Doug Whaley has taken his share of grief in recent years, but the guy does deserve credit for finding players who were passed over by other teams. In fact, it might be the only reason he has been able to maintain employment after he took over for Buddy Nix as Bills general manager in 2013.
The Bills’ defense showed up when needed most Sunday in a 30-19 victory over the Rams in Los Angeles Coliseum. Buffalo allowed only one touchdown, forcing the Rams to settle for four field goals. LeSean McCoy was spectacular, especially in the first half. And the Bills have their first three-game winning streak since 2011.
It was easy – easy for me, anyway – to doubt the Bills even after they beat Arizona at home and shut out New England on the road. If the legion of apologists made excuses for them in defeat, there were numerous of reasons to question them in victory. Add the fact that Rex Ryan is the coach and, well, they were a tough sell.
Arizona lost after traveling across the country and getting off to a slow start. And look at the Cardinals, off to a 1-3 start. New England was forced to play injured third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett in a game that mattered far more in the grand scheme to the Bills than the Patriots.
Ryan took another step away from the hot seat. A few weeks ago, after losing twice in five days and firing his offensive coordinator following a poor performance by the defense, there were questions about whether he would survive the bye week. The same was true for Whaley, whose fingerprints were all over the win Sunday.
Justin Hunter scored the first touchdown in his first game with the Bills after they signed him as a free agent. Mike Gillislee, impressive last season after he was signed off the street, scored the second touchdown. Nickell Robey-Coleman, an undrafted free agent, had a pick-six in the third quarter and another interception with 1:48 remaining.
Let’s not forget Tyrod Taylor, another free agent Whaley signed before he won the starting job at quarterback last season. Taylor didn’t have his best game, but he threw two touchdown passes, including the clincher with 2:37 remaining, effectively managed the offense and made no major mistakes.
Lorenzo Alexander was a man without a team before the Bills signed him in April. He had two sacks Sunday, giving him a career-high six in the first five games. He’s a big reason, along with free-agent linebacker Zach Brown, that the Bills have improved to 3-2 after dropping the first two games.
It’s almost enough for you to forget first-round draft picks, all of whom were selected during Whaley’s time with the Bills, who did not play: EJ Manuel was the backup quarterback, Marcell Dareus had a hamstring injury after he was suspended for four games and Sammy Watkins was sideline with another injury.
Taylor completed 12 of 23 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns, pedestrian numbers again that were overshadowed by his two touchdown passes. He bought time on both TD tosses, scrambling before he found Hunter and waiting an extra second before throwing off his back foot to Marquise Goodwin.
The Bills showed early in the game they could run all day against the Rams’ defense, which was without three starting linemen. It allowed them to double-team defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a two-time Pro Bowler whom Ryan once claimed couldn’t carry Sheldon Richardson’s jock.
McCoy left jockstraps all over the field. He was terrific Sunday while gaining 150 yards on 18 carries. He snapped off a 53-yard run that led to Gillislee’s touchdown and added another long one before Goodwin scored. McCoy gained 111 yards on nine carries in the first half after finding his rhythm behind the offensive line.
If anything, he should have been handed the ball more often. McCoy gained 16 yards in the third quarter on only four carries. The Rams made adjustments on defense that were designed to slow down the running game, but it was as if the Bills were intent on allowing L.A. to dictate how the second half would be played.
In recent years, heavy workloads for running backs have almost become extinct in the pass-happy NFL. Teams have come to preserve their backs, making sure they have a substitute ready every time they rush for 5 yards or more. Running games are shaped by committee in offenses that find the pass irresistible.
But there are games in which intelligent offensive coordinators need to throw away conventional wisdom, embrace their instincts and ride the hot back. McCoy is 28 years old, an age when production typically drops off for backs. But he’s still an elusive runner, and he was practically unstoppable Sunday.
Buffalo looked disheveled on offense but still had a 23-16 lead after Robey-Coleman returned Case Keenum’s telegraphed pass 41 yards for a pick-six. Robey-Coleman saw the pass coming – along with everyone else – before making a break on a sideline pass for the TD. The Bills were on their way to their third straight win.