Following an unexpected victory on the road against the Minnesota Vikings, the Buffalo Bills traveled once more, only to find themselves returning with a completely different result. The Bills wound up getting shut out for the first time since 2008, losing 22-0 to the Green Bay Packers.
And after such a triumphant first victory just seven days prior, the Bills crashed back to reality and showed something that we've seen before in the 2018 season. The Bills are probably going to struggle without having time enough to build the roster how they want, in the way that they want.
In the meantime, the Bills were blown out for the third time in four weeks and now sit at 1-3 for the season. How did it all happen in Green Bay?
Seven observations from the Bills' third loss of the 2018 season:
1) Lambasted at Lambeau: The Bills offense had no answers
- Just one week ago, the Buffalo Bills showed competence on offense and the ability to manufacture getting their receivers into space, all while helping rookie quarterback Josh Allen get the ball out of his hands quickly. On Sunday in Green Bay, all of that flew out the window once Green Bay thwarted the four of the Bills' first five drives. It isn't as though you can pin the blame on any one person or group. More or less, it's a carousel of fault that can keep spinning without any one thing standing out from the rest. All of the problems of the offense cause one another, and they are all the effects of one another -- which makes it a genuinely befuddling task to try and get out from underneath the pattern. The rushing offense isn't working because the backs can't get into space and the offensive line isn't getting enough of a push along the five-person front. They also can't get going because the passing offense isn't hitting the mark outside of some short throws. Part of the problem that they can't make enough plays throwing the ball is because the wide receivers can't separate, which then creates more time for Josh Allen to spend in the backfield -- which has shown that is when he makes his worst decisions in trying to make something happen. Furthermore, the longer the offensive line has to block, the more breakdowns there will be, but because the running game isn't working the opposition has no real impetus to only rush four defenders at the quarterback. Not to mention, that because the passing game isn't humming along, the rushing game can't get started because the opposing defense doesn't respect the passing game. See what I mean? You can go around in circles trying to assess blame when it comes back to a broader point -- a point that we all knew when entering into the 2018 season. The Bills, on the offensive side of the ball, don't have the talent necessary to be able to compete at a high level consistently. Think about it. Look at the roster right now. How many on that side of the bills will be a part of what they're trying to build for 2019, and then into 2020? I came up with two: quarterback Josh Allen, and left tackle Dion Dawkins. Of the 24 players that have taken snaps on offense (two of which that were already moved, mind you), only two long-term starters have identified themselves. That's 8.3-percent. How many teams in the league have that many players on offense that don't factor into the bigger picture? Now, that's a number that can go up -- if Zay Jones or one of the rookie wide receivers round into shape, or if one of the three young offensive linemen show that they can play. Even if they do, this is still an offense in transition -- and by design. That's a part of the rebuild though, learning and overcoming even the worst of situations -- which is what the Bills have to start doing on that side of the ball moving forward.
2) The concern with Josh Allen moving forward
- As one of the core starters on offense moving forward, the Bills are effectively giving Allen all the starts he can handle to learn on the job without having to worry about the actual result of the season in 2018. It's likely the only year that the Bills will have that luxury, so they're taking advantage of it. However, what worries me with Allen playing in types of games like this one, and having as untalented of a supporting cast around him as he does, was the concern about giving him starts this early on in the first place. With no answers on offense defined, Allen is forced to make it up as he goes -- and that could potentially be where bad habits get formed. The Bills thought they had a handle on Allen making a reckless decision with the ball while on the move, but with Allen trying to make something out of nothing, he heaved a hero-turned-zero ball on the run and across his body which resulted in an easy interception for Green Bay. On top of it, you have to add in lowering his eyes as a rush is coming on, and sometimes even turning his back entirely to the receivers down the field. On days like today, and against the Los Angeles Chargers early on, the Bills had nothing that Allen could come back to as a safety net. The running game isn't working, the offensive line isn't getting enough a push, his receivers aren't getting open -- and as a result, they've fostered the same environment he had while at Wyoming. He has to learn to play within himself and not let those bad moments become a habit -- but really, that's what the Bills are running the risk of getting him all this time on the field with as poor of a supporting cast as they have shown to be.
