As I See It.
Heading into the 2023 season, there was genuine optimism the Bills might be fielding the strongest team in the Brandon Beane/Sean McDermott “trust the process” era.
2022 was a fluke. The Damar Hamlin emotional roller coaster. The weather game and opponent changes. The loss of Von Miller with a torn ACL. The Bills looked like a team out of energy in a disheartening home playoff loss to the Bengals.
Right here I’d like to mention my sponsors: Atwal Eye Care, the official Bills eye specialists. They did cataract surgery on both my eyes last summer, and the result was incredible. Life changing even.
BluTusk Tech of Orchard Park. Need a new computer or old one spruced up? They’re the best.
Also GlobalVendingGroup, which is now running a program to improve child literacy around the world with specially designed book vending machines.
Back to the pre 2023 optimism.
Josh Allen was fully healthy after playing much of last season with an elbow injury, and that’s a great place to start. The OLine was boosted by adding Connor McGovern at left guard, and the former Cowboys starter has been worth every penny of a 3-year, $23M deal. He helped solidify an inconsistent group big time, and he’s only 26. A right guard position was upgraded as well, as the Bills drafted O’Cyrus Torrence out of Florida in the 2nd round, and they plugged him in as a starter right away and never looked back. The Bills kept their faith in gigantic Spencer Brown at right tackle, and he’s having a career year, and the same is true for left tackle Dion Dawkins. With Mitch Morse still anchoring at center, the O-line has stayed healthy and has been the best position group on the team.
So Allen is healthy, you add talented rookie TE Dalton Kincaid in the first round, you’ve still got #1 WR Stefon Diggs. Yes, Gabe Davis is hot and cold at the #2, but he still makes plays. Kahlil Skakir has blossomed into an upcoming star in his second season, and TE Dawson Knox, with the addition of Kincaid, gives the O more flexibility than ever.
So why on earth are the Bills now 6-6?
I’m gonna generalize a bit here, but it’s certainly not Allen. He’s having an unbelievable season, although it’s mystifying how much flak he’s receiving from fans and media alike. Through a dozen games, Allen is completing 68.1% of his passes for 3,214 yards and 24 TD’s and 13 interceptions. When you add in 342 yards rushing and another 9 TD’s, you have 33 TD’s. That’s the best in the NFL, and his first five years resulted in the most combined TD’s for a QB in NFL history.
So we’re quibbling about 13 INTs? Hall of Famers like Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, John Elway, Dan Marino and yes, even Jim Kelly all threw more picks per TD. Actually, it’s not even close. Kelly threw 237 touchdown passes, but was intercepted 175 times. Allen? So far through five plus seasons, #17 has thrown 162 TD’s and 73 int’s.
Repeating, the problem isn’t Allen, so haters can hate but any objective view makes it clear that when you combine TOTAL production, Allen is on a path to finish as the best all-time.
But is there a price to pay for this fantastic production?
The first noticeable issue surfaced when it started becoming obvious that Allen wasn’t as efficient under OC Ken Dorsey as he had been with Brian Daboll, before he landed the NY Giants HC gig. McDermott had little choice but to do something as the Bills continually blew chances to put close games away, and he wasn’t about to fire his Defensive Coordinator: That’s HIM. We’re only two games in with former QB coach Joe Brady, but clearly Allen has reinvented his swagger.
But again, at what cost? Allen is still just 27, but IMO the Bills have relied FAR too much on his ability to make magic, even when it meant taking big hits to gain 3rd down yardage or TD runs in Red Zone territory. This can’t continue.
But for now, McDermott should remain the HC/DC coordinator as we play out the final five games. A sweep, or even 4 of 5, might sneak the Bills into the playoffs, but the next two games – at KC and Dallas home – are scary. The Bills are three point underdogs at KC, just as they were against the Eagles before that crushing OT loss. But the Chiefs, who stumbled at Green Bay to fall to 8-4, are not the unstoppable offense we’re used to seeing. Patrick Mahomes is still a magician, but some of his magician’s helpers aren’t helping. He’s thrown for 22 TD’s with 10 picks, but has NO rushing TD’s this season. The Chiefs D has been really good though, but they’ve been hit with some injuries.
