Joe B: 7 observations from Buffalo Bills - Jacksonville Jaguars (1/7/18)

JACKSONVILLE, FL (WKBW) - Last week, the Buffalo Bills ended their playoff drought of 17 seasons to play in a quite winnable contest against the Jacksonville Jaguars. And on Sunday, many of their problems throughout the entire season were on display, which led to a disappointing 10-3 loss — and the subsequent end of their season.

The 2017 season, after 60 minutes of postseason play, is now over — and the Bills head to a critical offseason in their development under head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane.

Seven observations from the Bills-Jaguars playoff game:

1) First-and-goal from the 1
- The Buffalo Bills had it all lined up. The Jaguars committed a terrible encroachment penalty on what would have been a field goal attempt which gave the Bills new life, and a 1st-and-goal opportunity from the one-yard line. The Bills had everything lined up and would have jumped out to a 7-0 lead, which, for this game, would have felt insurmountable based on how Jacksonville had been playing on offense. It was the ultimate swing play. If they score the ball, they take a big lead, relatively speaking, into the second half. As we well know, instead, the Bills instead decided to throw the ball to Kelvin Benjamin against Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, he got called for pass interference, and their opportunity for more than three points was over before it started. The uproar was immediate from the fan base. Why on earth would the Bills choose to pass the ball in that situation, when their running game was what they hung their hat on all season long. Some immediately blamed offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, but after the fact, it was uncovered that while Dennison was partially to blame, it also was on Tyrod Taylor. According to starting running back LeSean McCoy, the 1st-and-goal play was a run-pass option — meaning, it was Taylor’s choice, based on what he saw at the line of scrimmage, to throw the ball to Benjamin. That, in itself, was a turning point in the game. The Bills never got close to scoring a touchdown again, and the Jaguars were content to continue their offensive blueprint of all season and limited — as much as they could — how much Blake Bortles could cost them. If not for that decision, the Bills likely punch the ball in from a yard out for a touchdown. Even if they wanted to pass the ball, play action would likely have done a much better job to get the defense moving downhill at the start, creating a potentially wide open situation in the end zone. Instead, the Bills — as they have been on offense all year, were frustratingly behind the curve. And the problem with that play is two-fold. First, with the offensive coordinator for leaving that option with the quarterback in what seemed to be a pretty standard decision to highlight the strengths of your roster, and secondly, with the quarterback for choosing the option to pass it against one of the best cornerbacks in the league in a one-on-one situation. That play was a microcosm of what we’ve seen for much of the year from a terribly stagnant offense — and ultimately what could lead to some significant changes with the offensive personnel in 2018.

2) The Bills need to think long and hard about the future with Rick Dennison
- We all know the obvious: the Buffalo Bills offense took a legitimate step back in 2017. The running offense wasn’t nearly as efficient, Tyrod Taylor didn’t throw the ball down the field nearly well enough, and the play calling left much to be desired all year — and that play-calling is where we’ll start. The Bills are heading into an absolutely critical offseason now to shape their roster into the way that McDermott and Beane have dreamed of when they took over the job — and they need to make perfectly sure that they have the correct minds to help mold the roster in the way they see fit, which for me, is the biggest hangup with keeping Rick Dennison on as the offensive coordinator in 2018. He was saddled with poor quarterback play, but his overall resistance to change his scheme — to instead highlight the skill set of his players the best way possible, along with a uninspiring play calls and not fully understanding the ramifications of his play call selection (see: the end of the first half, leaving enough time for Jacksonville to get a field goal), make it so that there is a legitimate case to move on from him in the offseason. Furthermore, the question that I’ve had all season long is this: Is Rick Dennison the point man you want to mold a potential rookie quarterback in a crucial first season? To me, a coordinator that fits his scheme to his players rather than the other way around is critically important, especially if the best quarterback on the board isn’t an exact fit for the scheme. If the Bills are drafting a young quarterback to fit Rick Dennison’s scheme, the prospects of that sound terrifying. For me, that fact is enough to move on from him in the offseason. So, too, is the list of two specific names that will be available this offseason to fill that role: Mike McCoy, whom the Bills wanted this past offseason, and Rob Chudzinski, someone that is quite close with McDermott from their time in Carolina. It really all points to the Bills, at the very least, having a long conversation about if Dennison will continue on as the offensive coordinator of the team — because the offense left way too much to be desired, regardless of who his quarterback was.

