Joe B: 7 observations from Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Texans (10/14/18)

Joe B: 7 observations from Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Texans (10/14/18)
Posted at 10:01 PM, Oct 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-14 22:01:00-04

There were 13 minutes left on the clock at NRG Stadium. The Buffalo Bills saw backup quarterback Nathan Peterman lead a touchdown drive to put the Bills ahead of the Houston Texans, erasing a 10-point lead in what had previously appeared to be a slowly building deficit.

Then, Peterman -- and the rest of the Bills by association -- imploded. The second-year quarterback threw a pick-six and went from possible hero to goat within a half an hour. The Bills wound up losing 20-13, which brings their record to 2-4 on the 2018 season.

How did it all happen? Seven observations from the Bills' most recent loss:

1) Josh Allen struggles again, and now might miss time
- It went about as poorly as it could have for the Buffalo Bills against the Houston Texans for their rookie quarterback. Through the first half, Allen exhibited no signs of progress from the player that we have seen since his first start at home against the Los Angeles Chargers. He looked uncomfortable operating in the pocket, he wasn't trusting what he was seeing, and the Bills never seemed like they were a scoring threat. As it turns out, they weren't which saw them go scoreless into halftime, having put up only 13 points over the last 12 quarters -- a total of 180 minutes of game time. Even though the defense continued to put the Bills in positions for success (more on that a bit later), they couldn't do anything with it. It improved a bit in the second half, with the Allen-led Bills being able to muster up six points. And then, at long last, we saw a flash of the potential Allen has. It's the flash that has evaded Allen in all of his starts, the throw that shows off his arm and him being able to read the field correctly. When he hit Kelvin Benjamin, in stride, on a frozen rope -- that was the play Bills fans have been waiting to hang their hat on that there was some progress to speak of with the rookie quarterback. But, cruelly, Allen injured his elbow on the same play, tried to gut it out the next snap, and was eventually removed from the contest. For the Bills and what they have decided to do by starting Allen this early into his career, the only way Allen being out for a prolonged period is to enhance their potential draft pick with a higher likelihood of losing. The progress that they want him to make, and the experience they want him to gain -- especially in a year that was never about the wins. Now, we can debate the merits of the Bills' original decision to start Allen this early into his career, especially with the supporting cast around him. At that point, if Allen does have to miss some time, perhaps that's the best thing for him -- not the Bills -- to learn from the background without the confidence-crushing move to bench him. However, from a Bills perspective, they've made the year all about him and how much he learns on the job, so they have to be sweating the injury prognosis quite a bit. It has been an awful situation that has not been the precise environment to foster the growth of a young quarterback. For fans, I wouldn't blame those that are starting to let the doubt creep into their brain about Allen's long-term prospects. I won't go that far, because it's still far too early into the rookie's career. However, it's fair to wonder if what the Bills have done at the quarterback position still falls under the mysterious "plan" for Allen in the offseason, or if we're now at the point that they're just making it up as they go along out of sheer necessity. Either way, it's fair to question their approach to the quarterback position now almost halfway into the 2018 season, with Allen mostly, but with another entity, as well.

2) Blame Peterman for another collapse, but blame McDermott more
- When Josh Allen had to leave the game, it seemed like -- at least for a few minutes -- that Nathan Peterman was going to come in, engineer a victory and finally have a performance that doesn't end in an embarrassing way. As it turns out, it was too good to be true for Peterman. He had the Texans defense bait him into not only the game-winning pick-six by Jonathan Joseph on a throw that he's always had trouble with during his time in the NFL, but again by forcing a turnover when the Bills still had a chance to tie the game late. To put it bluntly, I think we know what Nathan Peterman is at this point, and that is an extremely flawed quarterback that hasn't done anything in the regular season to warrant his status on the team as the primary backup quarterback. He goes out there, tries extremely hard at practice and studies the playbook as much as he can, but he lacks the required physical tools to make the throws that he attempts to the sideline. While his collapse at the end of the game certainly deserves a lot of the blame, I'd argue that head coach Sean McDermott deserves more of it for having Peterman in that position. By now, they have ample evidence of Peterman's lack of success. His poor performance in Week One almost seemed like the Bills had no other choice but to turn to rookie Josh Allen because they had no one else.  Still, Peterman remained in the background as the backup -- even though his performance has indicated he is a third-string to practice squad-level player, or at least that's what he should be right now. They sat on their hands and waited too long to bring in a legitimate backup -- which they still might not have in Derek Anderson, mind you. The Bills jettisoned AJ McCarron out of Buffalo because McDermott decided that Peterman was performing at a high enough level to warrant, at worst, being the backup. McDermott chose to start him in Week One, and they were blown out and offered nothing on offense. Heck, McDermott decided to start him in Los Angeles in 2017 before he was ever ready, and didn't recognize that he wasn't prepared to start in that situation. That has been a commonality with McDermott about Peterman, who has been the coach's most prominent blind spot since taking over the head coaching position for the Bills. He continues to put Peterman in these spots that he shouldn't be in, and while GM Brandon Beane deserves some blame here, too, ultimately the head coach is the one that has continued to give Peterman chance after chance, only to see the same results. However, that seems to be cooling a bit. After the games that Peterman has played and struggled in, McDermott has mostly deflected blame from Peterman -- almost in a protective manner. That was not as much the case on Sunday in Houston, with McDermott continually saying that his young players need to value the football, and if they don't grow from mistakes, then a decision has to be made. That's the most critical McDermott has been immediately after a game of the second-year player, which could signal that he might not have any other choice but to take him out of that role. If Allen cannot play, McDermott cannot start Peterman. That ship has sailed. Derek Anderson hasn't been on the job that long, but the Bills are painted into a corner here. So, blame Peterman, sure. But, blame the decisions McDermott has made in regards to Peterman, too. He is just as guilty as Peterman, if not more so.

