It wasn’t pretty, Bills Mafia. The Buffalo Bills suffered their first loss of the season, against the Tennessee Titans, and it was a stomp. In a day were the previously unbeaten team couldn’t get anything going on the three phases of the game, the well coached, disciplined and opportunistic Titans took advantage of the opportunity and secured another win. Here are my top three takeaways from yesterday blowout loss:
Poor result raise questions about Sean McDermott
Listen, I’m a big McDermott fan. With that said, as I pointed in the past, his impressive results since coming to Buffalo do not mean he’s perfect or can’t be questioned or criticized sometimes when he’s directly attached to the team’s struggles.
McDermott has been in conversation as a coach of the year candidate but I don’t agree with it. Yeah, his work has been awesome but this award isn’t given to the best coach in the last three years. It’s all about 2020, and McDermott hasn’t been at his best recently.
We all know he’s a defensive-oriented coach who has installed a very successful defense in the last three years — a unit directly responsible for the team’s success in 2018 and 2019. However, if not an otherworldly development by his third year quarterback and the offensive explosion it has caused (props to WR Stefon Diggs and OC Brian Daboll here too), the team’s record could look very different right now, especially because his defense is underachieving, badly.
Buffalo has won four games, all by 10 points or fewer, and with the offense scoring at 30 or more points on three of them. They were severely outclassed on Tuesday and, despite both teams facing unusual difficulties before the game and missing key starters, Buffalo was the one looking unprepared all evening. It was a performance reminiscent of Rex Ryan’s days, with several penalties and costly mistakes.
His defense hasn’t been able to perform at the impressive level of the last couple of years. They’re not being able of stop the run sometimes, rush the passer on others, and tackle or cover, what used to be their strengths, all season long. They’re struggling to get out of the field on third downs and, with the fourth quarter against the Raiders as the exception, they’re not being able to make game changing plays.
Matt Milano, Levi Wallace and Tre’Davious White’s absences don’t help. However, McDermott (and Leslie Frazier) have done more with less in the past. He has his hand-picked players in house and this defense should be at its best right now, not becoming a huge issue. How the head coach responds to these difficult times will determine the team’s success this year.
…and about Brandon Beane
It’s not all on coaching, obviously. The players need to execute and the front office need to give the coaches the right players. Just like with McDermott, I’m a big Beane fan and his hits have vastly outnumbered his misses. Anyway, the misses are there too and need to be pointed out.
Let me start with the team depth. On paper, that’s supposed to be a deep Bills team, one with several quality backups able to come in and replace the starters without letting the team performances drop. In reality, every player who has missed a game was severely missed, making me question some of the general manager’s moves.
Let’s start with some of his signings. A.J. Klein has been awful, and the general manager (alongside the head coach) clearly thought it was a good idea having him instead of Lorenzo Alexander, a veteran leader who offered a lot of versatility to this defense. With Milano out, Klein was exposed a couple of weeks ago. Luckily, former undrafted free agent Tyrel Dodson has played well, but it doesn’t change the bad decisions made when evaluating the linebacker group.
Same case can be made about the defensive line. They preferred Vernon Butler and Mario Addison over guys who contributed greatly to the team’s defensive success in the last couple of years in Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson. Money-wise, it wouldn’t be very different if they kept their former players, but their familiarity with the former Panthers made then believe it was a better decision.
Addison has been a more prolific pass rusher than Lawson, but he’s also older and not as strong against the run. Phillips clearly is the superior player over Butler, who has been a non factor after performing only in his contract year in Carolina. With Ed Oliver still not polished enough as a pass rusher, Phillips is being really missed there.
I won’t even mention the cornerback position because Beane was a bit unlucky there. EJ. Gaines decided to skip the season due to Covid-19, and Josh Norman and Wallace have been struggling with injuries. Anyway, this decision to go thin at the corner spot has been happening for some years now, and this time it backfired with the injuries.
Without White in the lineup too, I’d expect Taron Johnson or Siran Neal to play more, including outside. However, Cam Lewis was called up from the practice squad and started. Not ideal.
In a team with this type of struggles with reposition pieces, I just can’t be fine with a second round pick not having any impact on game days. Again, I really like McDermott and Beane, but let’s not act like they can do no wrong. Even if you look at the drafts, Cody Ford, AJ Epenesa, Zack Moss and even this year’s Tremaine Edmunds have been disappointing. Buffalo needs more from them, quickly.
John Brown’s injury mismanagement costing a lot
You don’t need to be a doctor to know how mismanaged the Brown situation was. He injured his calf, and even if it was a minor injury, when an athlete who succeeds because of his explosion and acceleration deals with one of those, you need to be extremely careful.
I didn’t expect Brown (“Smoke”) on the field against the Raiders, but he was there, in the rotation and contributed. Buffalo escaped without him aggravating it, but it didn’t last long. After being held out of one practice session, Brown re-injured his calf.
Bills WR John Brown didn’t practice yesterday with a calf injury, appears to have aggravated it during this rep today
— Marcel Louis-Jacques (@Marcel_LJ) October 8, 2020
There’s no excuse to have Brown running full speed coming out of this type of contusion. Calves and hamstrings are no joke and this issue can give more trouble to the team going forward.
Without Smoke in the lineup, Buffalo missed a deep-threat wide receiver to stretch the field. Gabriel Davis just isn’t this type of guy, Andre Roberts is there just because of his returning skills and Isaiah McKenzie is strictly a jet-motion/trick play guy. Without Brown, the offense looks completely different, maybe another mismanagement by Beane and his coaching staff.
At the end of the day, the Bills still are 4-1 and sits at the top of the division. There will be bad days and they need to learn from then and continue to get better. No matter how bad they played yesterday, there are several positives you still can point out about this year.
If Josh Allen had a game like this last year or the year before:
26/41, 263, 2 TD, 63.41 COMP%
It would have been a season high and we would have called it a good game for him. Now it’s the low point of his season.
— Kurt Haumesser (@KurtHaumesser88) October 14, 2020
Josh Allen looks really improved and if that’s his floor for a bad game moving forward, it’s a pretty good floor. Diggs is for real, Cole Beasley continues to be his usual self and Devin Singletary still can make people miss, just needs better run blocking. The offensive line has been doing all right protecting Allen too and there’s no third down who seems long enough to no make Allen a threat.
On the defensive side, just as I wrote above, we saw McDermott do more with less in the past. I still trust him to find answers to the defensive struggles. Former first rounders Edmunds and Oliver can be better, especially the former, but they still have the potential and skillset to do so.
This loss is a tough one to swallow but maybe it’s just what this team needs. Escaping with close victories could hide some of these team’s deficiencies. Not anymore. It’s time to move forward and give the world an answer, against the defending champs Kansas City Chiefs.