The Bills had another grind-it-out win against an underperforming team Sunday, stopping the Redskins at New Era Field, 24-9. There was what’s become the typical collection of encouraging plays and puzzling shortcomings, but in the end the Bills had enough to win comfortably.
In these wins, the Bills are more in control of the game than the score indicates, which is little comfort to fans. A one-score game in the third quarter is still a one-score game, even if, in retrospect, it seems clear that the Bills were in charge. No one is comfortable waiting for Tre’Davious White to make his play of the game and seal the victory.
Put another way, week after week it becomes clearer that the Bills are not a dominant team. They’re a team that goes about its business seriously, works hard, comes ready to play and beats teams that can’t or don’t bring the same level of commitment to the field. They understand well that it’s a long game and in the course of the game some things are going to go badly. They work hard to keep those bad things from happening, but their real strength is in how they respond to adversity.
And so it was on Sunday, when Adrian Peterson was being Adrian Peterson, putting up a Hall of Fame afternoon, at least for a half. The Bills were in charge on the scoreboard, 17-6, but the fans were restless. The Bills were ugly in short yardage in the red zone, settling for a long field goal after being first and goal from the two and barely sneaking into the end zone on fourth down after failing three times from the one.
In fact, the Bills were in charge. At the half, Washington hadn’t found the end zone and wouldn’t for the rest of the day. It was classic bend-don’t-break defense. Statistically, many of Washington’s numbers were similar to the Bills, but the Bills wouldn’t let Washington finish. The Bills got the critical third-down conversions and Washington didn’t (6 of 12 for the Bills, 2 for 11 for the Redskins). Buffalo finished in the red zone and Washington didn’t (3 for 4 vs. 0 for 2).
Wins or not, these games show off the those areas where the Bills just aren’t good enough yet to be a premier team. The offensive line, for one. In the off-season, the Bills signed a collection of marginal NFL linemen, hoping to put together a line that would outperform the 2018 version. That’s what the Bills got – some journeymen who were better than a pretty bad 2018 starting line, but who are still journeymen. Cody Ford hasn’t stepped up, Dion Dawkins isn’t dominant, and so the Bills struggle on the line. Sunday they failed miserably in short yardage. When asked about it after the game, Sean McDermott essentially said “well, I’ll have to look at the film, but I don’t have to look at the film to know that no one was moving his man off the ball.”
Wide receiver, for another. After last week’s game, I said the Bills need better playmakers on offense, including more speed. This week, Duke Williams went to the sidelines and the Bills inserted their speed into the lineup, with McKenzie, Foster and Roberts getting much more playing time. It didn’t help much. Brown, Singletary, Knox and Beasley still were the pass catchers; the speed boys didn’t contribute much.
And the pass rush, for another. The Bills recorded four sacks against the Redskins and got occasional good pressure, but the pass rush wasn’t enough to make the rookie uncomfortable in his first start . He was able to stand in the pocket and complete plenty of passes.
One of the sacks was White’s. It was a crucial play emotionally for the Bills. They continued to nurse their one-score lead, unable to manage a lot of offense for themselves. Washington had the ball deep in their own end, and Bills could use a stop for field position and a chance to put up a field goal to create some breathing room on the scoreboard. On third and ten, White came off the corner, stayed under control as Haskins tried to escape, and made the tackle, forcing the punt. Energized, the Bills offense drove for the touchdown that essentially ended the game.
White’s sack was a good example of why the Bills’ defense is so good. Their defensive style isn’t what I’d call aggressive, but they aren’t afraid to change things up. The safeties are in the offensive backfield often, and the Bills will rush a corner off of the slot occasionally, but I don’t recall a true corner blitz all season. The Redskins had no reason to have prepared for that rush, and the surprise element is what made it so effective, along with White’s flawless execution of the play.
Devin Singletary sparkled once again. Having been elevated to the starting role, he gave the Bills exactly what they’d hoped for: a big play threat who repeatedly sparked drives with his elusiveness and quickness. The screen pass was perfectly executed and caught Washington off guard. Singletary has what Gore lacks – the ability to create something when it appears there’s nothing there.
It was surprising that the Bills had the lead with the half that Adrian Peterson had. He was unstoppable, plowing into the line and staying upright until something opened up for him. It wasn’t classic Peterson from earlier in his career, but his strength was always underrated. It was on display Sunday, play after play.
Once Levi Wallace had Peterson in his sights for a big loss. They were both upright, face-to-face, with Wallace wrapping his arms around Peterson. Peterson broke free for a short gain. A fan behind me yelled “HE’S GOTTA MAKE THAT TACKLE!!!” Well, yes but that’s not just any running back. That’s Adrian Peterson, and he’s been doing exactly that for a long time. There’s no shame in being beaten by Adrian Peterson.
Tremaine Edmunds was nowhere to be seen on many of Peterson’s first-half runs. He was either trapped in the wrong gap or unable to get off one-on-one blocks, left to try to chase down Peterson from behind.
McDermott said after the game that the Bills needed to adjust their run fits to respond to Washington’s running game, and it worked. Edmunds seemed to become more of a factor in the second half, and Peterson was shut down.
Edmund’s problems in the run game notwithstanding, it’s a thing of beauty to watch him close on running backs and receivers. His combination of size and speed is awesome, and although his isn’t a big hitter, he’s become a solid tackler. Impressive dude.
Jordan Phillips was promoted to the starting lineup Sunday, and he didn’t disappoint. Besides being cheerleader No. 1, Phillips was a disruptive force on multiple plays. In an injury-conscious league, big hits don’t happen too often any more. His ferocious sack of Haskins electrified the crowd.
And there was Josh Allen. I’ve said Allen will be a star in the NFL, and I continue to believe it. The big name draft choices from 2018 are struggling, and Lamar Jackson is outplaying them all, but of the top four, Allen is the only one who seems to be steadily improving and showing signs that he will be elite.
Allen keeps getting better in the pocket, hanging in until he has to move, then moving enough to give him the time to make a quality throw. His escape and throw through Brown’s hands was almost magical; the ball got on Brown so quickly that he couldn’t handle it. Brown made amends with a great catch on the sideline a few minutes later on another superb Allen throw. The touchdown to Beasley was beautifully executed, with Allen in complete control. The back shoulder throw to Brown up the left sideline was a gem, too. Allen didn’t throw a lot, but when given the opportunity, he looked like a winner.
Ball security obviously is a concern with Allen, as are a half dozen other issues that his coaches see but aren’t obvious to me. Allen is working and learning, and we continue to see the improvement.
It was a solid win against a struggling team. Now the schedule gets tougher, and we will see just how well the Bills can play. The Browns won’t be easy, and the Ravens, Cowboys, Steelers, and Patriots are waiting down the road. It’s been fun so far, and we’ll see what the next month brings.
The Rockpile Review is written to share the passion we have for the Buffalo Bills. That passion was born in the Rockpile; its parents were everyday people of western New York who translated their dedication to a full day’s hard work and simple pleasures into love for a pro football team.
Editor’s babble: This next set of games for the Bills is going to be very interesting. Thanks to Mark Korber for his contributions to our blog. You won’t find Mark on Twitter, but you can find his posts on twobillsdrive.com’s Stadium Wall message board.