3) The defense is legit, folks
- After the debacle in Baltimore in Week One, and the initial surge by the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half, it was easy to write off the defense. After all, they struggled considerably. Since those first six quarters, all we've seen is the defense control the game and give the offense every opportunity to win a game. Over the last four weeks, against Minnesota, Green Bay, Tennessee, and now Houston, had the Bills possessed an offense that was any threat whatsoever, the defense played a good enough of a game to warrant a victory. They're getting pressure on the quarterback, they're stout against the run, they're forcing turnovers, and most importantly, they continue to set the table for the offense to win a game. Over the past month, the defense has done everything they possibly could, except for scoring the points for the offense themselves. As much blame as McDermott deserves for what's gone on at quarterback, he deserves credit for finding the right pieces to fit his defense perfectly, and for developing young players into impact defenders in a short period. The defense is as close to complete as you'll find in the NFL, possessing depth on the defensive line, and capable starters across the board -- perhaps except at their second cornerback. Now, can they keep up this torrid pace, and can they be this good for when they finally have an offense to compete legitimately? That's a to be determined scenario if the offense even gets to that point, but this defense deserves as much credit as possible for their turnaround in 2018.

4) Kyle Williams gives his best performance of 2018
- Through the first five games of the season, the Bills haven't seen the typical impact from Kyle Williams that we usually do. A large portion of that is due to his age, and the natural decline that comes in football when you reach a certain age. However, Williams had a throwback type of game that reminded fans of all the years that he was a dominant player. Williams rolled off of stunts and beat the supporting offensive lineman easily around the edge to make an impact early and often. It was an excellent sign for the Bills moving forward, because Williams -- regardless of age, always possesses the ability to do what he did against the Houston Texans on Sunday. I still am of the belief that Williams could stand to benefit from fewer snaps at this stage in his career to maximize his effectiveness -- especially with such a solid backup player in Harrison Phillips that probably could start in a lot of different NFL cities. However, getting him going as an impact defender, as he always has been one of the best things for them to make this defensive success a sustained effort moving forward. 

5) White passes his biggest test
- Coming into the game, Tre'Davious White went up against the best receiver he's had to shadow since A.J. Green in 2017 -- a matchup that Green won early and often, mind you. White was given the task to shadow wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins more often than not, and except for two different reps, White was outstanding once again. White allowed a touchdown to Hopkins early on, but there was nothing more that he could have done. It was great coverage that required a high degree of difficulty catch, and as one of the best receivers in the league, Hopkins made it. However, White essentially erased Hopkins in the second half. While he got a little grabby in the early stages of the game and got dinged for a couple of holding calls, the second-year cornerback settled in nicely.  I don't even mind the first holding call. The Texans were backed up deep in their zone, and that penalty was as much of a message than anything to say, 'Hey, this isn't going to be easy for you today.' White has continued to get better each week as the assignments have become more difficult for him. He has all the potential to be one of the top cornerbacks in the league, especially with a performance like this one against a player like Hopkins.

