance over the organization by their upcoming opponents. Benjamin got through the game without an injury, so risking losing an asset by playing him in that game doesn't make sense to me -- as long as they are hoping to trade him as general logic would indicate. Especially considering their other tradeable asset, if the Bills are looking to move Benjamin, I think this coming week is the time to do just that.

6) Did the Bills miss their window with McCoy?
- It took only two running plays, but the Bills' biggest asset on the offensive side of the ball disappeared for the rest of the game with a snap of the fingers. The Bills put McCoy in concussion protocol after he hit his head as the runner fell to the turf and went the rest of the way without their top runner. With how the season has unfolded, like Benjamin, it makes all the sense in the world to explore potential deals for the 30-year-old McCoy. With only one year left on his current contract, he isn't going to play a large role in the long-term future of the organization. If the compensation is right, the Bills should think long and hard about moving McCoy and capitalizing on the chance to add more ammo in the offseason. However, with McCoy getting put into concussion protocol, that puts his status for Monday's game against New England in jeopardy, which could also legitimately impact their ability to trade him if that's what they wanted to do all along. 

7) Do you want a bright spot? I'll give you a bright spot.
- After scanning the entire gamebook, the only good part to the Bills' performance was by a man that had only five snaps on the field. That person is punter Cory Bojorquez. He averaged 46.3 yards per punt, which is impressive in itself for four punts. However, that was the same as his net average, which means his punts were so good that they didn't allow for the return man to try to make a play.  He's got a booming leg, and in a controlled weather atmosphere that they had at Lucas Oil Stadium, he let that leg go to work for him. There, that's all I've got for good parts for the Bills. I'm tapped out.

Bills MVP: P Cory Bojorquez
- I mean, it had to go to someone, right? If it weren't for the seemingly out-of-body experience he had when he thought it was a fake field goal and no one else on the field did, Bojorquez has been a stellar addition to the Bills.

Bills LVP: The defensive line
- No pressure on Andrew Luck and losing the battle up front against a weak rushing opponent all led to a poor defensive effort all the way through.

Draft Order Update: Through Week Seven, the Bills have the 6th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Should the Atlanta Falcons lose on Monday, the Bills will have the 7th overall selection.

Up Next: The Bills (2-5) will take on the New England Patriots (5-2) at New Era Field on Monday, October 29 at 8:15 pm.

Final Thoughts: 
- Well, here we are -- in the spot that many anticipated ahead of the season with a roster that was pared down throughout the last two offseasons. The rebuilding year, if you didn't believe it at any point before, is here with the evidence of the team having a 2-5 record through seven games -- and with a likely sixth loss on the horizon next Monday. I noticed something that picked up steam on Twitter during the Bills' loss to the Colts ahead of all the others. The angst for head coach Sean McDermott has undoubtedly picked up with failure as glaring as this one. It's not even as though it's unwarranted, because frustration from the fanbase in a rebuilding year is inevitable. However, all that goodwill that built up for McDermott in 2017 has slowly chipped away with every wasted offensive possession, or with every blowout loss. There is a certain contingent of fans that have hit the 'fire McDermott' line of thinking hard. The bad news? Yeah, that's not going to happen. The ownership of the team is committed to allowing both general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott to do the complete rebuild -- not to fire them right as the hard part arrived. Now, in four of their five losses, it has looked outright awful -- which deservedly brings upon some fierce reactions from the fan base. You have to expect that at the NFL level. However, McDermott's team -- especially if/when Josh Allen gets back on the field -- have to show some signs of life on *both* sides of the ball, not just defensively. After all, the whole 2018 offseason was about procuring a potential franchise quarterback from the draft, to which they executed. Until that player gets back in the lineup and shows some promise, the angst levels will only rise. McDermott knows better than anyone that the players on the team have to provide more than they have, even if there is an apparent discrepancy in talent. The repercussions for not showing signs of progress is more about what it means for 2019 than it is about his job status by the end of the year. I'm sure we'll get a "no one said it was going to be easy" in the coming days, as McDermott has done before. But, he's right. A rebuild like this one requires giving the team the chance to learn and make their mistakes in a non-pressurized year. I think McDermott will agree, though, that they can lose a lot more gracefully than they have for much of the year. That's his most significant challenge for the final nine games of 2018, and what he can teach his team before the wins and losses really count in 2019 and 2020.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

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