After a disappointing loss against the New York Jets last week, the Buffalo Bills were back at New Era Field taking on the Detroit Lions. This time, they were able to take advantage of home field advantage and beat their opponent by the narrowest of margins, 14-13. Here are my four takeaways from the game:
Youth movement taking over on offense
No longer battling for a playoff spot, Buffalo overhauled their roster and gave opportunities to many different players, some of whom gave solid performances.
On offense, the top two running backs on the team weren’t available for this matchup, giving Marcus Murphy his first NFL start and undrafted rookie free agent Keith Ford his first action as a pro. Both did a solid job, combining for 81 yards on 25 carries.
Nice work by Teller. Widens the hole for Murphy. pic.twitter.com/mavgkAmF96— Cover 1 (@Cover1) December 16, 2018
Unfortunately, Murphy got injured early in the game and couldn’t show more in an extended opportunity, he’s a guy who I believe can be a solid number two going forward.
At the WR position, the top three of Zay Jones, Isaiah McKenzie and Robert Foster dominated the snap count. Zay had a tough matchup versus Lions Pro Bowl CB Darius Slay and struggled to create separation or win contested catches against him. He finished the game with just one reception on six targets for 11 yards, playing mostly outside.
On the other hand, McKenzie and Foster were great again. The former started the game hot and was targeted early and often by Josh Allen, converting several first downs.
Allen with the throw to McKenzie. pic.twitter.com/Y9creWAG7x— Cover 1 (@Cover1) December 16, 2018
Playing mostly in the slot, the former Bronco finished the game with six receptions on seven targets for 53 yards. He also had one run, a jet sweep, for four yards, and was the primary kickoff and punt returner. The latter continued to show his steady improvement, becoming the first Bills’ rookie receiver to have three 100-yard games since Sammy Watkins. Foster’s speed is impressive, and his chemistry with Allen continues to grow. He finished the day with four catches on five targets for 108 yards and one score. It’s good to see some young guys showing they can be solid pieces moving forward.
More progress from Allen
His development isn’t going to be linear, but yesterday Josh Allen took another step in the right direction. It wasn’t another record-setting performance, but the rookie was able to show improvement in key areas of his game.
What a sell to the middle by Foster and move outside. How about that touch by Allen? pic.twitter.com/g4cdEuCgvO— Cover 1 (@Cover1) December 16, 2018
First of all, he stayed in the pocket more often in the last few weeks, with the Lions consistently rushing four and keeping athletic linebacker Jarrad Davis as a spy. It didn’t bother the rookie, who was able to show poise behind a far-from-reliable OL, making his reads and delivering decisive strikes most of the day.
Really nice throw by Allen pic.twitter.com/OZso8138OB— Cover 1 (@Cover1) December 16, 2018
When none of his targets were able to get open, he still used his legs to score in a red zone opportunity.
“Just a running QB”— Cover 1 (@Cover1) December 16, 2018
No just a playmaker. pic.twitter.com/TasWR4Z8wO
Another area about which Allen was criticized last week, and in which he showed improvement yesterday, was touch passes. The rookie floated some beauties with pinpoint accuracy in this game, one resulting in a 42-yard TD to Robert Foster and another to TE Jason Croom for a first down on the game-clinching drive.
Allen also avoided turnovers and threw the ball away instead of forcing hero-ball throws in bad situations. He finished the game completing 13 of 26 passes for 201 yards, one TD and zero INTs, adding 16 more yards and another score on the ground. It was a good day for the centerpiece of the Bills’ offense.
Tough day for one of the team’s best players
Since being selected in the 27th pick of the 2017 draft, Tre’Davious White has been one of the most reliable performers on the team, week in and week out. Few were the games in which he couldn’t contain an opposing WR, but they have happened occasionally, like last season, when he had no answer for AJ Green and the Bengals. It happened again yesterday.
With the Bills’ defense again playing very well, Lions QB Matt Stafford found himself in a tough situation and decided to give his number one target, Kenny Golladay, some opportunities to beat the Bills’ best CB. It worked; Golladay consistently won on contested catches and drew some flags on White, who failed to locate the ball on time and struggled against his opponent’s size.
Golladay finished the game with seven catches on eight targets for 146 yards — a dominant performance. It looks like White has problems with those big and long receivers, something he’ll need to work on for next season. It’s far too early to panic about his performance; Tre will be fine. He’s enjoying another stellar season and, just like any corner, will have some difficulty against good receivers on an island. It’s normal.
Veterans cementing their fates
With the season’s finale approaching fast and a lot of veterans having their deals expiring, these games can seal their fates as Bills players. Against the Lions, we could see some guys trending in different directions.
Lorenzo Alexander and Kyle Williams are playing out of their minds despite advanced age, and I can’t imagine head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane not wanting them back for another year. Kyle continued to show his other-worldly quickness off of the snap, blowing plays before they even started. Alexander impresses with his amazing versatility. With Matt Milano out injured, Alexander played more in coverage and almost picked Stafford off twice. Both are respected leaders in the locker room and continue to produce at a very high level on the field.
On the other hand, TE Charles Clay and WR Deonte Thompson’s careers as Bills are seemingly close to an end. They combined for zero catches on three targets. Clay saw the field a lot but was never a threat to the Lions’ defense.
Just missed pic.twitter.com/eiW8WZQzY3— Cover 1 (@Cover1) December 16, 2018
Thompson had few snaps when McKenzie injured his leg but failed to haul in a deep bomb from Allen that hit him in his (outstretched) hands. They aren’t able to replicate last year’s production, and I’ll be really surprised if either one of them makes next year’s roster.