The Bills lost to the Chiefs on a raw, rainy Monday in Orchard Park, 26-17. The Bills are now 4-2, a game ahead of the Dolphins in the AFC East, and they look like they’re headed to the middle of the NFL pack.
We tend to want to make definitive statements about teams – “they’re good,” “they’re bad,” “they’re building” – but the most that can be said today about the Bills is that they are evolving. It’s survival of the fittest in the NFL, and if the Chiefs game is any indication, the Bills need to adapt.
What happened in the NFL in the early part of the 2020 NFL season is now clear: Several teams, including the Bills, were able to throw the ball all over the field, any time they wanted, wherever they wanted. It was exciting, but we should have realized it wasn’t going to last. Teams adjusted.
The adjustment was to play coverage; keep one or two safeties back, flood the defensive backfield with defenders. Defenses said “you will NOT beat us with that passing game. You may beat us some other way, but not throwing the ball like that.” The Raiders did it to the Chiefs last week, the Titans did it to the Bills, everyone’s doing it to the Cowboys.
The Bills did it to the Chiefs, and the Chiefs did it to the Bills. Each said to other, “Find a different way to win.” If you can’t win throwing, all that’s left is running. Running means controlling the line of scrimmage. The Chiefs totally controlled the line of scrimmage against the Bills. The Chiefs found a way to win. The Bills need to adapt.
There’s not much to say about the game that wasn’t obvious to anyone who saw it, but I’ll give you my take aways.
1. The front four was dominated by the Chiefs all night. The game film could be used as a training film for offensive linemen. It truly was a clinic. It wasn’t simply that the Chiefs over-powered the Bills; they out-finessed the Bills. They knew exactly how the Bills defense attacked the run, and they took advantage of the Bills strategy. Chiefs linemen consistently took the correct angles to create running lanes, and there was nothing the Bills could do about it. Every upcoming opponent will see it on film. The Bills have to adapt, quickly, or they will get run over.
2. Edmunds made some poor decisions in the middle, often getting caught in the wash, choosing bad angles, but it’s tough to blame much on him. He led the team in tackles, primarily because it would have been hard not to – running backs were coming at him all night.
3. Singletary and Moss would have gone for over 200 yards running behind the Chiefs’ offensive line; unfortunately, they had to run behind the Bills line. It was tough yardage all night. It’s easy to tell when the Bills running game isn’t working – they resort to running Josh Allen. When Allen gets designed runs, it means Brian Daboll has run out of answers. Allen led the team in rushing, not because he had a couple of 30-yard scrambles, but because he took the pounding that running backs ordinarily are asked to take. That’s not a formula for success.
4. Despite the numbers, Allen wasn’t bad passing. Yes, he missed badly on a couple of throws early in the game. (Troy Aikman was classic. He blamed the early misses on the reeemergence of Allen inaccuracy, but as soon as Mahomes, the golden boy, missed badly, it was because of the weather.) After the early misses, Allen had bad drops by Brown and Kroft, and then he got going. He threw two spectacular deep balls to Diggs, one that almost drew a penalty and one that did. His touchdown pass to Diggs was a pinpoint throw after a good scramble out of the pocket. In fact, Allen worked well in the pocket all night, avoiding the rush and finding the right targets His inteception was a desperation throw with the clock running out. The Bills still have their franchise quarterback.
5. The Bills didn’t play with the poise that Sean McDermott expects of his team. The successive unnecessary roughness penalties from White and Poyer were surprising, two veterans trying to fire up their team with physical play, two veterans out of control. Diggs taking a penalty after dawdling back to the line of scrimmage late in the game was ominous; the first sign this season of the Diggs who frustrated the Vikings.
6. And yet, with all that went wrong, with all that was so disappointing, the Bills were in this football game from start to finish. They were the lovable losers of the Dick Jauron era. The Bills scored first. The Bills escaped the first half down only three (and would have been tied, but for Bass’s bad misfire on the last play). They held the Chiefs to a field goal in the second half when a TD would have ended the game. They answered immediately with a six-play 75-yard drive to get back within 6. That was not a garbage-time score; that was the time of the game when Andy Reid asked his team to win the game with a stop; instead, the Bills blew away the Chiefs for the score. Then the Bills forced a fumble, and for thirty seconds, until we saw the replay, it seemed like the Bills would steal the win, despite the Chiefs’ dominance. The fumble was overturned, the Chiefs marched downfield one more time and kicked the field goal to end it.
The Bills must adapt. On the fly.
Editor’s babble: Always appreciate Mark Korber’s rational post game evaluations. You can’t find Mark on Twitter, but you can find him posting on twobillsdrive.com’s the Stadium Wall message board.