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Joe B: 7 observations from Buffalo Bills - Miami Dolphins (12/2/18)

Joe B: 7 observations from Buffalo Bills - Miami Dolphins (12/2/18)
Posted at 9:49 PM, Dec 02, 2018

The Buffalo Bills, even though a valiant effort was given, came up just shy of winning their third straight game, and instead fell to the Miami Dolphins 21-17. And even though they lost, fans of the Buffalo Bills have to be pretty pleased with how the team — and one man specifically — performed along the way.

The Bills have made it no secret that the 2018 season is about developing their youth and establishing a base for long-term, sustained success. It all starts with Josh Allen, and by showing what he did against the Dolphins, it makes fans might feel like it might have been worth the wait.

Seven observations from the Bills loss to the Dolphins:

1)  Allen shows special traits in his new best game
- It wasn’t perfect and even had some weaker throws that Allen would have wanted to have back, but a light went on for the rookie quarterback Josh Allen after he threw his second interception of the game. Allen, unlike any way we’ve ever seen him before, started to take over the game — a phrase rarely used about a Bills quarterback over the last two decades. From that moment forward, it didn’t matter if Allen was trying to tuck the ball and run, or if he was trying to move the ball through the air — he was electric down the stretch of the game. So much so, that when the Bills got the ball back at the end of the game, there weren’t many feelings of skepticism from the fan base about his ability to lead them to a game-winning touchdown. That standard skepticism that Bills fans have worn like a security blanket for years was replaced by hope and a slight bit of confidence. While Allen has his share of misfires through the game, he also almost single-handedly won them the game, too. The throws from the pocket in tight coverage over the middle of the field get all the attention, but his near-hits in clutch moments of the game — the 66-yard in-air bomb to Robert Foster that nearly connected, and the back shoulder throw to Zay Jones that barely fell incomplete — should draw just as much. To see a quarterback go for those highly difficult throws is refreshing in itself, especially considering the purgatorial nature of the Bills quarterback position recently. Allen warmed up as the game went on. Early, he left the pocket a bit too soon a few times and made some questionable decisions with his throws. But as the game continued you could see Allen settling in and growing with confidence with each successful throw or run. When he’s on, it’s somewhat unfair to the defense. The linebackers were no match for Allen’s running ability, and it’s what helped the Bills have as much success through the air as they did. Should a team choose to spy his running ability, he has the throwing chops to make them pay. And if they don’t? Well, he can run it well, too. His throw on the interception could have been placed a bit better, but Allen — without question — had his coming out party as a rookie quarterback. The Bills have to continue along and find some consistency in his final four games in which to build from for the 2019 season but to say that Allen wasn’t impressive in accounting for 366 of the team’s 415 total yards reeks of someone that’s trying too hard. Allen isn’t all the way there yet and sometimes runs cold, but he’s limiting his negative plays a lot more these days while winning more from the pocket. I’m just 12 weeks of the season, we’ve seen some real growth — and in turn, the investment from the fan base in him being the potential answer they’ve been waiting for has grown right there with it.

2) Allen’s big moment falls right through Charles Clay’s hands
- It was all there for the Bills. Josh Allen performed something close to a circus act than the usual motions of a quarterback in the pocket to buy his receivers ample time and opportunity. By doing so, Allen helped break down the Dolphins coverage so much that they forgot about Clay in the opposite side of the end zone on 4th down with the game on the line. Allen reared back and let it fly, and although it wasn’t a perfect throw by any means, it was good enough to hit Clay in the hands. The hands of the starting tight end that has one of the most significant contracts on the offense. The hands of a starter that has failed to make an impact. The hands of a player that could be entering the final month of his time with the Bills if he doesn’t pick it up. And those hands, the same ones that Clay works on tirelessly at practice every day, failed him. Predictably, he was devastated, so it’s perfectly fine to feel for the guy, but you also have to wonder what a failed opportunity like this means to his future. The Bills, at long last, can get out from under the contract of Clay in the offseason while bringing them more cap savings. Now, the Bills have quite a bit of cap space, have the room to keep him around, and indeed aren’t in the business of sending away playmaking skill players on offense. However, if the production doesn’t match the contract — and with the current regime not being the ones to sign him, you’d have to think that Clay could be spending his final month in Buffalo in December. He has four games to turn it around, but dropping that pass in that spot might have sealed his fate.

