Bills Not There Yet

Photo of QB Josh Allen from buffalonews.com.

Well, that was disappointing. 

1.  Bills fans always want the Bills to win.

The Bills lost at home to the Ravens Sunday, 24-17.  Some of the reasons Bills fans wanted the win on Sunday:

2.  Bills fans wanted the Bills to challenge the Patriots for the AFC East title (and Kansas City did their job, beating the Pats later Sunday afternoon).

3.  Bills fans wanted the Bills to put a stranglehold on a wildcard playoff spot.

4.  Bills fans wanted the country to see a great team in Buffalo beat the supposedly best team in the league.

5.  Bills fans wanted their quarterback to shine in the process. 

Bills fans got none of that, and it was disappointing.

It’s a team game and all, but it’s hard to look beyond the quarterback stat lines for an explanation.  Lamar Jackson was better than Josh Allen, period. Jackson passed better, 102 passer rating for Jackson to 62 for Allen. Jackson ran better, 40 yards to 9. Jackson made the big throw better, 61 yards to 37. Jackson managed the pocket better, one sack to 6.    

Jackson is defensive coordinator’s nightmare. It’s like the Ravens are playing with 12 players on offense. The defensive coordinators have to game plan for an extra running back.  The Ravens’ read option plays are really good because they threaten the defense with two top-ten running backs.  Okay, Ingram is 12th, but he’s only 12th because because Jackson takes too many carries that would otherwise be his. 

Jackson is an excellent decision maker, both on his option plays and as a thrower. 

The result is that defenses spend a lot of energy and manpower just trying to contain Jackson.  Pass rushers can’t tee off on him; their rush has to be measured and disciplined to minimize Jackson’s scrambling ability. Blitzing is a huge risk, because if Jackson eludes the blitz, there simply aren’t enough defenders beyond the line of scrimmage to track him down in the open field.  All the defense can do is play conservative, straight-up defense and try to minimize the damage. 

Allen has been that kind of threat occasionally, but Jackson is a threat every play. Allen wasn’t that kind of threat Sunday.  The difference between the two made all the difference in the game.

While the Bills were forced to rush four and drop seven, hoping the pass defenders could clog the passing lanes, confuse Jackson and give the pass rush time to get home, the Ravens often put seven or eight defenders on the line of scrimmage with no deep safety. 

Photo of QB Josh Allen from ESPN.com.

They made running the ball difficult, they contained Allen, and they dared him to beat the Ravens with his arm. Allen couldn’t do it. The Ravens’ aggressive pass rush sacked Allen six times and forced him into several inaccurate throws. 

The stacked defense at the line of scrimmage limited Allen’s opportunities to run for significant yards – he almost broke free a couple of times, but the difference between Allen and Jackson as runners was obvious on those plays. 

One theory I have about Allen is that he’s let the wind in Buffalo get into his head.  It’s hard to know, but it seems he overcompensates for the wind, as though he thinks he can gauge it, as if there’s some kind of formula he has to apply. 

He was uncharacteristically wild on Sunday, overthrowing deep balls, throwing too high to some short-range receivers.  The wind was from the south, blowing across the top of the stadium from the Bills’ sideline. On the field, it seemed to be swirling – the streamers at the top of the goal posts were sometimes still, sometimes fluttering, sometimes straight out.  The officials’ pant legs, too, were sometimes still and sometimes fluttering in the wind. 

Whatever the reasons, Allen didn’t get the job done. 

As much as we might hope the Bills will be a dominant team this season, on Sunday we saw again that the Bills’ receivers aren’t good enough. Beasley is certainly good enough, but he couldn’t hold onto Allen’s best deep throw of the game.  McKenzie works as a running threat lined up as a wideout, but he never has convinced me he’s a pass catcher. 

Sunday one of Allen’s best throws, along the right sideline into the closed end zone, bounced off McKenzie’s chest.  It was a tough catch to make, but if you want to be a championship player, you make that catch.  

Knox is not consistent enough catching the ball. He makes a highlight-reel catch every week or two, and drops one or two simple catches.  Foster still seems to be a one-trick pony; when Allen threw his prayer, late, deep down field in the third quarter, Foster was badly outfought for the ball.  

Was it pass interference? Technically, maybe yes, but you aren’t going to get that call on a desperation throw where you simply aren’t aggressive enough. 

Photo of WR Duke Williams from buffalonews.com.

I have to wonder whether, whatever his shortcomings, Duke Williams wouldn’t be a better option to have on the field.  If what we have seen of him is any indication, he’s going to catch the ball when it comes to him. 

