Bills mount failing comeback effort, lose to Patriots 29-25

10/22/2023
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The Buffalo Bills played too close to the margins for a second straight week, and this time they couldn’t find a way to win. The New England Patriots were one of the worst teams in the NFL coming into Week 7; frankly, they still are, but the Bills were worse today, and they now not only fall to 4-3 on the season but bring their division record to 1-2. At a time when the Miami Dolphins look nearly unstoppable on offense, and the AFC as a whole a very tight conference, it makes the Bills’ chances for a spot in the playoffs an uphill battle.

This will not be a typical recap, as we won’t dive into the usual categories. This will be a discussion about the offense, defense, special teams, and the team as a whole.

Offense:

Offensively, the Bills are lost. There is no longer an identity with this offense, as Josh Allen hasn’t been consistent enough to make the Bills feel confident in throwing the ball, and while they have certainly been successful running the football, they haven’t been patient in staying with the run. More so, the lack of Allen in the run game through seven weeks no longer constitutes a single game plan, but rather an overarching strategy to keep him out of the run game.

This is fine, it’s not a bad thing to want your quarterback to take fewer hits throughout a season, especially after a season where he injured his elbow, and a week after he hurt his shoulder. The problem is that the numbers in the run game change when you can’t add your quarterback to that equation. The improvements on the offensive line should help that equation, and in the first few weeks that looked to be the case, with rookie O’Cyrus Torrence in particular showing up big as a run blocker. Since then, there has been little consistency across the offensive line as a whole. The Bills can certainly be successful when they run the ball, but for the most part, they simply choose not to stay with it as the game goes on. The pressure on the passing game would likely be fine, given the talent across the board, but part of the problem is the lack of execution and focus in keeping them from doing anything more than starting and stopping like a car you’ve held on to for too long, never going where you’re actually intending to go.

It’s not one thing or another, it’s a failure of the offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey to not figure out what’s working or stick with what is working. It’s a failure of the offensive line for being inconsistent, and getting pushed around by an extremely inferior defensive line of the Patriots. It’s also a failure of Allen for being incapable of breaking out of whatever slump he is in right now. He looks jittery, inconsistent, missing open receivers in his reads, and throwing of his actual targets as well. The receivers also don’t help him enough, as they aren’t uncovering consistently enough, and they aren’t making tough catches when they need to have them. In short, the offense has been a mess because of their own mistakes and problems. It’s not one thing or another, and people who try to sell you on a quick and easy solution (fire Dorsey, trade for a wide receiver, etc.) are trying to prescribe Aspirin for a gunshot wound.

The bright side for this offense has come with two players, and they are James Cook and Dalton Kincaid. Whatever the Bills do moving forward with their offense, it would not surprise me if it involved getting Cook and Kincaid far more involved and more consistently involved than they have been in recent weeks.

Defense:

Defensively, the Bills were one of the best, most complete defenses in the NFL, and now they look average. The problems here are probably more obvious than they are on offense, and it starts with the injuries they’ve suffered. Losing Tre White, Daquan Jones, and Matt Milano in two games has been a disaster for how this defense is designed to function. While the Bills still have plenty of talent on the defensive side, they may have to tweak how they play things, particularly up front. The loss of Daquan Jones was evident last week, and not having Ed Oliver available this week due to a toe injury exacerbated the problem.  The interior of the defensive line is not getting any sort of push, and they’re not beating blocks to create disruption and penetration. The pass rush, which was dominant through September, did very little today against a quarterback in Mac Jones who looks like a leaky bag of molasses when he’s not standing still in the pocket. Von Miller clearly isn’t 100% yet, which would be fine, but the injuries that the Bills have suffered almost require all the remaining players to be at 100% right now. The defense has been fine overall during this slump, holding the Jags for the most part before getting gassed, and keeping the Giants in check with only nine points. But against one of the worst offenses in the NFL today, the Bills’ defense looked average, and despite the injuries, they have too much talent and good coaching to simply be average. Worse yet, in the critical moment of the game, with less than two minutes left, the Bills let that same terrible offense march right down the field with little resistance.

Special Teams:

After a strong start to the season for Tyler Bass, a couple of misses have called into question the operation of field goal kicking. Last week against the Giants, Bass had two misses from 50+ yards out, and while these kicks are not easy by any stretch, they have been well within Bass’ range of success. One of his misses last week also seemed to come on a false step during the kick and this week’s miss looked like a potential tip at the line which sent the kick wobbling off to the right. Outside of that, the punt coverage team gave up a big return early in the game, after the Patriots forced the Bills to shift their coverage to try and protect against what looked like a block attempt.

What’s Next for this Team?

The Bills need to figure out exactly what needs to change, and soon, because this part of their schedule was supposed to be the “easy” portion where they stack some wins, and get momentum going into November. Now, they’re behind the eight-ball, and it only gets tougher from here. The problem is that the Bills can beat anyone… when they’re not beating themselves. The Bills have consistently shot themselves in the foot since their Week 4 win against Miami, dropping passes, missing throws, missing tackles, and creating penalties, all of which bring your margin of error to dangerously thin territory. In the NFL when you live in the margins, you will get beat by teams when you can’t stay ahead, or constantly make mistakes, which is exactly what’s happening to the Bills right now. This doesn’t mean the season is over, and it doesn’t mean that anyone should be on the hot seat at the moment. What it does mean is that this team has to refocus, earn some wins, and get back to what can work for them, or it’s going to be a long season of tough losses.

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