The Buffalo Bills are back on track and move to 7-4 with their Thanksgiving game win against the New Orleans Saints. The Bills were the better team on paper, and it was obvious with the play on the field. Despite a pair of Josh Allen INTs, the Bills still managed to score 31 points against a well-coached and talented Saints defense.
Below we’ll examine the most inspiring part of the game, the part of the game that needs to be inquired about further, a player that requires a better performance, and the most irksome part of the game.
Inspire: Ed Oliver and the Defense
Ed Oliver finally had the game that showed up on the stat sheet that we’ve all seen with our own eyes all season. Oliver dominated the Saints’ OL, bringing consistent pass rush, and good run stuffs. Oliver also notched his first official sack of the year, after having several taken away by penalties this season. Jordan Poyer notched another INT, bringing his season total to 5 as he continues his all-pro level play. Mario Addison made several critical stops in the 1st quarter as well.
The rest of the Bills defense played excellently, locking up and shutting down a poor Saints offense, led by a bad QB. The Saints attempted to take advantage of the Bills run defense struggles from last week, bringing in a 6th OL on multiple plays early, but could not find any consistent yards in the run game. The Saints were certainly depleted offensively, but ultimately, the better team dominated when they were supposed to do so.
Inquire: 4th down decision making
Sean McDermott has been very much with the trends when it comes to 4th down decision making, being aggressive and trusting his team to either make the conversion, and play strong defense if they can’t convert. This year, the Bills have struggled on 4th down, and it seems to have given McDermott some pause on whether or not he should go for it. In this particular game, two 4th down moments stand out: The first was a situation that started on 3rd & inches near midfield, where Josh Allen threw a fade pass to Stefon Diggs that fell incomplete. A low percentage pass on 3rd and short usually means you’re going for it on 4th down. The Bills lined up to go for it, and tried to use a dummy call to draw the Saints offsides. It didn’t work, and the Bills took a timeout and punted. Regardless of whether or not they should have gone for it (they should have) the process of wasting a timeout to setup a punt instead of just taking a delay of game penalty is baffling, and poor decision making.
Then, late in the 4th quarter, with the game well out of reach, the Bills were faced with 4th and 5 at the Saints’ 39-yard line, set up to go for it, and took a delay of game to punt on 4th and 10. Why not try a long FG in a dome? Why take the penalty here, but not in the earlier situation? It’s an odd pair of decisions for a coach that has historically been quite good with those decisions.
Require: Dion Dawkins
Dion Dawkins has not played at the level we’ve come to expect from him. Dawkins has struggled to be consistent, whiffing on blocks, and seeming just a step behind where he has been in previous seasons. Dawkins has been the mainstay at Left Tackle that any franchise wants to have, but his play this season has been alarmingly inconsistent.
While it’s not clear at the moment why the stalwart has been struggling to find his rhythm this season, it is important to note that other NFL players have struggled to re-find their form after having COVID. Myles Garrett during the 2020 season was playing at a high level, got COVID, and wasn’t the same down the stretch for the Browns. He certainly wasn’t bad, and his play this year has shown he’s still a perennial DPOY candidate, but Dawkins was very open about his battle with COVID, and how he was fearing for his life at one point. Whether that’s affected him physically, mentally, or both is unclear, and purely speculative, but it also seems unlikely that someone of Dawkins’ caliber suddenly forgot how to play the position he’s been playing since he was a rookie.
Irk: Tre White Injury
This is the major storyline moving forward. The reality is that Tre White is one of the lynchpins of the defense. You take him out, and the defense changes significantly. Tre’s been a phenomenal player for the Bills since he came into the league, locking down the #1 CB position for Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier’s defense. There’s no doubt that his absence, however long it may or may not be, will be significant for this team moving forward, especially given the lack of depth at the CB position. Moving forward it looks like it will be Dane Jackson, Levi Wallace, and likely a combination of Siran Neal and Cam Lewis as the backups moving forward. It’s not ideal for a team entering the toughest part of their schedule, hoping to make a deep playoff run.
The Bills play against the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football next, giving them essentially an extra half week to rest up, and prepare for their biggest division rival. The Patriots have been on a hot streak, playing fundamentally sound defense, and imposing a strong ground game on other teams, exactly how Bill Belichick likes to coach football. The Patriots feel like one of the most consistent and reliable teams in the NFL right now amidst a very chaotic season with many ups and downs. The Bills have certainly been no exception to those ups and downs, and will look to start a hot streak of their own as they get closer to the playoffs. Beating the Patriots will be critical to not only retaking a lead in the division, but also keeping them ahead in the playoff race as a whole.