Especially with teams stacking the box and threatening Allen to get the ball out quickly, a tall, physical receiver with good hands is good option for Allen to have. Whether he could have gotten into the position Beasley, McKenzie, Knox and Foster did on their respective drops, I don’t know, but Duke was more likely to actually make the catch when the ball arrived in every one of those situations. 

One thought about the Bills’ pass routes… the Bills obviously are very effective passing on the short and middle distance crossing routes. Allen throws that ball really well, and Brown and Beasley are good catching them.  

Either the Bills get away from those routes, or teams take them away.  We didn’t see a lot of them Sunday.  And yet, on Allen’s last throw of the day, there it was, Brown crossing from right to left near the goal line, Allen making a perfect throw, but credit Peters – he was right there.   

The Bills didn’t seem to have a lot of receivers in the pattern, and there was a lot of open space on the field.  I’d think there’s an opportunity on that play for Allen to pump fake and for Brown to turn on the jets, continuing to cross the field.   The pump fake should create a momentary hesitation by the defender and Brown should be able to get a little separation.  

Photo of S Jordan Poyer from WBAL.com.

The Bills’ defense was magnificent, except for their first mistake of the season on an explosive play. Something went wrong on Hurst’s 61-yard touchdown. Poyer looked at Hyde as if to ask “Am I wrong, or were you supposed to be there?” Jackson didn’t miss the opportunity and made an easy throw perfectly. 

Give Hurst a fifteen-yard reception with a tackle by the safety, and it’s a different game. The score would have been even, and the total yards would have been even.  

The important point, however, wasn’t the mistake on Hurst’s touchdown, it was the brilliance of the defense on the other 58 plays. The Ravens are gaining over 400 yards per game and scoring over 30 points.  

The Bills held them to them to 250 and 24, and if the safeties had tackled Hurst, it would have been 200 and 17.  Baltimore’s averaging 5.5 yards per carry; the Bills held them to 4.5. They’re averaging 7.7 yards per pass attempt; even with Hurst’s play, Buffalo held them to 5.3. 

The Ravens run an offense that has been devastating opposing defenses, good defenses for two months. The Bills defense kept Jackson and his offense under control.  And it wasn’t because the Bills’ offense kept the ball away from Jackson – the Ravens won time of possession, 33-27. 

Photo of QB Josh Allen from theintelligencer.net.

The question for 2019 always has been “Will be the offense be good enough?”  The answer on Sunday was “not quite.” 

1.  Doug Flutie was great leading the fans before the opening kickoff.

2,  I’ve said it all season – Bojorquez is too inconsistent as a punter. Big leg, but he isn’t a technician.  It’s an adventure every time he kicks it. 

3.  The Bills clearly have turned Andre Roberts loose on kickoff returns. He’s regularly running balls out of the end zone. The Ravens, on the other hand, wanted no part of any kickoff, even if it landed only a yard deep in the end zone. 

4.  Yes, the Bills’ final, futile drive was aided by three penalties, but Allen and Beasley created the pass interference. Allen stepped up perfectly in a crowded pocket, Beasley knew to cut deep and Allen put it out there for him.   The defender had no choice. 

5.  There were not many Ravens fans in attendance, and they didn’t make a lot of noise. They tried a few times, but they weren’t a factor. 

6.  Singletary is a threat in the run game – not explosive, but dangerous.  If he can learn to be a more effective pass catcher, it would help.  He had on easy drop, and he also needed to find a way to get two hands on the ball Allen just barely overthrew probably wouldn’t have caught it, but he had to make a better play.

7.  Brian Daboll’s game plan was lacking. The Bills have a good collection of offensive weapons, and Daboll couldn’t figure a way to utilize them effectively.  

8.  As if we didn’t already know it, the Ravens are really good. 

Pittsburgh is a big game, in a lot of ways.  First, it clinches a playoff spot, and it wouldn’t be good for the Bills need a win against the Jets on week 17 to assure a post-season game.  Second, it’s the kind of game that demonstrates that good teams are good – on the road against a challenging but not elite opponent. Third, it’s a rebound game. The Bills had to be disappointed Sunday afternoon and Monday morning; good teams put it behind them and get ready for the next game.  

GO BILLS!!!

Editor’s babble: Mark nails this postgame assessment per usual. Thanks to Mark Korber for all his terrific contributions to our blog. You can’t find Mark on Twitter, but he does post on twobillsdrive.com’s Stadium Wall message board.