Sean McDermott offered little insight this week about his decision to replace Nathan Peterman with Josh Allen as the Buffalo Bills’ starting quarterback for Sunday’s home opener against the Los Angeles Chargers at New Era Field, merely repeating that it was the “best move for our team.”
“Yeah, look, I don’t feel the need, honestly, to elaborate,” the coach said.
While it was clear Peterman was incapable of moving the offense during Sunday’s 47-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore, McDermott’s approach to questions left his players to further explain his motivation.
McDermott, a longtime defensive assistant, sees the game through that prism.
And some of the Bills’ best defensive players made it clear that McDermott switching quarterbacks isn’t only in an attempt to jump-start an offense that failed to generate a first down during the first half against the Ravens, but an effort to help the defense, which was gassed after spending so much time on the field.
“You need your offense to move the ball,” said safety Jordan Poyer, who played 77 of 80 defensive snaps. “That’s just part of the game of football. And it’s complementary football, too. If your offense is able to move the ball, maybe they go and punt the ball inside the 20, and now they’re backed up and we have an opportunity to hold them to three-and-out, and now they’re punting the football. It’s a field position game. So, complementary football is a huge part of what’s going to be our success.”
This week, the Bills’ defense is preparing to face the Chargers’ top-ranked offense, which racked up 541 yards in a Week 1 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Bills need to score points to have a chance to hang around in the game.
But they also need Allen to move the chains, even if those possessions don’t result in points, to keep future Hall of Fame quarterback Philip Rivers off the field.
“No. 1, if you look at all good teams, playoff teams, championship football teams, they may not be the top statistically for what you’re looking for, whether it’s yards allowed or yards gained,” veteran defensive lineman Kyle Williams said. “But at critical points in time they can swing momentum and they complement each other that way, whether they’re getting turnovers, they’re getting the ball back, or if the offense is able to run the ball and control the clock against a powerful offense.
“I think the old cliché stands that your best defense is a good offense and vice versa, so they both work hand in hand, for sure.”
The Bills had next to no offense in Baltimore.
They controlled the ball for 10:35 through eight possessions in the first half and failed to pick up a first down on 10 of their first 11 possessions stretching into the third quarter, as Baltimore built a 40-0 lead.
The Ravens benefited from tremendous field position throughout, beginning each possession on average at their own 41-yard line. And that stat is skewed by the Ravens’ final two garbage-time possessions, which began at their 11- and 10-yard lines.
Baltimore pieced together three long touchdown drives, twice marching 85 yards in the first half, including on the first drive of the game, and 94 yards late in the fourth quarter.
While long drives wear out a defense, at least the offense has to work for its points. The Bills’ failure to move the ball in response to those drives not only resulted in disadvantageous field position, but gave its defense little time to recover.
And having to defend a short field on little rest is a back-breaker.
“You’ve got to play complementary football,” said safety Micah Hyde said, who was on the field for 76 of 80 defensive snaps. “Coach says it all the time. You’ve got to be able, as a defense, to get three-and-outs, get the ball back for the offense in good field position. Offense, you’ve got to move the ball. If you do punt it, make them backed up so they’ve got to drive 80-plus yards. Special teams, flip the field. It’s as simple as that. It’s not just defense, do your job. It’s offense, defense and special teams all have to be intertwined for field position.”
Baltimore traveled just 68 total yards combined on five of its scoring drives, accounting for 27 of its 47 points. Those possessions included a 38-yard touchdown drive, meaning the Ravens needed only to go a combined 30 yards for four scores.
Those drives began at the Buffalo 20-, 29-, 14- and 1-yard lines.
The first two were in the first half, and the defense responded admirably, limiting the Ravens to a pair of field goals. Those last two were Baltimore’s first two drives of the second half. Both resulted in touchdowns. That’s 14 points on 15 yards.
“That was hard,” Hyde said. “I think that our defensive mindset is whatever position we’re put in, we’ll go out there and compete, we’ll try to get the ball back, we’ll try to get takeaways, we’ll try to force them to field goals. But at times it can be overwhelming. That’s for sure. We saw that on Sunday. I’m not placing any blame on the offense. As a defensive player, we’ve got to get the job done and we didn’t do that.”
Defensive end Jerry Hughes reiterated that point.
“It creates a snowball effect when you can’t get off the field on third down, and we didn’t do that enough,” he said. “We’ve got to do that in order to be successful in the NFL. In order to be a great defense in the NFL, you’ve got to get off the field on third down, and whenever we have chances to create turnovers and sacks, we’ve got to take full advantage of them. And we missed them. Myself included. I blew an opportunity to pull Joe Flacco down. So we understand that. We’re hungry. I’m hungry to get just get back out there and play football.”
Allen, the seventh overall pick in the draft, finally got the offense moving on his second possession in the third quarter, picking up his first two first downs by running the ball himself.
He led a 12-play, 38-yard field goal drive for Buffalo’s only points of the game.
“We all have faith in him to come in the game and perform well,” Poyer said. “He’s a first-round pick for a reason. And he might be nervous, he might make some mistakes, but then it’s our job as the defense to be able to bail him out, and hopefully he’ll be able to do the same with us. It’s all complementary football.”