For the second straight week, the Buffalo Bills looked as though the start of the game hit them by surprise. In the debut of their rookie quarterback, the Bills found themselves down 28-3 at one point, and with another game that looked both as though they were helpless and hapless.
However, in the second half, the Bills showed signs of life. And while it was too little, too late, the Bills had some things they could take away from the 31-20 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers -- even if they are now 0-2 to start the 2018 season.
So, what can we take away from a memorable Week Two loss? Seven observations from the Bills-Chargers game:
1) Josh Allen's signs of life and room for improvement
- Let's not beat around the bush. The first half, in every phase of the game for the Bills, was brutal. The offense couldn't get themselves established for the second straight week, and the game seemed as though it was over well before the final whistle. However, how Josh Allen and the offense responded in the second half is something that the Bills can draw some positivity from in their review of the game. The rookie quarterback came out and moved the offense efficiently, culminating with a touchdown to start the second half which was the catalyst for a bit more energy on the Bills' sideline. Throughout the game, there were throws for fans to hang their hat on, too. Allen's bomb in the first half to Zay Jones where it effortlessly traveled 60 yards, the rocket throw on the run and rolling left to Andre Holmes where he correctly identified a player was getting open and had the arm to get it there, and then the Kelvin Benjamin touchdown at the end of the game. However, paired with those are decisions that he needs to learn from if he's going to evolve this season. Whether it was taking too many sacks (that were his fault because the offensive line deserves a hearty amount of blame, too), or trying to force a throw as he's getting dragged down by a defender and he winds up throwing an interception, they all lead to the same conclusion. These are teachable moments that Allen must learn from so he can get all of this stuff out of his system in a year where there is no pressure to win. Above all else, the offense looked alive with Allen at the helm -- which is not the same for what they appeared to be with Nathan Peterman as the quarterback. It won't be pretty, but as long as those flashes continue to become more plentiful, the Bills could be on to something. Be prepared to be patient, just as the Bills coaches are willing to be this year.
If you want any further evidence as to what this season is all about to the #Bills in 2018, I submit this from Sean McDermott. "We're a work in progress," "we've got a lot of young guys," and "nobody said it was going to be easy." pic.twitter.com/UHrvt3NmSQ
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) September 16, 2018
2) Sean McDermott's necessary switch
- In the first half of the game, it was more of the same from the Bills on defense. As the Ravens did, the Chargers rolled right through the defense on multiple occasions and racked up a full game's worth of points in just 30 minutes. The red zone defense was horrid once more, allowing another three touchdowns on three attempts, which at one point brought their tally up to nine touchdowns permitted on nine attempts. However, coming out of the half, head coach Sean McDermott just about saw enough. Something needed a change, so he took it upon himself to provide "a spark." The thing is, it worked. McDermott took over calling the plays in the second half of the game from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, and the difference between the first half to the second half was night and day. The Bills were flying to the ball, getting pressure on Chargers QB Phillip Rivers, and just being an overall nuisance to the initially unencumbered offensive attack. The defense had a lot more timing on its calls, a bit more bite to it, and you could tell the defenders looked enthused even though they were in the midst of another blowout. Considering how effective that change was, I don't think there should be any looking back for McDermott. Calling defense is his bread and butter, and he should continue to do so because there is talent on that side of the ball.
3) One of the most bizarre gameday happenings: Vontae Davis
- I cannot go any longer without discussing the Vontae Davis situation -- which will go down as one of the most bizarre game day happenings I'll see in my career as a football journalist. Vontae Davis pulled himself out of the game in the first half, retired mid-game, and quite possibly left the stadium without the game even being close to over. It's such an unusual situation that we may never see again, and one that you only imagine happening in television series or movies. However, no matter if Davis felt as though this was the right decision for him and his family and walking away from the game standing upright -- which are all things I can understand from a humanistic viewpoint -- he comes across as incredibly selfish and will likely only be remembered for what he did mid-game. Davis could have pulled himself from the game but stayed on the sideline and continued to show investment in his teammates as the game continued along. He didn't have to leave the stadium at halftime. To NFL players, that is outright betrayal, and it's no wonder that they were all ticked off and aired those thoughts with reporters after the game. Again, I don't want to belittle his reasons for stepping away from the game, because there is more to life than just football for these guys and that's important to remember. However, there is a way to go about things, and that wasn't it. He handled himself without class and without caring about his teammates. All he had to do was wait for an hour-and-a-half to pass, and none of this happens. His teammates deserved much more than what he gave them.