6) Special teams gifted the Texans their lead
- I'll keep this brief because we are all thinking the same thing. For having as many people dedicated to only special teams on the active roster, the Bills saw two huge mistakes early on in the game that allowed the Texans to get the initial lead, even though the defense continued to play out of their minds. A muffed punt from Ray-Ray McCloud put the Texans on the doorstep, and then a blatant overload to the left side of the punt formation brought on a blocked punt for Houston. Those two miscues gifted the Texans their first 10 points. Without them, with the way the defense was playing, it is perfectly acceptable to think it would have been a scoreless game at halftime. With the number of penalties special teams have accrued over the last few years, and now these miscues in a huge spot that may well have cost them the game, you have to assign some blame at the feet of coordinator Danny Crossman. The Bills cannot afford to let this continue to be an issue, because it completely undercuts the great effort they had on the defensive side of the ball. McDermott wasn't happy after the game about it, and I'd be willing to bet that we see Crossman do everything in his power to make sure his guys know those mistakes will not be tolerated any longer.

7) Zay Jones is beginning to turn a corner
- On the offensive side of the ball, it was a slow day for much of the game -- and then, of course, the Peterman implosion happened. However, if you want one silver lining from the offense, it's Zay Jones. For the third straight week now, Jones was winning his routes on a consistent basis. It seemed like something clicked for Jones in the second half of the Green Bay loss, and he's been playing well since that point. You saw it time after time against the Titans in Week Five, and on Sunday, I made it a point to watch Jones against the Texans. Despite him only getting three receptions, the deception of the routes are much better than what he was in his rookie season and even at the beginning of the year. He's gaining confidence by the week, and the Bills' patience is beginning to pay off with him. The touchdown catch he made was a route of beauty, with him giving a little stutter step at the cornerback to get him to bite a little bit, and he accelerated to the back corner of the end zone for the score. As long as Jones continues to use his quick feet in and out of his breaks, there isn't any reason to think that the current trend will change. Sometimes it takes NFL players a while to get 'it,' and you can tell the Bills are excited about how Jones has developed in his second season. With better quarterback play, the numbers will eventually come. All he can do is continue running good routes and giving his all on every play, which he has been.

Bills MVP: SLB Lorenzo Alexander
- His tip-drill interception was a thing of beauty. Adding 1.5 sacks on the game was also another indication that Alexander might be having the best season of his career, which is saying something considering how good he was two seasons ago.

Bills LVP: QB Nathan Peterman
- Another unraveling for Peterman has to leave you wondering what his future is with the Bills, considering this is now a theme with him in his career.

Up Next: The Bills (2-4) take on the Indianapolis Colts (1-5) on the road on Sunday, October 21 at 1:00 pm.

Final Thoughts: 
- Well, it was a loss for the Buffalo Bills that many expected, but certainly not in the way that anyone was anticipating. The defense was the star of the show, special teams let them down, but ultimately, it was the quarterback decisions by the Bills in 2018 that led to the Bills' loss. Josh Allen and Nathan Peterman deserve plenty of blame. With Allen, the offense was stagnant outside of his last completed pass to Kelvin Benjamin that flashed his potential. With Peterman, he had the go-ahead touchdown but erased that goodwill by throwing the game away on consecutive possessions. It all falls on Sean McDermott, and to a lesser extent, Brandon Beane. After what we've seen with the quarterbacks in 2018 and the supporting cast around those players with a few exceptions, it's fair to wonder if what we see today was their grandiose plan for Josh Allen all along. Did they pull the Allen tab too early and now they can't go back? Did they fall for the empty promises of preseason success from Peterman? Should they have signed a veteran backup or fringe starter much earlier than they did, and one that was okay with developing a young quarterback like Allen? Do they wish they had a time machine to restart the season and handle the quarterback situation differently? Now, the Bills have a mess to deal with in the coming week. They have a rookie quarterback, who they can't bench because they decided to begin his starting career when they did, that is quite possibly injured. Further complicating matters, he is the player they have chosen to dedicate 2018 to, in the effort to develop in as pressure-free an environment for wins as possible. They have a 'backup' quarterback that is a turnover machine and a liability when he's on the field. And their only other option is a 35-year-old veteran quarterback that didn't participate in a training camp or a preseason, that signed with the Bills all of five days ago. They'll have to hope for the best with Allen's injury because the alternative options are all surrounded by pessimism. And if Allen can't play on Sunday against the Colts, the Bills might just be staring a 2-6 start to the season in the face with a matchup against the Patriots on deck. Yep, that's a certified mess, but one they have to deal with right now.  They have no other option, and only themselves to blame.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

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