On the way to becoming a good team, you beat the teams you should, and you struggle against the upper echelon. On the way to becoming a good team, you must learn to win your share of the big games.
The Bills beat the Rams and the Raiders earlier in the season, two teams that at least are in the discussion of good teams. Then they stumbled against Tennessee and Kansas City, and the question arose again – can the Bills beat good teams?
Sunday against Seattle was the test. The Seahawks are a certfiable good team. They have the pedigree, they have the Hall of Fame coach, they have the true franchise quarterback, they have a couple of deadly wideouts. Yes, they have a suspect defense (and “suspect” may be an understatement), but the Seahawks are winning a lot. They came to Buffalo favored to win.
The Bills handled Seattle. They didn’t manhandle them – it was no blowout, but they handled Seattle. A week after a grind-it-out win against the Patriots, a game in which the Bills relied on a solid ground game, they won an air-it-out shoot out with the Seahawks. They jumped out to an early lead, 17-0, which in some games would have been enough. But the Seahawks have one of the best offenses in the league, and the Bills defense isn’t shutting down good offenses this season. It was predictiable that Seattle would come back, and they did. The Bills were tested. By late in the third quarter, the lead had shrunk to 27-20, but the Bills kept making plays and closed out the win, 44-34.
It was two great offenses against two defenses that have struggled. The difference was that the Bills defense returned, at least in part, to its 2019 form. Against the Seahawks the Bills defense made plays. They took the ball from Seattle four times. Each was a big play by a defender – Jerry Hughes forcing a fumble, Jordan Poyer dropping into the end zone after the pass rush had pinned Russell Wilson near the sideline, Tre’Davious White coming way off his man to undercut a Wilson throw, and A.J Klein sacking Russell and taking the ball from him. In a statistically even game, those four plays maintained the Bills’ grip on the lead and the win.
White’s interception was the kind of smart, opportunistic defense that Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier got from White and the Bills last season but had been missing this year. It was third and 25, at the Seahawks 10. White’s man ran a shallow out route, and after covering the intitial cut, White didn’t just cheat, he abandoned his man altogether and dropped 15 yards downfield. Wilson never saw White and threw the ball to a spot where he never expected to find a defender. Why did White leave his man so far open? Because he knew, no doubt he’s been taught, that if Wilson throws to the underneath receiver, there’s no way he’s going to make the first down. White knew what to do, timed his break well, and made the play.
The Bills also blitzed – a lot. Like everything else the Bills do on defense, the blitzes often were well-designed. Guys coming from around the ends, guys coming from six yards behind the line of scrmmage, guys overloading one side, with defensive ends dropping into coverage. The blitzing was relentless, and Wilson was pounded all afternoon.
And then, at times, there was no bliitzing at all. Wilson often seemed off balance. Still, Wilson put up some good numbers – 28 completions and nearly 300 yards, with two TDs, including an inexplicable blown coverage that resulted in a 55-yard touchdown.
This was a different version of the 2020 Bills defense. Jerry Hughes continued his excellent play – he’s been creating problems for offenses for weeks now. Micah Hyde returned to the lineup and seemed to settle everyone down. Levi Wallace is playing like he did last season – not outstanding, but solid. Tremaine Edmunds seemed revived – he was playing with quickness and anticipation, and he made some solid tackles. A. J. Klein was active and didn’t look like a liability. Mario Addison was getting good pressure.
Maybe the Bills defense has turned the corner.
Josh Allen proved something Sunday that one would have thought the league already knew – you can’t let him stand in the pocket and throw the ball downfield. Allen’s too good, and his receivers are too good. By the time Seattle got serious about getting real pressure on Allen, and dropping him for a season-high seven sacks, it was too late. Allen shredded the Seahawks defense for 400+ yards and three TDs, then added a rushing touchdown, just for fun.
Seven sacks is troubling, except for a young QB in a win. The sacks didn’t cost the Bills the game, and sacks are how young QBs learn. Allen protected the ball all afternoon, never flirting with interceptions and surviving plenty of hits without fumbling. His growth continues. Allen’s worst play was the overthrow of Diggs deep down the left sideline. A well thrown ball would have been a big completion, an underthown ball probably would have drawn a pass interference call.
After the game, Pete Carroll said the Seahawks had a lot of great plans for stopping the Bills running game. Sorry, Pete, Brian Daboll had other plans.
Now the Bills go to Arizona – another big game. Those guys can play, and they have great playmakers. You can’t win ‘em all, especially against good teams, but you can be sure the Cards know the Bills are for real.
Editor’s babble: This was a badly needed statement game. Josh Allen is maturing right before our eyes. Thanks, as always, to Mark Korber for his contributions to our blog. You won’t find Mark on Twitter but you can find him posting at twobillsdrive.com’s Stadium Wall Message Board.