PHILADELPHIA – Here are how my five takes before the Buffalo Bills’ 23-20 loss against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday worked out:
1. Feed the ball to LeSean McCoy early and often. Check. But it didn’t produce the desired result of a triumphant homecoming against his former team. It didn’t even render the satisfaction of a solid performance that allowed him to leave Lincoln Financial Field with his head held high. As soon as the game ended, McCoy simply ran up the tunnel without shaking any hands with ex-teammates or coaches not named Chip Kelly. He also slammed his helmet against the wall of the corridor leading to the locker room. Other than a long run of 24 yards, McCoy was mostly held in check. He carried 20 times for 74 yards, averaging a mere 3.7 yards per carry. He also caught four passes for 35 yards.
The Eagles’ defense concentrated on forcing him to run inside, and the plan worked well. Not that McCoy had a whole lot of help from his offensive line. Defensive end Fletcher Cox was dominant, consistently beating guard Richie Incognito and twice causing him to be penalized. But for all of the hype preceding his first game against the team for which he ranks as the all-time leading rusher, for all of the talk about not shaking Kelly’s hand, for all of the walking around the locker room and going into meeting rooms all week to urge his players to step up and have his back, McCoy failed to deliver. Then, he topped it all off with the immature move of refusing to speak with reporters after the game. That made him the only Bills player not to address the media.
2. Tyrod Taylor has his second game in a row of showing complete command of the offense. Nope. The wait continues for Taylor to make a convincing case that he’s the consistent difference-making quarterback for which the Bills have seemingly been searching forever. This was, for all practical purposes, a playoff game, just as was the case last week against Houston and the week before that against Kansas City.
Taylor came up with a strong enough game against the Texans to raise hopes that he was finally turning the corner and rounding into the type of passer capable of carrying a larger share of the offensive load. He fell well short of that Sunday at a time when the Bills needed it the most. On the way to completing 19 of 36 passes for 268 yards and a touchdown, he was off-target and out of sync with his receivers on multiple occasions. His day ended with an overthrown pass for Robert Woods that sealed the victory for Philadelphia.
Taylor didn’t seem to be reading coverages or making good decisions anywhere near as well as he did last week. Some of that was good scheming on the part of Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis, but a lot of it was Taylor simply not rising to the challenge as often as necessary to win a close, competitive game. With three games left in the season, the Bills don’t seem to truly know what they have in Taylor and whether quarterback will wind up being an offseason priority.
3. Stay sharp and alert against the Eagles’ super-fast offense. Not really. The Eagles had good success moving the ball on the way to building a 20-10 lead in the third quarter. Sam Bradford was far from spectacular. He completed 23 of 38 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown, while throwing an interception. But he managed to have some big completions, including a back-breaking, 41-yard connection with tight end Zach Ertz that set up Caleb Sturgis’ winning 30-yard field goal. The Bills didn’t seem to have a whole lot of substitution or communication problems on defense. However, they did have trouble with penalties, drawing five of the 15 accepted against the Bills. The Bills’ defensive line was especially impacted by center Jason Kelce legally maneuvering the ball with his hand before the snap.
The Eagles’ brisk pace on offense seemed to also cause Buffalo’s defense to become fatigued in the latter stages of the game. Repeated three-and-outs by the Bills’ offense didn’t help matters, but the Bills’ defense ultimately wasn’t able to handle a less-than-overpowering offensive attack.
4. Don’t let disgruntled DeMarco Murray have a rushing performance that equals or trumps the one McCoy is looking to have. Check. Murray was demoted to third string before the game. He had only 34 yards on 11 carries. The Bills also did a good job of containing the Eagles’ top two backs for the game, Darren Sproles (41 yards on seven carries) and Ryan Mathews (38 yards on 13 attempts). What hurt them more were the passes they allowed.
5. Watch the screen … and all other aspects of the Eagles’ passing game. Check. Again, it wasn’t the short stuff that did the damage as much as the longer throws. The running backs only caught six passes for 11 yards.