In 2017, the Buffalo Bills came through and shocked the NFL world and their fan base by piecing together enough wins to sneak into the playoffs for the first time, erasing a 17-season playoff drought. The goodwill the organization and the current regime established by doing just that is one that led to a belief in the offseason in what they were doing.
It didn't take long, but the Bills are already feeling that faith challenged from the fan base -- and that's probably what a 47-3 loss in Week One of the season should do. The Bills lost to the Baltimore Ravens in a way where it seemed like they didn't even show up in most phases of the game.
What can we learn from the game? Where do they go from here? Seven observations from the Bills' loss to the Ravens:
1) Peterman was dreadful
- Nathan Peterman had been riding the wave of momentum for months on end. He impressed the coaches every step of the way in the offseason, showing a command of the offense in the spring, looking smooth in the preseason, and outright winning the quarterback competition by the end of it all. The Bills were happy with him and felt like he took a step forward from what he portrayed himself as on that fateful day in Los Angeles against the Chargers. Instead, that same Peterman showed up, and the Bills were left scratching their heads about where to go next. In a controlled setting, Peterman looks as smooth as can be -- whether it be a practice setting or even in the preseason. Without the pressure, he seems in control of his surroundings, aware, and present with what to do next. Now for the second time in three starts in his career, what we ended up witnessing was a quarterback that wilted as the real pressure mounted. I think there is a domino effect happening here with Peterman. He might have come into the game with confidence in himself and all the work that he'd done before that, but one thing would unravel, and that's when the same issues he had last year in that five-interception game started popping up. He began holding on to the ball too long, and then his accuracy wavered on passes that he would make all game long in the preseason, which led to bad decisions with the ball when he felt like he needed to make something happen, which then led to turnovers. Now, let me be clear, Peterman was consistently let down by his teammates on the offensive side of the ball -- particularly his receivers that weren't getting enough separation consistently enough and his offensive line that couldn't get enough of a push up front to have the rushing attack be something that could take pressure off the quarterback position. It was a bad look all around, no matter how you look at it. However, at the root of it all, was a player in Peterman that by the end of his showing in Baltimore looked like the same scared and hesitant player by the end of the half in Los Angeles. While Peterman deserves credit for how he performed in the snow game last year, the fact that two of his three starts ended similarly -- with him getting benched -- can't be ignored. Plus, what makes this one worse is that he was as prepared as a player could be for this Week One start, and it blew up on him in grand fashion. For Peterman's sake, you hope he has a keen emotional intelligence to not dwell on a game like this, but it would be hard not to in such a big spot for a young quarterback.
2) Tough to evaluate Allen
- As for Josh Allen, who entered the game when the Bills were already down 40-0, I don't know that we can get a real gauge as to what he is just yet. Consider the situation, with the Ravens already replacing their starters with some second-string players to keep everyone healthy, while committing to more of a prevent defense to finish the game as quickly as possible. Would have Allen fared better against the Ravens starters than Peterman? Perhaps he would have, but we won't know until he gets a bonafide start one of these weeks. As for his performance, Allen showed a concerning tendency to try and evade the pocket and make things happen while not standing tall even with time. My only counter-argument to that is what was happening down the field with the receivers, and that is described with two equally as concerning characteristics. The first, not gaining separation and no one being open down the field, and the second, with it appearing as though they weren't working hard to get open when he left the pocket. While it's tough to stay mentally into a 40-0 game, that's not how you want to see a team operate any week -- let alone in the first week of the season. Allen did make some nice passes and had the best few throws of the game, but it wasn't anything enough to make the Bills feel like they couldn't do anything else but start Allen the next week. But that brings us to the topic that Bills fans are surely considering.
3) What will the Bills do in Week Two at QB?
- For many fans, it's an open-and-shut case. Peterman struggled mightily once again and didn't provide the same spark that Allen would if he were in the starting lineup. To those fans, Allen represents at least potential for victories in 2018, whereas Peterman is a known entity that won't help things in the short-term. However, I don't think it's as much of a slam dunk decision for the Bills as many do. I believe that there is a real possibility Sean McDermott names Peterman the starter for Week Two. Why? Take a listen for yourself:
I honestly would not put it past the #Bills to have Nathan Peterman be the starting QB Week Two at home against the LA Chargers. And this is why (See the full 1-on-1 with McDermott on @WKBW at 11PM): pic.twitter.com/qqZRW1N9xg
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) September 9, 2018
If you didn't catch it, what stood out was McDermott saying that he has to look at the "factors" around the quarterback position and not just the quarterback position. And right now those factors -- the running game, the lackluster receivers, the poor play of the offensive line -- indicate that it's probably not a conducive situation to chuck your rookie quarterback and the great hope for the franchise without worrying that you might be setting him up for longterm failure. What McDermott has to weigh is what the longterm ramifications would be if they were to put Allen into the lineup. Would bad habits form because of poor teammates around him? Would all the teaching they gave him in the offseason and training camp be canceled out by overcompensation for the lack of talent around him? Would he be able to overcome these things when they have better talent around him? If there is any hesitation with any of those questions, while it's probably going to look ugly in the short-term, it might be in their best long-term interest to keep going with Peterman -- as painful as that may sound. McDermott is also not an impulse, rash decision maker when it comes to his starting lineup. Even when he elected to start Peterman last season over Tyrod Taylor, that was after two-and-a-half months of work, and after two consecutive poor offensive performances. You can look to other starting positions around the roster, and McDermott is usually inclined to give his players that "earned the right" to start initially some time to turn it all around. The more you consider who McDermott is, what he values, and what they're trying to accomplish beyond just 2018, a strong case can be made for why they might choose Peterman as their Week Two starter.