3) A developing LeSean McCoy problem?
- On the positive side of things for LeSean McCoy, he had his second-highest single-game rushing total of the 2018 season. On the downside, that second-highest total was only 24 rushing yards -- a fresh 15 behind his season-high of 39 yards. In the three games that Bills had McCoy available to them, they have all followed a similar script. The Bills can't do anything on offense for the majority of their opening drives, the running game doesn't get established, the opponents jump out to an early double-digit lead, and the Bills then wind up abandoning the run. What it shouldn't mean, however, is that they abandon McCoy in totality. That is, only if they view him as one of their top offensive players that require their energy to get him more touches. The Bills said after the game that McCoy's injury didn't play a role into how many touches he wound up with against Green Bay, and on top of it, you have a frustrated McCoy. A running back that is seeing one of his last years in the NFL is mostly wasted on a team trying to build their offense from the ground up. It doesn't get any easier for the Bills, who play a Tennessee Titans team that has played stingily against the run through the first quarter of the season. With the season now advancing into October, it's time to start having the tough conversations as the trade deadline draws near. Do the Bills owe it to themselves to see what McCoy might be able to bring back in a trade? If he doesn't play a part into their future -- as you would think would be the case for a 30-year old running back -- then the Bills should see if there are a few willing bidders out there. If this season keeps going the way that it has been through the first quarter, the Bills might not have another option then to try and sell the assets that they can by the October 30 trade deadline. The next four games will mean everything to those individuals, which is a group headlined by McCoy.
4) Wide receiver woes, again
- In the NFL, it's unwise to conclude the strengths and weaknesses of a player or a group of players after just one game. However, as the games rack up and the more that play is consistent with what you see in the previous weeks, that's when you can start to recognize both triumphs and problems. And for the Bills, through the first four games, the constant of the offense is that the wide receivers are unable to separate from the defenders in coverage consistently. As you might imagine, that's a humongous problem for a team sporting a rookie quarterback -- and one that winds up pocketing the ball and trying to make a play with his legs while taking a bunch of sacks in the meantime. This problem falls on two players: Kelvin Benjamin and Zay Jones. Benjamin's issues with separation are well-documented, and at this point in these wrap-up columns, it's akin to Lynyrd Skynard playing Freebird at some point during their show. It's merely just an accepted notion, and he should be a part of the trade discussion if the season continues on its current track. However, Jones' lack of progress in his second season is alarming considering his draft status, and also because he's one of the few offensive players that can factor into the future if he's successful enough. Even considering that, Jones isn't getting open. He's a no-show early on in games -- and didn't rack up his Green Bay statistics until there were six minutes to go in the game -- with the result firmly established already. Unfortunately for Jones, 2018 is going to be his best shot to establish his career in the NFL as a bonafide starter -- and he's done anything but that to this point. That's not to say he can't turn it around, but it starts with winning the route and gaining the separation to give his quarterback a chance to make a throw. And it's also not to say all of the offensive pitfalls are due to Benjamin and Jones -- both Allen and the offensive line deserve some blame here, too. The more time that elapses without Jones making an impact, though, makes for it becoming increasingly harder for the Bills' front office to think they might have to find not one, but two starting wide receivers in the 2019 offseason. He's got 12 games to figure it out, and show flashes of the player that the Bills thought he could be when they drafted him in the second round in 2017.
5) Taron Johnson flashes a big ability
- On the positive side of things, the Bills' defense came to play and made Aaron Rodgers and the Packers earn everything they got. While the Bills lost by three scores, only allowing 22 points on the road to an Aaron Rodgers-led group should be considered a win -- and gave the offense every chance to get the real victory in the game. The pass rush started to generate more heat as the game went on, and the rush defense -- except for a 30-yard run by Aaron Jones -- had quite a bit of success once again. On top of it, the Bills had another rookie show that he could be a potential long-term answer with his play: nickel corner Taron Johnson. For such a small player, the fourth-round pick shows an excellent tackling ability and stopped multiple plays right then and there in a one-on-one situation. It's a trait that Sean McDermott values highly in that position and one that should keep him on the field whenever he's healthy enough to play. The Bills are much closer to completing their defense with 'future' pieces, and should Johnson's play continue to trend in that way, it might make for the Bills being only a position or two away from having their starters in place.