Which brings us to the Bills 6-6 season. It’s the Defense, and to some extent Special Teams, that hasn’t been able to close the deal in close games. All six losses were by six points or less, and Allen gave the Bills a late lead or tie in four of them. The numbers now on McDermott are being scrutinized. He’s 0-6 in OT games, and the :13 meltdown at Arrowhead will always cling to him like a tongue on a cold goal post.
The injuries are a valid reason for much of the defensive slip, and that’s not making excuses. It’s quite real. Losing MLB Matt Milano was a catastrophe. He was the glue. CB Tre White was just rounding into form when an Achilles injury ended his season and maybe career. DT DaQuan Jones was having a career season when he went down. Yes, some younger players are starting to figure it out, but the Bills 2023 D is simply not what it was. Somewhere Leslie Frazier is smiling.
Always when a team is underperforming, the coach becomes the focal point. Fire him. Throw the bum out. The “suggestions” usually don’t include what the replacement will be, because all that matters is we have somebody to be mad at and they’re gonna pay because we’re disappointed.
McDermott is a bright guy who has developed an entirely new culture since his hire in 2017. We often hear about “the process”, but call it by another name if you like, it takes time and great personal relationship acumen to get that done.
He’s in his first NFL HC position and “only” 49 and still learning. His record is currently 68-41 for a .624 win percentage, which is obviously outstanding. Josh Allen is a huge part of that, but it’s fair to say Allen owes much of his improved accuracy and mechanics, not to mention mental attitude, to McDermott. He knows McDermott always has his back, and that goes for most the entire Bills team. They believe in McDermott and feel they’re letting him down.
They aren’t wrong. Yes, a 4-5 playoff record isn’t great, but he’s getting the Bills INTO the postseason with the possible exception of this season. Many NFL franchises have learned the hard way that firing a coach too soon can have disastrous consequences for a franchise. It’s MUCH easier to fall than rise. Everybody is smart and talented; the competition is unbelievable.
McDermott detractors, and there is a growing number, have some ammunition. He’s often conservative, and fans are still ticked at the half time kneel down at Philly with :20 on the clock. Who can forget his enchantment with Nathan Peterman, given a starting shot when Tyrod Taylor was struggling? Disaster. Five interceptions at San Diego in the FIRST HALF of an eventual 54-24 loss. Despite that fiasco, the Bills then won 4 of 6 to reach the playoffs. The :13 meltdown in a Divisional Playoff game in KC was never really explained. Was he covering for somebody? Or did McDermott make the call to kick into the end zone? It’s never been clear. The Bills then won three straight AFC East titles and reached the AFC Championship game, but injuries, some bad decisions, and just bad luck caught up in 2023.
Now we throw in the complicated legal matter of Von Miller’s arrest for an alleged domestic abuse charge, and McDermott will have to keep his team focused on the Chiefs. It won’t be easy.
But McDermott is still the guy to lead this team back to it’s place atop the AFC East, whether it’s this year or next. McDermott is under contract through 2025. Beane will do magic with the salary cap situation, and the Bills can be right where we thought they’d be soon. It’s NOT time to tear it down or rebuild. You have Allen. Give him help. Replace some aging players. The nucleus and talent, and dare I mention culture, are in place.
The window is not closing, but there is a bit of a draft.
Again thanks to sponsors Atwal Eye Care, BluTusk Tech of Orchard Park, and GlobalVendingGroup of Buffalo.
Editor’s babble: We are so grateful for Ed Kilgore’s contributions to our blog. You can also find Ed on Xwitter @Kilgore2Ed and The Ed Kilgore Show wherever you find your podcasts.