3) The McCoy mystery rages on
- In professional sports, you never want to be too quick to fall prey to a streak or slump if it’s a small sample size. However, if that slump is prolonged and becomes a trend that extends over 75-percent of the season, it’s fair to wonder what’s going on — and that’s just what has happened with Bills running back LeSean McCoy. The Bills are through 12 games of the season, and of those 12 games, McCoy has been available to them in full for ten. There has been only one game — the Jets game before the bye — that McCoy has looked like the player that he was in 2017 and earlier in his career. Many will be quick to blame the offensive line in defense of McCoy -- and they deserve some, too -- but when you see the team's top runner routinely take a more difficult route to try and gain more yards as opposed to what is given and not having the speed to pull it off, there are alarm bells that start to ring. Even with poor offensive line play in his past, McCoy still has managed to have excellent seasons because of all the skills he possesses to make people miss. Those, quite frankly, haven't been there enough in 2018. Outside of an 18-yard gain at the end of the first half in which the Dolphins sold out to stop the deep pass, McCoy could not get anything going on the ground once again. Subtracting that 'gimmie' of an 18-yard run, that leaves McCoy's stat line with just 34 yards on 14 carries -- and a 2.4 yards-per-carry average. There have been many crutches that could have been leaned on for McCoy's lack of production, whether it be the offensive line, the lack of a passing attack, or a negative game script. However, none of those have been an issue each of the last two weeks, and the disconnect remains. The common denominator is simple. McCoy just hasn't been good enough for the Bills, and the less he does over the final four games will give the Bills more of an emphasis to address the running back position substantially during the offseason.

4) The defense did enough to win the game
- As they have been doing for much of the season, you can't ask for much more out of the defense than what they gave on the road. Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill is good for a handful of great throws during any given game, but often fades into the background as the time ticks away. And while he made a couple of dynamite throws for scores, only allowing 21 points in today's NFL should have been enough to get them the victory. There wasn't much to the Miami passing attack, their running game never got going, and had it not been for a botched punt return the Bills might have only surrendered the two touchdowns in the game -- which would have been good enough to win. The play of the defense overall was superb, and individual efforts from the likes of Lorenzo Alexander, Matt Milano, Micah Hyde and Shaq Lawson all standout and add to the Bills having as much success to limit the Dolphins to only 175 yards of offense on the game. Against a bit of an underrated offensive line, the Bills penetrated the backfield and got pressure on Tannehill. Whether it was Alexander's spin move through the line for a stop that made him look 10 years younger than he is, Hyde's high pointed interception, countless Milano tackles at or near the line of scrimmage, or Lawson's pressure on Tannehill, they all combined for a collectively good effort. Now if the Bills can keep that trending the right way in 2019 when they have some offensive firepower through the offseason, they could be in business.

5) Jordan Phillips, what are you thinking?
- It had to be quite the feeling for reserve defensive tackle Jordan Phillips coming back to Miami. The team that used a Day Two selection on him also chose to give up on him, placing him on waivers with some not-so-flattering details coming to boot. With it being in Miami, he wanted this game to go well for him more than any other game remaining on the schedule and playing with a certain edge in a game as personally meaningful to a person as that one is common. However, Phillips took it over the top. While yes, he felt scorned by the team that drafted him for giving up on him, that's also a standard practice throughout the league for reserve players and Phillips couldn't help himself. Right from the start of the game, anytime he would be involved with a play, he would march a few steps over toward the Miami sideline, staring at all of them and gave a prolonged clap. This act continued through the game, so you would think that the referees were already on alert. Then, after making a fantastic tackle for a four-yard loss in the backfield, Phillips knowingly took the foot of Kenyan Drake and whipped it forward because it was slightly in his way. That is where it crossed the line for an already on-alert officiating crew, and it was an easy call of taunting for them. It ruined the Bills from having a 2nd-and-14 from the Buffalo 22-yard line, which indeed would have reduced the odds of them scoring a go-ahead touchdown and instead likely having to settle for a game-tying field goal. Phillips helped make a stop on the next play and continued with his prolonged clapping while staring at the Miami bench -- which was toeing the line right after just receiving a penalty for taunting. You have to be self-aware and pick your spots, and to put your team at a disadvantage because you can't handle the moment is an inexcusable one that he should learn from -- and one that the Bills aren't usually that enthralled with their players taking. McDermott took him out immediately after that, to help save the Bills from a penalty and to help save Phillips from himself in making another costly mistake.

