The 2019 Buffalo Bills are going to the playoffs, folks. After beating the Pittsburgh Steelers for the first time since 1999, 17-10 at Heinz Field, Buffalo moved to a 10-4 record and clinched their place in this season’s playoffs. Here are my three biggest takeaways from this big win:
Sean McDermott has been awesome.
There’s no better way to put it. Since becoming the Buffalo Bills’ head coach, McDermott has been doing an awesome job. With this win, McDermott became the third Bills head coach to make the playoffs in two of his first three seasons, alongside Lou Saban and Wade Phillips. It’s been even more impressive if you consider all he’s been through in these years.
Sean McDermott says during his post-game press conference people questioned why he took the #Bills job telling him you won't be able to get it turned around. He added, "we got it turned around."
— Bradley Gelber (@BradleyGelber) December 16, 2019
In the first year of “the process”, the main goal was to set the foundation for sustainable success in the future. Even trading away talented key contributors in Sammy Watkins, Ronald Darby, and Marcell Dareus for future assets, McDermott quickly installed a positive culture in the building. The result was a hard-working group of players overachieving their way into the playoffs, and almost stealing a game there.
The second year was the continuation of this project, moving on from some veterans to draft their future franchise leaders on offense and defense. Josh Allen and Tremaine Edmunds were drafted in the first round and played key roles as rookies. The results were mixed, as expected, and the 6-10 record wasn’t enough for a playoff spot.
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) December 16, 2019
Fast forward to week 15, 2019, and McDermott’s Bills are playoff-bound again. This team isn’t a finished product, but now, unlike in 2017, they’re making it with their probable long-term key contributors already on the roster. Props to McDermott and his staff for finding and developing those guys, always pushing them to play at their best. Sustainable success seems like a reality for this team.
Important Steps Still Necessary
Let me be clear here: I love me some McDermott, Brandon Beane, and “the process”. Also, I really like Daboll. With that said, yes, I disagree with some of their actions and I’ll continue to criticize them when I feel it’s appropriate. I will be wrong sometimes, right in others, but always will respectfully call them out when I think something’s wrong; that’s part of the job.
Where is the McDermott who told Allen to "play fearless"? Red zone opportunity and u don't allow him to be a factor? No passes, no QB runs, nothing, two plays for Gore and that's it? My goodness, you're coaching to clinch a playoff spot, take the pressure out of your D a bit!
— Fernando H. Schmude (@FernandoSchmude) December 16, 2019
So, despite McDermott’s awesome job so far, I can’t stand how ineffective and conservative his offense has been. Some people want to put it on Daboll, and I understand and somewhat agree, but here is why I think it’s mostly on the head coach. The Bills consistently trust their defense excessively, to the point of putting too much pressure on them. They’ve been showing how great they are, but sometimes it’s been too much even for them, as we’ve seen opponents rushing over our tired defense a couple of times this year.
I can’t believe Daboll consistently calls the game in a very conservative way on his own, choosing to rely on the defense. I’m pretty sure it’s part of a game plan organized mostly by McDermott. When the team refuses to try to score on a drive at the end of the first half with 1:50 left on the clock and three timeouts, or when you refuse to try a pass (at least a conventional QB pass) in three attempts inside the opponent’s red zone, being fine with a field goal, I can’t believe it’s mostly on your offensive coordinator. It’s very likely a head coach decision of being conservative in those situations. Yes, Daboll calls the plays, but obviously under a McDermott-approved game plan.
With that in mind, the Bills are 10-4 so far, so it’s been working. However, Buffalo’s best offensive drive in the game happened when they allowed Allen to be himself and air it out. He hit John Brown for a 40 yard gain and five plays later found Tyler Kroft in the endzone for a TD.
Say what you want about Josh Allen. He's not perfect yet, but he's learning, and a competitor, and delivered a TD drive when it mattered to secure a playoff berth on the road, against a tough D, in a hostile environment. I'll take that player any day….in any sport #WINNER
— Aaron Krawiec (@A_Krawiec) December 16, 2019
There’s a reason McDermott moved on from Tyrod Taylor, a mistake-free and extra conservative quarterback. I get that he needs Allen avoiding costly turnovers, but they’re still happening even with the conservative approach. When Allen plays with confidence and aggression, most of the time good things happen. Yeah, he will make some mistakes too, but I’d rather live with those and score more points, than be inefficient on offense all game long and relying, nearly exclusively, on defense. The balance needs to be found if Buffalo wants to go far in the playoffs.
Important Contributors Stepping up at the Right Time
With the Bills clinching their playoff spot, it’s good to see some important players finding their groove in time to contribute there. Let me start with Levi Wallace. The cornerback started the season strong, picking up from his great 2018 finish. However, midway through this year, struggles cost him some snaps. He started to rotate with Kevin Johnson, but in the last couple of weeks, his level of play has improved dramatically again, showing that his poor play was just a rough stretch. Wallace finished the game with six tackles, one pass defended, and the game-clinching interception.
— Buffalo Bills PR (@BuffaloBillsPR) December 16, 2019
Another guy whose emergence could be huge is tight end Tyler Kroft. The former Bengal has suffered with injuries all season long, losing his starting job to rookie Dawson Knox. The rookie is enjoying a good season, but his inconsistencies are maddening at times. That’s why it would be awesome to have a healthy and on-form Kroft for the playoffs. Yesterday, we had a sign of life. Kroft was targeted just one time and he made the most of it, catching a 14-yard TD pass from Allen. With the Bills’ wide receivers being so small, and sometimes struggling with passes a bit off-target, Kroft can emerge as a reliable red zone weapon in January. Any help possible should be welcome on this Bills offense.