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Joe B: 7 observations from Buffalo Bills - Miami Dolphins (12/17/17)

Joe B: 7 observations from Buffalo Bills - Miami Dolphins (12/17/17)
Posted at 9:10 PM, Dec 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-17 21:10:51-05

The Buffalo Bills came to New Era Field on Sunday and did precisely what they needed to do: capture a win that they desperately needed on their home turf. The Bills collected the 24-16 victory over the Miami Dolphins — and even though it got a little hairy near the end with a recovered onside kick, it was never really in doubt.

How did they come about the victory and advance to an 8-6 record? Seven observations from the Bills win:

1) Kudos to the passing offense
- Over the last several games — specifically, the ones that Tyrod Taylor started — I’ve been quite critical of the offense’s general lack of consistent production. Over those four games (New York Jets, New Orleans, Kansas City, New England), the passing offense really never did much more than on their opening drive, and all but disappeared into the afternoon. It was clearly holding the Bills back from putting enough points on the board to be a consistent winner, or even led to them barely hanging on for a win in Kansas City. That, however, was not the case against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. To the credit of offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, not only did he have a positive script to start off the game, he kept the Miami defense guessing throughout the rest of the first half as well. He used the strengths of his players against the weaknesses of the Dolphins defenders quite well, and it resulted in Tyrod Taylor’s best game since the team’s victory over the Oakland Raiders. Dennison has come under a lot of fire for how stagnant and predictable the play-calling has been this year — and for good reason. However, if they can put together a solid enough three-game stretch on offense down the stretch of the season — and perhaps even into the playoffs — that might be just enough to convince most over at One Bills Drive, and perhaps some on the fence in the fan base, that he should be given another season. It’s certainly a tricky topic, and one the Bills cannot take lightly this offseason with the likely addition of a rookie quarterback in the offseason.

2) But where did the offense go in the second half?
- However, as a counterpoint to keeping Dennison past the season, there has been a complete disconnect for the offense in the second half of games that they’ve won. Today, the Bills offense was as dynamic as I could remember in the first half. The passing offense was vibrant, creative, Tyrod Taylor was constantly keeping the opposition guessing — it was just a great effort. In the second half? The offense sputtered, gaining a grand total of 83 net yards in the final 30 minutes of action. Now, take it back to Kansas City in the win that they squeaked out there. The Bills held the lead and then hung on for dear life because their offense disappeared in the final two quarters. Over that span of time, the offense only had 69 net yards and the defense had to bail out the Bills offense with turnovers much like they did against Miami. It might be too much to expect from this team, based on all the proof that we have this year, that they can put a four-quarter — or even a three-quarter solid offensive game together. We have too much evidence that points to the contrary, which also needs to be evaluated when it comes to Dennison — and whether or not he’s the right person to trust with the molding of what is likely to be a rookie quarterback next season.

3) The answer with Tyrod Taylor lies in the middle
- Now, you always have to credit when it’s due, and Tyrod Taylor was excellent in the first half against the Dolphins. There’s no way around it. While he had a pair of throws he’d like to have back, he was seeing the field well and throwing the ball accurately to move them down the field. I’m going to rant a little bit because I think there’s a major disconnect going on when it comes to Taylor. For the most part, most fans and media that closely pay attention to this Bills team — and I’m talking watching every game, every snap — really getting involved in the minutia of a game all come away with a pretty similar standpoint: Tyrod is a solid player, not spectacular, flawed, but you can do much worse, and he’s not going to be your franchise quarterback. It is not you I am ranting about, it is you that I’m ranting to. The choir to my preaching, so to speak. Here’s what I do not understand, and it mostly comes from the national media. Why is it, that when Tyrod Taylor has a good game like he did against the Dolphins today, it becomes a “Buffalo doesn’t know what they have in Tyrod Taylor” LOL fest for some, while clearly having short-term amnesia over the last four games we’ve just seen him start. It’s like a sarcastic ostrich that waits for the perfect time to belittle people that closely watch the team and then plunges his/her head into the sand until the next time Taylor has a good game. There are others who also go out of their way to only highlight his flaws and call him a “terrible” quarterback that shouldn’t be starting for the Bills — which is as ludicrous a premise as the one sported by our friend, the ostrich. The answer on Tyrod Taylor is in the middle — and that middle is the reason why for likely the second straight year, an actual NFL general manager has decided that he is not going to be the quarterback of the future — playoffs or no playoffs. That’s two front offices, two head coaches, two different sets of eyes and values in the quarterback situation, and both have come out to the likely same conclusion — that he’s not worth franchise-quarterback level money. He’s a flashy player and is better than almost any other quarterback at escaping pressure when things break down, but there needs to be more substance there. So before you fire off a snarky ‘he’s terrible,’ or ‘Buffalo doesn’t deserve him’ take, immerse yourself in the situation and use some logic before you do the thing in that saying where you assume things.