4) McDermott deserves criticism for gameday roster
- Now, keeping in mind that the Davis story is one that no head coach ever thinks is going to happen in the midst of a game, Sean McDermott still deserves some heat for the way he structured his active players for this game. For the second week in a row, the Bills decided to dress only four cornerbacks on game day, and for the second week in a row, they suffered an injury that left them woefully understaffed. In Week One, the Bills lost Taron Johnson and were forced to play safety Rafael Bush at nickel corner, and the Bills wound up surrendering a touchdown because of it. Then against the Chargers, the Bills had Phillip Gaines suffer an elbow injury, and he was done for the day, to which Bush had to trot back out there as the nickel corner -- playing out of position once more. By the way, this isn't an isolated incident -- this happened numerous times through the 2017 season where they played with fire by dressing one player too little, and injuries came back to bite them. There is a reason why this is a common problem for the Bills. For some reason, they feel the need to dress a ridiculous amount of special teams-only types -- even though the play of those special teams units have not matched the concern they give for it on the active roster. The Bills dressed an additional running back, a safety, two linebackers, and a wide receiver who primarily operate as core special teams players. Those are precious spots on the gameday roster that can give breathing room and flexibility at most your positions, rather than testing fate too often. Something has to give here, and considering how poorly special teams played through two weeks, the Bills should give serious consideration to cross-training their role players a bit more than just keeping so many special teams only guys.
5) Pass rush finally shows signs of life
- One of the main reasons why the defense had been playing at such a poor level through six quarters was quite rudimentary. The one commonality through it all? There was no pressure on the opposing quarterback to speak of, and the Bills back-seven were just picked apart on an offensive drive after drive. Once McDermott took over the defensive playcalling, it seemed like the defensive ends -- at long last -- finally maintained some pressure on the opposing quarterback and forced sacks, misfires, and helped prevent the Chargers from putting up more points and adding to their already weighty lead. An encouraging sign for the Bills, both Trent Murphy and Jerry Hughes showed some fire at getting by their offensive tackle opposition and getting into the backfield quickly enough -- and it's something the Bills must have from that duo if they want the defense to grow in the way that they think that it can. Considering how poorly Murphy played in Week One, what he did on certain plays in Week Two is something that should have fans a bit optimistic about what he could be -- especially if McDermott continues to call the plays.
6) Offensive line change needs consideration
- For the second straight week, the offensive line was an issue for the Buffalo Bills. While it's tough to know who excelled on a play-to-play basis without seeing the end zone angle of the coaches film, what you can draw from an initial viewing is terrible reps in which the lineman looks lost. For the second straight week, right guard John Miller looked as though he was just a step too slow and a step behind to recognize delayed pressure, which has blown up far too many plays through only two weeks. While it's a difficult thing for any coach to decide when enough is enough and to replace a player that convinced them through the summer that they'd be able to do the job, the Bills should give serious consideration to letting the fifth-round rookie guard Wyatt Teller take over at right guard. Miller is on the last year of his rookie contract, and likely doesn't have a future in Buffalo past 2018 given his level of play in both 2017 and 2018. Teller is a player still with four years left on a manageable contract, and the Bills owe it to themselves to figure out if he can be a part of their long-term solution on the offensive line in a year that they have all but admitted is going to be a down one. Miller had a solid season back in 2016 -- his second year -- but we're slowly but surely finding out that it may have been an anomaly. Teller could represent future gains and a potential answer -- and really, it can't get much worse at right guard. The time to start Teller is now.
7) An unexpected linebacker shuffle
- As the game continued along into the second half, the Bills started giving time to veteran Ramon Humber at weakside linebacker for second-year starter Matt Milano. It was a head-scratching move, especially considering how well Milano played in the Week One blowout loss to the Ravens. This move hasn't been a new thing for the Bills in 2018 -- as McDermott yo-yo'ed Milano in and out of first-team reps during training camp when he wasn't happy with something. Perhaps he keeps trying to teach Milano a lesson, but the difference in talent is undeniable. I guess if there's a year to impress upon the young players what the coaching staff expects from them, it would be this one, but if this trend continues, you can expect to see a lot of weaknesses in pass coverage for the snaps that Humber is out. Milano needs those lessons, but he also needs the snaps to continue to improve on an impressive rookie season.
Bills MVP: QB Josh Allen
- In another down game, despite the two interceptions, the signs of life were as encouraging for the fan base as anything in the game.
Bills LVP: CB Vontae Davis
- No further questions, your honor.
Up Next: Week Three on the road against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, September 23.
- Well here we are, in the spot that many thought the Bills would have been in for the 2017 season -- just one year later. The Bills are seemingly all in on 2018 being a rebuilding effort, using rhetoric like "nobody said it was going to be pretty," and "we're a work in progress." From a long-term rebuilding perspective, it has been something that has long been overdue from the franchise -- but one that needs to happen correctly with the moves that they make to rebuild that roster. The time to get experience to the young players is here, in the hopes that things start to click as the season progresses. The same goes for the long-term free agent signings the Bills have made, in the hope that they are a part of the solution for 2019 and 2020. Not every fan will be onboard for such an, at times, miserable season for the sake of long-term growth, but all that matters, in the end, is that they nail it with the core players that they've identified. Those fans out there that are starting to get the urge to want Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane canned, I've got bad news. They aren't going anywhere. They are as safe as can be and have delivered on every promise they've made to ownership to this point. They have time on their side and the understanding from Terry and Kim Pegula that 2018 likely wasn't going to be a pretty one. This type of season is what the Bills signed up for when they changed the entire building of staff, so this is going according to plan. Whether or not it works remains to be seen, but the broader point to understand is that they knew this was coming. Now, it's a matter of finding those small gains that can turn into long-term solutions. In the end, that's what 2018 is all about.