6) Rodgers found a weakness and attacked
- One of those positions that need figuring out on defense is at cornerback. While Tre'Davious White is their top starter and has had a great start to the 2018 season, the other boundary corner is still a question mark. Ryan Lewis made his second straight start, but this time around, Green Bay tested him much more than he was in Minnesota. In fact, at one point in the second half, Aaron Rodgers was going after Lewis as much as he could with wide receiver Geronimo Allison. The wideout ended the game with 80 yards on six receptions, though Lewis came dangerously close to a pick-six in the second half. I think the Bills should continue to give Lewis a chance to learn on the job in the defense, considering that they have him comfortably under control with his contract for both the 2019 and 2020 seasons at least. He's flashed enough positive play to warrant further looks, especially with Phillip Gaines still dealing with a dislocated elbow. However, Rodgers saw a young and inexperienced corner on one side of the field, and he went after him as the great quarterbacks do. His response will show the Bills what he's all about.
7) It's time to stop with the Matt Milano madness
- For the third consecutive game -- and even after the NFL named Matt Milano the AFC Defensive Player of the Week -- the Bills continued to spell him with backup Ramon Humber on some defensive series intermittently throughout the game. As has been the case in the previous two games, Humber once again was a weakness for the Bills defense, with some of the big plays the Packers made early on in the game has come to light because of Humber's ability at this point of his career. Milano might not be all the way where the Bills want him to be just yet, but he has been one of the best players on the team in 2018, and one of the most consistent performers no matter if they're getting blown out or if they're protecting a lead. It baffles me as to why this continues to happen, and when I asked Sean McDermott about it after the Week Two loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, he said something along the lines of young players benefitting from watching the game from the sidelines sometimes. I'm a pretty logically-based thinker, and I don't understand the logic behind willingly putting a markedly inferior player on the field for that many snaps in a game. The only thing that makes sense is if the Bills are trying to keep a spark ignited within Milano to continue playing at the same level that he's shown in his first two seasons. However, Humber's presence on the defense is hurting the Bills at crucial times. Even though Milano isn't perfect just yet either, he has the potential to make big plays for the side of the ball that is supposed to keep the team in games in 2018. In my opinion, Milano needs to be out there, almost every defensive snap, because that's how much potential he possesses.
Bills MVP: CB Taron Johnson
- A tackling machine while battling through a shoulder injury, and he even forced a turnover. The Bills must be feeling quite happy about Johnson's performance this early into his career.
Bills LVP: The entire offense
- From offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to Josh Allen, to the running backs, to the wide receivers, to the tight ends, and to the offensive line, they all deserve a piece of the blame pie.
Up Next: The Bills (1-3) return home to New Era Field to take on the Tennessee Titans (3-1) on Sunday, October 7 at 1:00 pm
- After the surprising Week Three victory over the Minnesota Vikings, a regression like the one that we saw on Sunday in Green Bay is an expected result. The team that they're building isn't quite where they want it to be at the current moment, and that's probably not going to start to take its total shape until the 2019 offseason comes and goes. Enhancing that point is how head coach Sean McDermott continues to speak in press conferences -- no matter if the Bills won or lost a game. He continues to preach the fact that the Bills are a team with a lot of young starters, and that he just wants to see progress, learning, all the while admitting that there will likely be growing pains along the way. Just because the Bills won unexpectedly in Minnesota doesn't take them from the track that the 2018 season is on. There will be games like that -- especially if the team is growing the way that McDermott and company hope that it will. However, the offense can't continue to have efforts like the one they had in Green Bay. For a team that clearly values progress in 2018 above all else, an effort like that is one that stifles that very value. The Bills have to find some semblance of an offensive attack -- and one that doesn't depend on manufacturing their own separation and on shortened fields from great defensive play. The defense will still be the side of the ball that carries the Bills in 2018, but the offense needs to show much more -- heck, anything -- than they did in Green Bay on Sunday.