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Joe B: 7 observations from Buffalo Bills - Minnesota Vikings (9/23/18)

Joe B: 7 observations from Buffalo Bills - Minnesota Vikings (9/23/18)
Posted at 8:46 PM, Sep 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-23 21:55:04-04

The Buffalo Bills traveled to Minnesota and did just what no one expected them to. Up against a more talented roster in the Vikings in a daunting road stadium, all the Bills did was dominate from start to finish.

The Bills claimed their first victory of the season, a 27-6 road win, and changed the short-term scope of the conversation about them in the meantime. Through the first three weeks, head coach Sean McDermott has been consistent with saying that it's still early and they are looking to grow their roster this season.

Well, the team jumped up a year or two in their adolescent development with a win over a tough team on the road, in the hopes that this is a win they can look back on as a building block heading into 2019 and 2020.

How did it all unfold? Seven observations from the Bills' win:

1) Allen takes a notable step forward
- Coming into the Week Three matchup with the Vikings, rookie quarterback Josh Allen was in what many considered to be an unenviable spot. He was up against a tough opponent in the Vikings -- with a super-talented defense --  and in front of a raucous crowd that is well known for the noise they bring every time the Vikings are at home. Everything had been set up for the Bills to have a pretty convincing loss, and for this challenge being a bit too much for the rookie. Except, it wasn't. Allen, as he showed during the summer -- and even in the first two weeks -- never seemed to allow the moment get too big for him. It goes back to something I've been noticing from him since the days of the preseason, which is just a good form of being naive. It's something I asked several of his teammates about, and they saw it, too. No matter the circumstance, Allen always seems collected -- and that's just what happened against the Vikings. Now, I will say he was fortunate a time or two, but in all, Allen showed he could perform the offense the way the Bills want him too in an extremely hostile environment. That leads me to where we really saw some growth from Allen, and it's something that had to be a talking point for the Bills this week. Almost a week ago, on Monday afternoon, offensive coordinator got up to the podium. It was mostly a ho-hum press conference, with Daboll usually just as affable as he is careful in what he says. However, when the offensive line and the number of sacks they've given up, his demeanor visibly changed, and he defended the front five by saying that a large portion of the sacks is not the fault of the offensive line. Part of that falls at the feet of the tight ends and running backs in pass protection, but even more of that falls on Allen, who had been holding on to the ball for far too long in his first two games. The talking point worked, as Allen was staying with his keys and reads, finding his receivers in space, and if they didn't have the separation, he wanted the internal clock was on time enough for him to leave the pocket and make a play with his legs. There was only a time -- maybe two -- that Allen held on to the ball too long, which is a massive improvement from what we witnessed in the first two losses of the season. That's not to say this area of his game is no longer a problem, but it can be a gateway to developing that internal clock further -- even when the game plan calls for him to push the ball down the field more than he did. And of course, the Bills hope that it coincides with when they can surround him with more talented receivers, and when the Bills find themselves out of the rebuild mode and more into the 'we need to win now,' mindset. It wasn't a perfect day for Allen, but this is a good launching point for him -- especially considering his Giannis Antetokounmpo style hurdle of Anthony Barr (a party trick, mind you, that the Bills would likely prefer he doesn't do again). Bills fans have to be happy with the rookie's second start of his career.

2) Hughes, the pass rush, dominates
- Ahead of the game, there weren't a lot of areas on the field that tilted in favor of the Bills. However, the one that had the potential for exploitation, and for perhaps a closer game than many had been imagining, was the Bills' defensive line against the Vikings' offensive line. However, it was tough to predict, seeing as how the previous two weeks showed a Bills pass rush that barely got pressure on the opposing quarterback for 75-percent of the quarters they played. However, something clicked in the second half of their Week Two loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, because now it has turned into the strength they had been envisioning following all of the high profile moves that they made. Trent Murphy played well again, Star Lotulelei had his best game as a member of the Bills so far, and Kyle Williams was pushing blockers into the backfield. However, all of that pales in comparison to Jerry Hughes and his outright demolition of Vikings left tackle Riley Reiff. It's especially impressive, considering that Reiff is a good player in the NFL and someone the Vikings gave a lot of money to in the 2017 offseason. Hughes torched him time and time again, getting the best of him with his speed rush more often than not. The last six quarters of football for Hughes have been especially impressive, and I'd imagine that when the Bills head to Green Bay, left tackle David Bakhtiari has some help to deal with Hughes -- out of self-preservation if nothing else.