3) Tyrod Taylor’s swan song?
- Let me first start by saying that you hope Taylor has a speedy recovery from that gruesome hit by the Jacksonville player that left him on the field for minutes. No player should have to exit after that, and it’s an unfortunate part of an at times brutal game. However, that play may well have been the last one that we see with Tyrod Taylor donning a Bills uniform. Make no mistake about it, this Jaguars team is one of the best pass defenses in the league — we knew it would be a struggle. However, there were clear as day opportunities that were missed by Taylor all through the game — and especially when they needed him to hit a big throw, he sailed it too far over the hands of the intended target. Think back to the misfire to an open Deonte Thompson deep down the field, Nick O’Leary in the end zone, heck, even the play that he chose to check into a pass and left it too high for Kelvin Benjamin — even without the pass interference. The Bills made it abundantly clear what they thought about the long-term future of Taylor by benching them ahead of the game against the Los Angeles Chargers in favor of an unknown fifth-round rookie, so with a cap number of $18 million in 2018, they shouldn’t let the fact that they made it to the playoffs jade them from making the tough decision to walk away if they don’t believe in him. Too often with this organization, we’ve seen them try to turn slight short-term success with a quarterback into a long-term option, even when there are clear signs that it might just be fool’s gold. Too many times in 2017, we’ve seen Tyrod Taylor not show up in games that the defense has kept them in. They need much more out of the quarterback position. After all, there’s a pretty clear commonality with this stat:

 

 

The quarterback for that now 19-game streak? You guessed it: Tyrod Taylor. If the Bills don’t believe in the long-term — or even short-term potential of Taylor, they should follow suit of their own examples of summer, by making a tough decision to part ways with a solid starting player to instead surround themselves with someone they believe in, and for the greater good of their long-term roster building operation. I would not be shocked, in the least bit, if the Bills are looking for both a new quarterback and offensive coordinator this offseason — and that’s even with making it to the playoffs this year.

4) The Bills didn’t let Bortles go Full Bortles
- In a game that the Bills could have won, the combination of an inconsistent offense, and not taking advantage of clear opportunities to make game-changing plays is what ultimately did the Bills in. On the defensive side of the ball, Blake Bortles gave them a handful of opportunities to cause a turnover, and the Bills take advantage — not once. Early in the game, Bortles threw a questionable slant with a linebacker close by in coverage. That linebacker happened to be Ramon Humber, and you’d have to think that if it was rookie Matt Milano — who is much more natural in coverage and reacts quicker to a play — it would have at least been batted down if not intercepted deep in Jaguars territory. Tre’Davious White had an opportunity for an interception on a properly jumped route but didn’t complete the play. Later on in the game, when the Jaguars had the ball and were in run-out-the-clock mode, Colt Anderson let a clear interception slip through his hands. These things add up, and because the Bills weren’t able to flip the field well enough, they were left with drive starts deep in their own territory, and just didn’t have enough juice on offense to consistently work down the field against a really good Jaguars defense. Those three plays will be ones that stick in the minds of the Bills in the ‘would’ve, should’ve, could’ve’ category.

5) A hat tip to the run defense
- For the Bills, getting Blake Bortles to become a major player in this game was exactly what they wanted, and it couldn’t have been done without the run defense playing as well as they did for the entire game. It’s been a weakness for them all season, and knowing that’s how the Jaguars wanted to move the ball, they sold out to stop the run and were successful all game. That defensive line and linebacker crew were really overmatched against the Jacksonville offensive line, and they still won at the line of scrimmage with the added personnel. They even came up with a huge stop to even get the ball back after Sean McDermott punted the ball away with about three minutes to play. They’re going to need to overhaul the front-seven this offseason — with the exception of Jerry Hughes — but they deserve a lot of credit for executing their task going into the contest, and making it a close game all the way through.

6) McCoy did everything in his power
- LeSean McCoy wanted this one badly. As he stood in front of his locker, frustrated by another playoff game that was so close to yielding the first playoff win of his career, everyone knows that it certainly wasn’t because of him. McCoy battled through an ankle injury and played really well, rushing for 75 yards and nearly four yards per carrying against as good a defense that exists in the NFL. The effort he showed, and the ability to push aside the pain to make the Bills offense tolerable at times deserves all the credit in the world. The silver lining to this is that now he doesn’t have to try and push through the injury for a second straight week, and instead can let it fully heal to start the offseason and to get ready for next year. McCoy, despite his age, still has a lot of game left — that much is clear by how explosive he still is. The Bills will need to address the backup running back position at some point in the draft, but McCoy should — and likely will — remain the workhorse for a team that hopes to continue their ascension as they continue to build the roster the way they want.

7) An issue all season, lack of depth was costly
- In several key areas, when the Bills needed a play — or needed more from certain positions, they were left in a spot where they couldn’t take advantage of the opportunities that were presented because of a lack of depth. This has been an issue for the entirety of the season, but it hasn’t been challenged as much due to the Bills being remarkably healthy through much of the season. However, look all over the roster. At linebacker, Ramon Humber missed an opportunity for an interception. At safety, Colt Anderson — who was in for the injured Micah Hyde — let an interception go through his hands. When Tre’Davious White briefly left the game, they had midseason pickup Lafayette Pitts out there in a key moment in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. On offense, the backup running back position has been poor all season and they had nothing without McCoy in the game. These are all one game examples of the fact that they’ve been playing with fire, at a lot of different positions, for much of the year. Building the critical middle of the roster, in addition to the top, will be vital to them moving forward.

Bills MVP: RB LeSean McCoy
- Gaining the type of yards he did against a good defense on a bum ankle is good enough to win MVP in my book.

Bills LVP: OC Rick Dennison and QB Tyrod Taylor
- Both really struggled with play calls, decision making, and when the Bills needed a throw, Taylor wasn’t there to step up and make it.

Draft Order Update: The Bills will have the 21st and 22nd selections in the 2018 NFL Draft

Up Next: Locker room cleanout, followed by the season-ending press conference with Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane

Final Thoughts:
- Well, here we are… at the end of the Buffalo Bills season — and a week later than most of us expected. If you take off the analytical glasses of this one game example, 2017 is a humongous success for the Buffalo Bills. Given their roster, going 9-7 was a clear indication that the Bills have finally found the right guy at head coach, and he helped keep them mentally tough throughout the season to help them overachieve and get to the playoffs way ahead of schedule. Did they expect to get to the playoffs this year, realistically? With the way that they were building the roster in the summer months, you’d have to think it caught them a bit off guard, too — but they went with it, and it took them all the way to Wild Card weekend. Now, they enter the most critical offseason of the Sean McDermott-Brandon Beane regime. It will be the first time they're paired together in Buffalo for free agency and the NFL Draft, and in a year that they will likely look to draft a quarterback early on, building the team around it is also incredibly important. Furthermore, figuring out if Rick Dennison is the man they want to march forward with as offensive coordinator — likely with a new young quarterback to mold — needs to be the top priority of the offseason. With how much the players bought into what Sean McDermott was doing, you’d have to think the Bills O.C. job will generate some strong interest — and certainly not a lack of money with Terry and Kim financially backing the potential hire. That said, there will be plenty of time to digest and discuss the potential of the offseason, but there’s one thing that’s easy to see: the Bills are in the right hands going into the offseason, for the first time in a very, very long time, and Bills fans should feel very optimistic about their future going forward with Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

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