4) Tremaine Edmunds takes a massive step forward
- There weren't many positives from the 47-3 loss, but without question, the most significant positive was the play of the Bills' young linebackers. Both Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds brought their A-game all day long, which was unfortunate because the rest of the Bills roster certainly didn't. More specifically, the play of Edmunds after an up-and-down preseason was a great sign of things to come. For the first time, Edmunds looked like he wasn't in his head the entire time. He was reacting and making plays instinctively. He was flying all over the field. He was a factor against both the pass and the run. While we still need to see if Edmunds can be as useful in a tight game, there is little doubt that the Bills had to at least grin about the play of their young linebacker. It was indeed a terrific start to his rookie season.
5) The defensive line was nowhere to be found
- On the flip side, the linebackers did not get a lot of help from the defensive line in front of them. After focusing many assets in the offseason toward fixing both the run defense up front and the pass rush, the results in the first week of the season didn't show they had spent all those resources in that area. The defensive tackles were getting beat up front, the defensive ends couldn't generate pressure, and even when the ends did the defensive tackles were stood straight up at the line of scrimmage which allowed the Ravens to make a play after a ton of time in the pocket. Even though the offense was a no-show, that doesn't mean the defense deserves a pass. They were just as guilty for the one-sided result, and it starts with the defensive line. Without question, that group needs to turn it around and prove that they're worth their prominent billing -- and quickly before this thing spirals out of control too quickly.
6) Benjamin gave Peterman a run for his money, and not in a good way
- As bad as Nathan Peterman was in the start against the Baltimore Ravens, the performance from the supposed top receiver on the roster Kelvin Benjamin was, in a word, inexcusable. There were multiple times that Benjamin could have bailed his team out with a big play and he couldn't complete the play. As the game went along, Benjamin appeared to become less and less interested -- and the worst thing they can have is an apathetic top receiver on the roster. His best attribute is the ability to win contested catches, and he didn't win a single one even though he had multiple opportunities. Also when Josh Allen was in the game, he had a touchdown in his hands and dropped it. The motivation that he portrayed in the first preseason game of the year against his old teammates is now a distant memory, and in a contract year, you would think he has all the incentive in the world to go all out. That wasn't the case on Sunday, and if the trend continues through the next few games, the Bills will be forced to consider lessening his role. It's an extreme, but that type of effort can't be excused without a big answer in the coming weeks.
7) Gaines is an issue
- Ahead of the game, the Bills announced that veteran cornerback Vontae Davis was inactive for the game, meaning that journeyman cornerback Phillip Gaines would go through the Ravens game as the starting cornerback. When the Bills signed Gaines in free agency, if you could hear audible laughter on Twitter, you would have from Chiefs fans that have a strong negative opinion on Gaines as a player. The Ravens went after Gaines and had plenty of success early in the game when the score was still semi-close, and that is alarming for the Bills at the position moving forward. If Davis isn't good enough to play ahead of Gaines, and there isn't anyone waiting in the wings to put in their place, the Bills might have to try and hide the second cornerback spot as much as they can. While a whole season one game does not make, the results were not encouraging for Gaines.
Bills MVP: LB Tremaine Edmunds
- Seven total tackles, a sack, a pass broken up, and a forced fumble. The most important part? He looked like he unhinged from overthinking, which is as essential a sign as you'll find from the young linebacker.
Bills LVP: WR Kelvin Benjamin
- His effort in the contest was inexcusable and for him to supplant Peterman for these honors is really saying something.
Up Next: The Bills are home against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, September 16 at 1:00 pm.
- It's important to remember that in the confines of an NFL season, you should hesitate from overreacting to one result. While it looks terrible one week, a team could turn things around and have a much better outing in the next week because usually, teams are relatively even. However, what you look for in a single outing are signs that can lead you to predictive analysis. And for the Bills the one overwhelming takeaway is simple: the talent gap -- specifically on the offensive side of the ball -- is blatantly apparent. It won't always be as bad as it was in this Baltimore game, but the Bills might be looking at a bottom-ten unit -- and that could be a conservative guestimate. The defense, on the other hand, is too talented to have a similar result every week for the remainder of the season. They have to be the ones that set the tempo for the Bills, and they have to be the unit that keeps the Bills competitive in games. If they can't, this has the potential to be a long season. As for the quarterback decision, Sean McDermott and company have more to weigh than just the talent level of the two players right now. What are the long-term stakes, and can those potential pitfalls be overcome by the talent disparity with the two eligible players? The more I think about it, the more Peterman re-entering the starting lineup would not shock me. Either way, the Bills need to recalibrate and get their act together quickly for the lone home game of September. It may well be their best chance for a victory in the first four games. At the very least, they have to look more prepared than they were in Week One. And for a head coach in McDermott that preaches preparation and paying close attention to the small things, this loss to the Ravens must burn him inside. It should. It's the antithesis of what he preaches to his team. Even if they don't win in Week Two, the answer by the Bills has to show them at least be competitive. They have to show some fight. If they don't by the end of the month, and that much time might even be a stretch, the issues might be seeded deeper than just a lack of talent. McDermott needs his team to respond, and it's that simple.