3) Milano should not leave the field
- During the 27-6 win, I thought the play of the Bills' two young linebackers particularly stood out. For Tremaine Edmunds, it was a bounce-back game that he sorely needed -- especially after the second quarter unraveling he had in coverage against the Chargers. However, second-year weakside linebacker made several game-altering plays and continued his trend of being one of the best Bills players on the field -- at least in my opinion. He was flying all over the field, and while the interception, fumble recovery, and sack will be the lead for many, it was his ability to get skinny against would-be block attempts and to have the closing speed to break up pass attempts over the middle of the field that stood out for me. It is for all of these reasons that I still don't have an idea as to why the Bills continue to give Ramon Humber time on the field over Milano. Perhaps they see the potential in Milano, and they want to keep him motivated the best way they think they can, but what's the cost? In coverage, the opponents target Humber, and he also isn't a sure tackler -- to which he showed that trait again on Sunday. Milano can be a special player in this defensive scheme, and I think the Bills know it. That's the only reason I can come up with for why Milano comes off the field for as many snaps as he does.

4) White is entering a new realm at CB
- In 2017, Tre'Davious White took the starting lineup by storm for the Bills and became as dependable a rookie cornerback as you'll find. Opponents routinely tested him as the season went on -- even having the occasional success -- though White settled in and turned into one of the best defenders on the team. Through the first three weeks of the 2018 season, White has transitioned into a new role -- a shutdown cornerback. The past two weeks, when the Bills have lined up in man coverage, there White was shadowing every move the opponent's top receiver made. Making him even more of a versatile player, he's successfully done so the last two weeks against a pair of players that line up everywhere -- both inside and outside. Whenever White was on Keenan Allen, the talented wideout was locked down and had minimal impact. With White on Stefon Diggs on Sunday, Diggs was merely a footnote. I'd be willing to bet that the trend continues next week against Davante Adams, too. Not only has White become perhaps the best defender for the Bills in his second year, but he's also probably the best player they have on the roster right now. 20 games in, that's looking like a home run draft selection in the late first round.

5) When is enough, enough with Benjamin?
- The win on Sunday was one that brought on a lot of praise and a lot of great performances, but the one negative light cast on the Bills is over the performance of their supposed top receiver on the roster. Through three weeks, Kelvin Benjamin has been a no-show. The bigger-bodied wide receiver doesn't gain separation, and where he wins is by making the tough contested catches that no one else can. Or at least, that's what he's supposed to do. In the first three games, Benjamin isn't even doing that and is letting far too many contested catches fall from his grasp, which calls into question a much larger issue for the Bills. At what point do the Bills have to sit there and ask themselves, when is it time to move on from the top wide receiver? Given some of the attitude concerns he has, in addition to him being in the final year of his deal while not performing, the Bills have to give a ton of consideration to trying to move him off the roster. There hasn't been a tangible difference with him on the field as opposed to him off of it, and he's even been a liability by dropping would-be touchdown passes. We hadn't seen a motivated Benjamin since the first week of the preseason when he was up against the Carolina Panthers -- the team that gave up on him. Should they be able to extract a fourth or a fifth-round pick for a player that might be doing more harm than good by being on the field -- and for someone they likely have no interest in re-signing -- I think the Bills would be better off doing just that. With that move, they would also be giving more time on the field to the likes of Robert Foster, Ray-Ray McCloud -- or really any young player that could play into their future at the position. Benjamin needs to show up in the next week or two because if he doesn't, that's when the heat will turn up and he might find himself on a different team. Not to mention, he hasn't done himself any favors in building free agent value for himself at the end of the year. The time to get it together for Benjamin is next Sunday, or else this thing has another Jordan Matthews situation written all over it.