6) Zay Jones adds to his 2018 progress
- Although Zay Jones went without a catch last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he still played a considerable role as a key blocker on big impact plays for the Bills. The team also only completed eight passes on the game. However, against Miami, Jones got back on the stat sheet for the generally accepted statistics for wide receivers and showed both a knack for making plays and tough catches. His touchdown reception over the middle of the field was a thing of beauty, as was his work to find a weak spot in the back of the end zone for his first touchdown. Later in the game, Jones' toe-tapping catch along the sidelines only increased Allen's confidence in him, too. While Jones may never be that top dog of a wide receiver in the NFL, he can make for a solid second-option in an offense that can string together a few great plays every game. Like other young players do, Jones possibly made an error on his route in the end zone for the almost touchdown and then barely missing the back-shoulder throw from Allen on third down of the final drive of the game. However, those mistakes aren't paired with a disappearing act anymore. They're trying to turn him into an all-around wide receiver, and it seems to be working in his second year. Plus the fact, in today's NFL, the 'stud' wide receiver is becoming increasingly less common. With how increasingly challenging it is becoming to transition from college to the NFL at the position, it's taking a lot of these wide receivers time on task to learn how to do the job correctly -- with only the hardest workers getting ahead. It seems Jones is on the right path, but like most other young players on the roster, just needs to find the week in, week out consistency.

7) It's time to start wondering about Danny Crossman
- Head coach Sean McDermott is not usually a person that doles out criticism in a press conference setting. That is, except for the performance of special teams through the 2018 season. Whether the struggles have stemmed from punting, or penalties during returns, in making poor decisions on returns, or in the coverage itself, McDermott has made it clear repeatedly that it hasn't been good enough. Ultimately, the one man that all falls on is special teams coordinator Danny Crossman -- the only coach in the building to have survived it from the Doug Marrone years, through Rex Ryan's tenure, and into the new McDermott era. With new punter Matt Darr having struggled in his first game, the Bills could be on to their fourth punter of the 2018 season before too long. This season has been a bit of a game changer for special teams coordinators with all the new rules in place, and it's fair to wonder if that has been the catalyst for such a downturn in production with Crossman's units. The Bills keep a ton of players on the roster that are special teams only types -- a lot more than many other teams do, in fact -- so for Crossman to see struggles that consistently makes you wonder if the Bills might be considering making a change there at the end of the season.

Bills MVP: QB Josh Allen
- He accounted for 366 of the team's 415 yards. Yeah, that's alright.

Bills LVP: TE Charles Clay
- A low impact on a big passing day and he dropped the game-winner. The latter fact trumps all else.

Up Next: The Bills (4-8) take on the New York Jets (3-9) at New Era Field on Sunday, December 9 at 1:00 pm.

Draft Order Update: The Bills currently hold the 8th overall draft pick through 12 games of the season.

Final Thoughts:
- For the second straight week, fans of the Buffalo Bills were treated to something they hadn't been accustomed to in previous years. For the first time in a long time, hope and optimism regarding the quarterback position and what it had the potential of becoming made the actual result of the game -- a loss in this case -- as meaningless as a loss could feel. Josh Allen has had a grand effect over the last two games on the psyche of the fanbase because of how much talent he possesses, and the flashes he shows of potentially being able to harness it on a weekly basis. The front office and coaching staff preached about building the roster the right way and having to have a great quarterback to be able to win consistently in the league, and while they aren't anywhere close to knowing if Allen will develop into that player, there are promising signs wherever you look. Allen has single-handedly turned the general malaise for the final four games of a playoff-less season into a required and appointment viewing for their fans. People want to see what Allen will do next, and what it could mean for the future. The struggles from early in the season have made 2018 feel a bit arduous at times, but this was part of the promise of using a year as a building block as the Bills have. They're scratching the surface on what could be if they continue to develop the young Allen the correct way. And a game like this Miami one, where Bills fans started to build confidence in their young quarterback with the game on the line, is one that will go a long way for all parties involved moving forward. Finding that consistency with Allen through the final four games will be vital to them as the offseason comes into view, but it's hard not to be impressed with how Allen has played, and how much he's progressed since he's returned from his injury. The one thing I know to be true, fans will be hanging on his every throw through the final four weeks -- and that's just how it should be if a young quarterback shows promise in his rookie season.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

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