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Joe B: 7 observations from Buffalo Bills - Los Angeles Chargers (11/19/17)

Joe B: 7 observations from Buffalo Bills - Los Angeles Chargers (11/19/17)
Posted at 11:36 PM, Nov 19, 2017

The Buffalo Bills, for the third straight week, were completely decimated at the hands of their opponents. This time around, considering the team they were up against, the drubbing was a complete surprise — and it has uncovered a lot of deeper issues that are now being exploited on a weekly basis with this team.

The Bills had no answer all game long to a lot of different questions, and really, all that’s been done is the uncovering of more questions about both the short and long-term direction of this team. The Bills suffered their third blowout loss in a row, this time a 54-24 defeat to the Los Angeles Chargers.

How did we get here? Seven observations from the game: 

1) Peterman’s first start an absolute disaster
- Well, it certainly started out well for Nathan Peterman. The rookie quarterback connected on a couple of early passes on his first drive of the game — including a great throw over the middle of the field to Kelvin Benjamin that yielded 20 yards. What happened from there, will be the recurring nightmare for Peterman for the foreseeable future. The first interception wasn’t his fault, having a rollout pass go right off of fullback Patrick DiMarco’s hands and into the waiting arms of a defender running in stride toward the Bills’ end zone. Everything else that happened in the first half of a game that couldn’t have possibly gone worse for him, was on the rookie quarterback. On interceptions two, three, four, and five… Peterman made questionable decisions — whether it be throwing the ball while getting crushed, sailing a ball too high, or throwing it behind his intended target on a timing play — they all resulted in the same way: a turnover and a shortened field that the Chargers mostly took advantage of. Mercifully, head coach Sean McDermott put him out of his misery after the first half — and even then many wondered what took the coach so long to do it. Now, the Bills have to be very careful with the rookie quarterback. This was the type of game that can potentially scar a young player for a long, long time. He is a young player, so they have to be quite cognizant of the fact that the next time they choose to use him has to be in a learning way, and it almost has to be in more of a controlled environment. That went about as poorly as it possibly could have for him, so he’ll likely need to battle some confidence issues with that being his first career start, and in a national spotlight nonetheless considering how much was made of McDermott’s decision. At the start of the game, he looked ready for the moment. As things unraveled, it was clear — the rookie wasn’t mentally ready for the adversity that he faced. You shouldn’t write him off as a player to develop by any means, but the Bills need to get back to doing just that: developing him, and try and turn him into a long-term option as a backup quarterback. Just as long as it’s going to stick in his craw, fans of the Bills are going to have that same effect whenever his name gets brought up as an option.

2) If it’s the playoffs they’re after, Tyrod needs to start against Kansas City
- Had Peterman thrown a touchdown and three interceptions, kept it relatively close, and still suffered the loss, there could have been a plausible way for Sean McDermott to come to the podium on either Monday or Wednesday and declare that Peterman was the starter next Sunday. After the way the rookie played on Sunday, there is no way he could ever explain to fans that he believes Peterman gives his team the best chance to win in a spot where the playoffs (even though it looks bleak at the moment) are still on the table. Even more than the reaction from fans, he has to really consider what that does to the locker room if he were to go back to the rookie of the veteran Tyrod Taylor — a player that has a tremendous amount of respect with a lot of his teammates in the locker room. They all said and did the right things when talking to the media after the fact, but, they cannot try and float the idea that they honestly believe Peterman gives them the best chance to win against the Kansas City Chiefs. It is painfully clear that Peterman was not ready for the moment, and with the hopes and dreams of ending the playoff drought in 2017. Taylor is the better option for the here and now if having the best team to try and piece together a Wild Card berth is the end goal. However, if it isn’t — if this is now all about putting a torpedo in the rest of the season and losing out for draft picks… that would be the only plausible reason for letting the rookie run out there for his second start. Knowing the way McDermott works and how he approaches things, I would be truly shocked if they announced that anyone but Taylor would be starting against the Chiefs.

3) Rick Dennison should be on the hot seat
- This has been an ongoing discussion throughout the season, but the byproduct of a third straight putrid offensive performance has put the spotlight directly on it: Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison should be on the hot seat, and if not now, the Bills need to take a long and hard look at the job that he’s done, and whether or not he’s the man they want moving forward to lead this offense. Dennison, throughout 10 games, has done all of the following: he tried to force Tyrod Taylor to run plays that were not best for his skill set just because that was his offense, he eventually started to shift into old principles from last season but then devolved into predictable play calling, and then he likely had at least a shaping opinion of what the Bills should do at the quarterback position ahead of the Los Angeles Chargers game. And when he finally got the quarterback that fit his system better, it went to complete hell. The reason that Dennison should be on the hot seat, though, is not about this season. It’s about more than the 2017 season. The Bills really have to take a hard look at the offensive coordinator and decide if he, and his principles/system that he seems hesitant to change, is the right thing to mold a potential first-round quarterback. That’s where this whole thing is headed right now. The Bills, by starting Peterman, clearly don’t have faith in Taylor for the long-term and the Bills have enough evidence already with Peterman to decide that they should probably find a player at that position — and with an early pick. Can Dennison and his system be trusted enough to mold a quarterback the way that they want? McDermott is a defensive coach by trade, which means the other side of the ball is the coordinator’s baby. If the Bills have any hesitation whatsoever about Dennison being the guy to help mold a young quarterback, they need to cut ties with him at the end of the season — and really out of nothing more than self-preservation. Odds are, they’re only going to have one crack at finding the franchise quarterback that can lead them to the sustained success they so desire, so they have to have maximum trust in the person that is going to be working with that player closer than anyone else. If it’s me, and seeing what we’ve seen through his first year on the job, I don’t know how you can have full confidence in him to do the exact thing that the franchise has been lacking for years on end: drafting and properly developing a long-term answer at quarterback.