6) Daboll deserves a lot of credit
- Just as much as Josh Allen gets a tip of the cap for the job that he did, the table was set for him by offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. The Bills always had the right counter-punch called, and the Vikings (in addition to a plethora of penalties against Minnesota) never got comfortable. It was clear that Daboll wanted the ball out quickly and tried to manufacture yards by setting plays up and by using plenty of screens along the way. The best example of how he set up the Vikings came on the wide open touchdown pass to tight end Jason Croom. Up to that point, the Bills had been showing a few times the tendency to send a swing pass over to the player in motion, with blockers set up in front of him. Once more, the Bills showed that look, the receivers in front of the eventual decoy squared up to block without blocking, and it drew the linebacker to chase the play. Allen delivered a convincing pump fake that was the final nail in the coffin for the linebacker who then flung himself toward the flats while leaving Croom wide open on a post-corner route. It's that type of sequence that makes me wonder how effective Daboll can be once he has some real skill players in place. The offensive coordinator deserves all the kudos, especially against the Vikings' superb defense.

7) The offensive line, too
- The Week One debacle for the Bills was just that, and all over the starting lineup, the team found disappointment one on top of the next. However, even though the offensive line bounced back in their Week Two loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, the prevailing opinion on social media persisted with the Week One stigma -- even though it was flatly false. Left tackle Dion Dawkins, left guard Vladimir Ducasse, and right guard John Miller all played well against the Chargers, and right tackle Jordan Mills was undoubtedly serviceable, too. While the play of starting center Ryan Groy led to an eventual lineup switch for Week Three, the majority of the offensive line didn't get enough credit for how they performed individually in Week Two. Many of the sacks were products of the quarterback holding on to the ball too long, and in breakdowns in blocking by both the running backs and tight ends. In Week Three, that offensive line wasn't a problem in the slightest bit, as they kept Allen mostly clean -- so long as he utilized the correct internal clock. I'll have a better idea of who stood out when the coaches film becomes available on Tuesday, but for the second straight week, the offensive line wasn't the problem.

Bills MVP: Jerry Hughes
- Josh Allen came close with his three touchdowns, but Hughes looked like his feet were dancing on fire ants, and the only relief was getting to the quarterback. He wrecked the Vikings and left tackle Riley Reiff.

Bills LVP: Kelvin Benjamin
- The top receiver on the Bills roster was anything but, and another measly performance calls into question what his role should be if it continues.

Up Next: The Bills (1-2) go on the road to take on the Green Bay Packers (1-1-1) on Sunday, September 30 at 1:00 pm

Final Thoughts:
- Let's all say it together. I was wrong. You (or at least, most of you) were wrong. Vegas was wrong. No one expected this to go the way that it did, and nor should anyone have imagined this being the result. After watching two weeks of game film on both teams, I don't know how anyone could have seen what we saw coming. However, the Bills shocked the NFL by blowing out one of the league's best teams -- and a team that will surely be in the mix at the end of the season. On Monday,I wrote how the Bills are okay with losing this year -- all the while saying specific things that signal a rebuilding effort in 2018 -- so long as they show progress as the season continues. The results of their progress oozed on to the field in Minnesota in a complete team win. With defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier -- not Sean McDermott -- calling the plays, the defense showed the potential they have with all of the players this regime has put together. As long as the defense continues to show these signs of improvement, it's hard not to imagine that side of the ball is on the right track. The way the season is setting up, it will be the offense -- and the talent discrepancy on that side of the ball -- that will fluctuate in its consistency as the year goes along. However, the Bills are slowly building things how they believe it should be, and they'll likely look back on this upset win over the Vikings as a stamp of the progress they've made through the spring, summer, and early part of the season.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

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