4) McCoy keys another Bills win
- On a day that he gained his 10,000th career rushing yard, LeSean McCoy has never proved to be more important to the immediate future of the Bills playoff hopes and dreams. At times, they’ve confusingly gone away from him in the second half of games when they needed to get back into it when he very well could have been the man to jumpstart their offense. However, that wasn’t the case on Sunday. The Bills featured McCoy in a big way — while actually giving him a competent backup running back in Travaris Cadet this time around — and the results in the first half was evidence of how important he is. While the offensive line still needs to work some things out in pass blocking, this is a unit that has been run blocking a lot better as of late and McCoy has certainly been the man that exploited all the weaknesses in the defense that the line has opened up. Whether it be through the air or on the ground, McCoy needs to be used as much as any running back in the league. He is their ticket to the playoffs, and if they get down in games, he can be the man that can bust a big play to get them out of the doldrums. There are some things you can overthink in a correct manner in the NFL — but this is not one of them. The Bills need to keep getting their best player the ball as much as possible.

5) A record-setting year at home
- If you’ve seen this on Twitter already, I forgive you. If not, let me pose a question to you. In the 17-year playoff drought, what was the best record at home in an individual season?

I’ll give you a minute.

Only a couple more seconds.

Time’s up. The answer is 5-3 — a mark that they’ve managed to hit six out of the 17 years without the playoffs. On Sunday, with a win over the Miami Dolphins, the Bills clinched their best home record since the drought began: 6-2. Now, their record on the road has been another story — and likely a great correlating reason as to why it’s been this long without a berth in the playoffs, but now, the Bills need just one more win — and likely only a 3-5 road record — because of the stellar mark they’ve set at home. Even though it was a source of some jokes on social media, the Bills have successfully ‘defended their dirt’ against every team that wasn’t an outright Super Bowl contender (New Orleans and New England). Sean McDermott deserves a lot of credit for getting this team to this point, and while Coach of the Year honors should go to Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams, McDermott should be among the top five at the moment for the job that he’s done.

6) Adolphus Washington wasn’t thinking
- The Bills made it a little interesting down the stretch based on the lack of offensive fire in the second half, but the defense made it way more interesting than it needed to be near the end of the game. With a little over eight minutes left to play, the Bills seemingly forced the Dolphins into a 4th-and-goal to go situation with a huge stop as Kenyan Drake tried to bounce a run out wide unsuccessfully. Tempers were definitely flaring at the moment, though Sean McDermott’s team has done a nice job of keeping themselves composed in those scenarios for most of the time. That moment was not one of those times. Rather than running back to the huddle, Adolphus Washington took it upon himself to swipe at the ball to try and knock it out of Drake’s hand while he was sitting well out of bounds — and squarely in front of an official, no less. What did he expect was going to happen by doing something like that? It ended up giving the Dolphins first-and-goal, and they scored two plays later. Washington needs to learn a valuable lesson from that, or else he could be on the outside looking in on some key snaps through the end of the year.

7) Miami inexplicably went away from Kenyan Drake
- Here’s something I don’t understand from the Miami perspective — and it’s a similar critique to what has happened with Buffalo when they’ve been down at times this season… why did they stop feeding the ball to Kenyan Drake? He has clearly been their most explosive playmaker over the last two weeks, and he was gouging the Bills run defense in the first quarter of the game. And then… poof… he was gone until basically the fourth quarter. While Jay Cutler was doing his once-every-few-weeks-implosion thing, they got away from the player that helped them to a major upset victory on Monday night. The Bills certainly won’t be complaining anytime soon, but I believe that was a case of overthinking things for Miami. The Bills are, and have been susceptible to running backs like Drake that can make a little something out of nothing… but they refused to make him the centerpiece when they got down. It doesn’t make any sense, and I’d anticipate that’s one of their big adjustments when these two teams square off down in South Florida in a couple of weeks.

Bills MVP: RB LeSean McCoy
- You can’t really give it to anyone other than the man that led the way in the first half with two touchdowns, and certainly not on the day he gained his 10,000th rushing yard in his career.

Bills LVP: DT Adolphus Washington
- He needs to be better than that, and I bet he likely hasn’t heard the last of that gaffe from either his coaches, teammates, or both.

Up Next: The Bills (8-6) are up against the New England Patriots (11-3) on the road at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, December 24.

Final Thoughts: 
- Well, here we are… the Bills are 8-6 on the season and have two incredibly compelling weeks of football on the horizon against two divisional foes, and this Bills team — because of who they are, where they are within the confines in this regime, and what they probably should be based on the talent that they have — deserves all the credit in the world for being in this spot. Make no mistake about it, this is the best chance at ending the playoff drought since the 2004 season — and we all remember that heartbreaking loss for the Bills against the Pittsburgh Steelers and a man by the name of Willie Parker. However, in a down AFC, with teams seemingly doing things in their power to not make the playoffs (Tennessee losing to San Francisco, how you doing?), the Bills can get in with one win and a few other things to go their way. Is it a guarantee? No, it certainly isn’t, but to a certain degree they control their destiny and I, for one, am impressed by Sean McDermott establishing the “culture” that actually practice the accountability that they preach. They’re a selfless and less-talented squad outperforming where they probably should be — a plucky bunch if you will. No matter if they make it to the playoffs or not, the following is unavoidable: the Bills sure feel like they’re in the right hands with McDermott at the helm — and they’ll carry as much optimism into 2018 as we’ve likely seen in some time around this town.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia