The Buffalo Bills had a shot to beat the hottest team in football, the Baltimore Ravens, but came up short. With the offense struggling all afternoon, the team couldn’t capitalize on a stellar defensive performance and lost 24-17. Buffalo’s now 9-4 and will play a pivotal game with huge playoff implications next week against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football. But before we get to that, here are my three biggest takeaways from today’s game:
Despite recent improvement, entire offense is still a work in progress.
In recent weeks it looked like Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll had everything figured out. The Bills’ offense had been rolling and wouldn’t ever go back to its previous inefficiency. Not so fast, Bills Mafia. Facing a strong Baltimore defense, the Josh Allen-led offense regressed badly and missed a true opportunity to upset the Ravens at New Era Field.
At this point, I wouldn’t say it was on Daboll. He didn’t call overthrows by his QB, poor protection by his line, or bad drops or lack of separation by his receivers. Devin Singletary — as he should have — got the majority of the touches and delivered, rushing for 89 yards on 17 carries. His 5.2 yards per carry may have shown Daboll could even try to run more, but watching the game, it was easy to see how he never abandoned it even when majority of people would be ready to air it out.
Bills D gave up:— Howard WGR (@hsimon62) December 8, 2019
24 pts(BAL averages 33)
257 total yds(Bal avg 420)
118 rush(avg 207)
3.6 yds per carry (avg 5.6)
27% 3rd down (avg 48%)
BAL punted 7 times. previous season high was 3
Just like against the Patriots early in the year, the defense played lights out, this time containing Lamar Jackson and the red hot Ravens’ offense. Buffalo just needed a little more from their offense.
One key area Daboll needs to figure out
Despite not blaming this poor offensive performance on the offensive coordinator, there’s one area where he clearly needs to find solutions quickly: there is no answer to all-out blitzes.
Baltimore wasn’t afraid of, with the game on the line, repeatedly sending the house at Allen, and Buffalo had no answers for it. The offensive line can’t hold their blocks, the wide receivers aren’t getting open quickly enough or winning in contested catch situations, and Allen continues to miss open receivers deep and struggles fighting for his life against instantaneous pressure. He’s taking too many hits and the offense is stagnating against this strategy, the same used by Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ defense in week four.
Today highlighted what my biggest concern for the Bills is in Week 15.— Marcel Louis-Jacques (@Marcel_LJ) December 8, 2019
If you're giving up 5 sacks to a Ravens defense that ranks 22nd, what's going to happen against a Steelers defense that ranks 3rd in sacks and 1st in takeaways?
Facing the strong Steelers defense next, in what could become the decisive game in the Bills’ 2019 season, Daboll needs to find ways to scheme things around this deficiency. The players are doing their best, but they aren’t going to magically correct all their weaknesses in a week; the inconsistencies will continue to be there. It’s up to the OC to find some plays to discourage this approach by opposing defenses, or they will continue to stop Allen this way.
Another Moral Victory
I know, it isn’t what fans like to hear at this point. When you lose a close game against the very best in the NFL, and it comes to a 4th-and-8 in the opponents’ red zone, the bad taste of having the win in your grasp and letting it vanish away is inevitable. But despite all the negatives and room for improvement, you can walk away from this one with some optimism, Bills fans.
This Baltimore Ravens just won their ninth game in a row. They’re being led by an explosive MVP candidate QB and a powerful rushing attack combined with an aggressive defense. They have a great head coach who’s been at the helm for over a decade, establishing his culture and building sustainable success. This team is built to win now and they’re succeeding, as shown by their record and how they steamrolled other AFC contenders in the Patriots and Texans.
On the other hand, Buffalo is again overachieving under McDermott, for the second time in three years. After making the playoffs in year one of the rebuild, he’s close to clinching another playoff spot in the third year of the process.
With a “raw” second-year starter at QB surrounded by nine(!) new starters on the offensive side of the ball, and no stars between them, I doubt many people were confident before the start of the season that the Bills would boast a 9-4 record at this point in the year. People appoint the strength of the schedule as a reason, but the Bills were one of the “easy wins” available for their opponents, according to most pundits’ predictions. Despite the strong defense, few took this roster seriously before, and now they’re clearly competing with the cream of the crop.
I know moral victories don’t count in the standings, but calm down, Bills Mafia. The true ones will come. This team is headed in the right direction, and hopefully they’ll figure it out at the right time.