4) Run defense is still getting run over
- All the talk of keeping gap integrity and tackling better is still a pretty glaring problem, even though the stats were much better than what we saw one week ago from the defense. Once again, the opposing team was doing it the same way — right up the middle of the field and forcing missed tackles at the second level. It didn’t matter if it was Melvin Gordon or Austin Ekeler, opportunity upon opportunity was missed by the run defense — and specifically by the defensive tackles and linebackers. The Bills started to work Matt Milano into the game later on, but he needs to be starting. This is now three weeks in a row that the run defense was gashed and they’ve kept most everyone the same up the middle of the defense. It doesn’t matter if it’s for Ramon Humber or for Lorenzo Alexander, Milano and the promise that he has shown in his limited time on the field needs to get more run. And quite literally, as much as McDermott likes to pontificate it, that move is one that is best for both the short and long-term.

5) Getting eaten up over the middle of the field
- However, the Chargers also brought up a familiar foe that had been lost over the past couple weeks of their running woes: stopping pass plays over the middle of the field. And boy oh boy, did Keenan Allen eat them up over the middle — as countless other players had done earlier in the season. Allen got loose to catch 12 passes on 13 targets for 159 yards and two touchdowns — and probably could have had 200-plus if the Bills were even remotely competitive in this game for the long haul. Nickel corner Leonard Johnson, while an effective tackler, loses a step on his assignment in the middle of the field constantly — which is kind of an important part of the job. Lorenzo Alexander is not a trustable entity in coverage, and Ramon Humber really struggles with that as well — which is more reason as to why Matt Milano should be starting at one of the two outside linebacker positions, and taking basically every defensive snap alongside Preston Brown. They can’t just do the same things over and over again with the same personnel and expect different results. They need to switch things up and hope they get something different — because what they’ve gotten for three weeks in a row now is a blowout loss and a performance from the defense that has caused any hopes for a comeback in the game to vanish completely.

6) Injuries to insult
- And if it needed to get any worse for the Buffalo Bills, they had injuries to two players that were as important to the final six games of the season as you’ll find: wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and safety Micah Hyde. Benjamin showed so much potential in the first series of the Saints game and in garbage time, and in the first series of the Chargers game — and if he has to miss any extended time through the rest of the season, the Bills will be out both the third-round pick they gave up for him, and the player himself. Hyde, even though he hasn’t been as noticeable as Jordan Poyer, has been one of the best defenders on a struggling unit, and has the consistency that a lot of other players just don’t. Each player is dealing with a knee injury, and if the Bills have to go on to Kansas City without them, it’s certainly going to be a struggle against a Chiefs team that is looking to win in the worst way after a 1-4 stretch.

7) At least McCoy had some success
- While there was not a lot of good to take away from the Bills loss to Los Angeles Chargers, the best aspect of the game to build on was the way the rushing attack got back in order a bit. They didn’t have many opportunities to against the New Orleans Saints because the game was already well in hand at that point, and they only used McCoy for 50-percent of the offensive snaps. However, McCoy was able to find some success and the offensive line did a good enough job in run blocking to make some room for him. The same can be said for the offensive line and McCoy against the Chargers, as the Bills found multiple opportunities for ample yards once they got to the second-level of the defense. The offensive lines surely had their issues in protecting whichever quarterback was on the field (most notably, Jordan Mills at right tackle), but when they had to run block, they did a pretty solid job. That’s about it for positives from that nightmare of a performance.

Bills MVP: RB LeSean McCoy
- 114 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown. He showed up, the rest of the team, however, did not.

Bills LVP: QB Nathan Peterman
- Five interceptions in one half of football. I don’t know that I’ll ever see, in person, an implosion of one first half from a quarterback again.

Up Next: The Bills (5-5) take on the Kansas City Chiefs (6-4) at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, November 26.

Final Thoughts:
- At the beginning of the practice week, head coach Sean McDermott boldly declared that Nathan Peterman would be his starting quarterback this week, that he believed what he was doing was a calculated risk to try and build a championship level team and to win in both the short-term and the long-term, and that he believed in the good work that Peterman had done throughout the last two-and-a-half months of practice. And I respected the gumption to make the decision when he did. However… it blew up in his face, and quite spectacularly. There is no possible way he can hope to keep the trust of the players inside the locker room if he were to make Nathan Peterman the starter next weekend against Kansas City. Just as much as the Bills have to be careful with Peterman through the final portion of the season, McDermott has to be very careful that the decisions he makes don't alienate the players within his locker room. The Bills have a lot of issues right now — even more than just Peterman’s five first-half interceptions — but it all starts at the quarterback position. As for the defense, we’ve seen an incredibly rapid regression to the mean over the last three weeks, and the defense has been exposed and exploited for their specific weaknesses. I think what we’re seeing now is the team that we all expected to see when the season was about to begin has arrived. The specific issues — a lack of depth, players in starting positions on the defensive side of the ball that simply aren’t of starting caliber, and an offense that has some glaring questions about the coordinator that’s running the show. This team has crashed back to the surface after being sky high following the win over the Oakland Raiders. Now with the possibility of a five-game losing streak being an outright probable outcome, the questions continue to build about where this team is going — both in the short and long-term. But now with the door being slammed shut on Peterman and with a lack of faith from the staff in Taylor, the vision for the 2018 offseason is now clear: to find a potential franchise quarterback and leaving no stone unturned in doing so. This is also a precious time for McDermott and how he handles his team from here on out and could define what his reputation is within the locker room based on what he decides to do next. It all sets up, despite the record, for quite a compelling finish to the 2017 season.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia