Here are how my five takes before the Buffalo Bills’ 16-6 victory against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday worked out:
1. Will the players feel compelled to (dare we say it) play for their head coach’s job security? Check. Whether Rex Ryan’s future with the Bills is even remotely in question, his players did perform as if they cared and wanted the coach to know that – despite endless public griping about his defensive scheme – they had his back. It wasn’t pretty by any means. For the most part, the game lived up (or is it down?) to its billing as a glorified preseason game.
But it was a far cry from last week, when the Bills were sleepwalking through the first half on the way to a loss against Washington that eliminated them from contention for a playoff spot. Sunday’s game very well could have been a case of the players embarrassing themselves and the franchise with a horrible performance in every respect. And that could have been enough to cause Terry and Kim Pegula to at least ponder the idea that the players had thoroughly quit on their coach and that they shouldn’t waste another season before moving on from their mistake.
2. The run defense must avoid being trampled by Darren McFadden. Not so much. He had a strong day, running for 99 yards on 19 carries for an average of 5.2 yards per rush. In the end, it didn’t do a whole lot to enhance the Cowboys’ offensive production, because they only had a pair of Dan Bailey field goals. But McFadden had plenty of big holes to exploit, as Bills defenders were consistently knocked off the ball by Dallas’ big, powerful offensive line. With any decent quarterbacking, the Cowboys might have been able to capitalize on McFadden’s running.
3. Manufacture a running game with Karlos Williams and Mike Gillislee. Check-plus! Gillislee finished with 93 yards on nine carries, a staggering average of 10.3 yards per rush. He had a 50-yard touchdown run to seal the win with 2:25 left. That was an impressive encore to the 60-yard scoring run Gillislee had a week ago. Williams finished with 76 yards on 17 carries, an average of 4.5 yards per attempt. Both young backs took it upon themselves to make sure the Bills didn’t miss a beat without their lone Pro Bowler, LeSean McCoy, who missed the game with a knee injury. Gillislee, a third-year veteran who had been signed to the Bills’ practice squad on Nov. 4, has proved to be a real find since joining the active roster on Dec. 5. He has tremendous breakaway speed and does an excellent job of turning the corner on outside runs. Williams continues to demonstrate considerable explosiveness on inside runs, and shows excellent extra effort.
4. Tyrod Taylor uses his arm and legs to make the most of his final two chances to make the case that he’s a long-term answer at quarterback. Half-check here. Taylor didn’t do a whole lot with his arm, completing only 13 of 18 passes for 179 yards, but it wasn’t a throwing kind of day. The Bills had put together a run-heavy game plan, so his role as a passer figured to be mostly complementary.
Where Taylor excelled was with his feet, gaining 67 yards on 14 runs, some of which were by design. He did have a moment that would seemingly be something for the Bills to consider when they’re trying to figure out whether he’s their long-term answer. It came right before halftime when he made a terrible throw well short of Chris Hogan in the end zone. The only person who could catch it was cornerback Deji Olatoye, who did for an interception that killed a scoring chance.
5. The defense cannot allow itself to lose a game against Kellen Moore, who is making his first NFL start. Check. As pathetic as Moore’s play was, it’s a wonder the Bills didn’t win by a larger margin and that the game wasn’t determined long before Gillislee’s touchdown run. Moore could barely throw the ball 10 yards, let alone 20. Ryan called him “that little bitty dude,” and the Cowboys’ 6-foot, 200-pound quarterback played small. He threw passes that were nowhere near his receivers and panicked under pressure on the way to finishing with a quarterback rating of 48.6.
Still, with Tony Romo done for the year with a broken collarbone, coach Jason Garrett determined that Moore was a better choice than former Bill Matt Cassel. Cassel pretty much figures to be at the end of the line of an 11-year career, but Moore shouldn’t be allowed to take another NFL snap. The fact he’s even on the Cowboys’ roster is a travesty.