I toyed with a few ways to open this and decided that the first thing that was necessary was a mea culpa on my part. After watching the Denver Broncos completely annihilate the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday, there was no thought in my mind that the game could go any way except a comprehensive beatdown by a dominant Broncos defensive unit. My bad.
The Buffalo Bills pulled out a 26-16 victory over what many fancied as a potential Super Bowl contender, moving Buffalo to a 2-1 record and standing atop the AFC East for the next week. I’ll take a look at some of the performances and storylines to emerge during the game.
How I long for some Tyrod Taylor consistency. These weekly recaps probably make me seem more bipolar than I really am, flipping my thoughts week-to-week on the quarterback. In Week 3, Tyrod gets a lot of credit for his play. This was probably the toughest defense that he’s faced since the Monday Night Football game against the Seattle Seahawks last season.
Taylor managed to play ‘on time’ a lot more this week, utilizing the quick game more readily and reducing his snap-to-throw time. His mobility is still undoubtedly a piece in the puzzle that is the Bills offense. On a day where Pro Football Focus had him pressured on 16 of 34 drop-backs, it was near essential.
Taylor is very clearly starting to develop a rapport with wide receiver Jordan Matthews, something that is going to be vital in sustaining drives. Perhaps the biggest development in Week 3 was the downfield passing game. The deep shots didn’t come often but, when they did, Taylor made a great throw to Kaelin Clay under pressure and a better one rolling left to Nick O’Leary.
For the sake of the run game, that trend has to continue. For a second straight week, the Bills struggled mightily to run the football. Rookie left tackle Dion Dawkins had his hands full with Von Miller and was responsible for a couple of negative plays, forcing LeSean McCoy to stop his feet instead of going with the flow of the play. Teams are stacking the box and begging them to throw and not even running two tight end sets are helping to generate the push required.
When McCoy gets a lane, he still looks as special as ever. It’s just hard to look good with 900 pounds of bad intentions in your face on nearly every play. The move to give Mike Tolbert 44% of the designed carries actually worked with the rotund Tolbert having the ability to move the pile with his significant added weight.
With just 11 targets going to the wide receivers, the field is getting a little condensed at times. Against a team like the Broncos with a pair of elite corners, the gameplan likely was designed not to test them too much. With matchups against Robert Alford and Brian Poole coming on the road to Atlanta next week, it’ll be interesting to see if the ball is distributed differently.
We’re only three weeks in and I’m already having to dig deep in the well of superlatives for this defensive unit. Once again, they weren’t perfect but they are starting to force mistakes. More importantly, this week saw them become vultures, picking at the carcass of the wounded ducks thrown up by Trevor Siemian.
The run defense had a few lapses that can be fixed. Occasionally, the guys blocking are allowed a win or two. The biggest lapses seemed to derive from Ramon Humber and Preston Brown failing to disengage from their respective blocks on a couple of plays but it doesn’t overshadow the linebackers playing extremely well.
Even with Marcell Dareus, Jerel Worthy and Deandre Coleman inactive, the Bills rotation up front managed to create enough pressure to inspire a great deal of indecision from Siemian. No one player really stood head and shoulders above the rest but they all contributed. This group isn’t playing for individual stats and the team-first ethos that Sean McDermott is trying to instill has caught on. With talent still unavailable along the interior, it’s feasible that the best football is still yet to come.
I had visions that the 2017 season would make me miss Stephon Gilmore. I was sorely mistaken. So far, it’s hard to find much fault with EJ Gaines. Shutdown corner is a title reserved for a select few and widely misunderstood but Gaines is surprisingly in that category after three weeks of the season. Gaines saw 12 targets in Week 3, giving up four receptions for 39 yards. Gaines also got his hands on an interception and broke up a number of other passes. For the year, Pro Football Focus has him with the third-lowest passer rating against in the entire NFL.
Don't throw at these guys pic.twitter.com/L5lDDZcyK0
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 25, 2017
It was a slightly rougher day for Tre’Davious White. The rookie had his “welcome to the NFL” game and was routinely beaten by Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders in the first half. I think most could forgive the youngster for dropping his head but it didn’t happen.
We are not immune to adversity as human beings, the mark of us is how we deal with it. To White’s credit, he rebounded in a big way. After some adjustments at halftime, White ended the game with four passes defensed and an interception. The game tape will contain some teachable moments for the rookie, how he responded gives me faith that he’ll be diligent in taking those to heart.
The buildup to this game included comments from kicker Stephen Hauschka about racial equality. In being one of the first white players to put his thoughts on the record, it inevitably placed more spotlight on him than normal for a player in his position. With all of that pressure on his shoulders, Hauschka was absolutely flawless. In the process, he became the first Bills kicker in history to successfully convert a pair of field goals from beyond 53 yards in the same game.
My scathing cynicism is starting to crack. In my time of watching the Bills, I’ve seen one winning record and am yet to see a playoff game. I want to believe for a number of reasons; being exposed to abject futility being just one of those.
This team feels a little bit different. It’s hard to quantify an aura but there is one surrounding this team, especially with home field advantage. It feels nice to have faith that the game plan is adaptable, not just on a week-to-week basis but during games as well. The team will be carried by the defense for now and they seem to be comfortable with shouldering that burden.
The kinks are there to work out offensively. They collectively took baby steps in Week 3 that need to be built upon. Scheme change can be a rough thing to deal with and there’s signs that some players aren’t quite up to speed yet. It’s worth sticking with them for now and hoping that continuity provides chemistry.
This roster might not be equipped for great things this year but the future is starting to look a little more rosy. It isn’t quite the lost season that I anticipated and I couldn’t be happier to have underestimated this team.
Editor’s babble: And we couldn’t be happier for Stephen Culley’s contributions to our blog. Stephen also writes for @TheBillsWire. You can follow him on Twitter @StephenCulley.