Here are my five takes on the Buffalo Bills at the bye:
1. Josh Allen must show meaningful progress in however many games he plays through the rest of the season.
The Bills cannot say with any certainty they know what they have in the rookie quarterback. Their faith in him becoming a long-term answer is still built predominantly on projection rather than solid evidence from what he showed in five starts and the nearly half a game he played in the season opener.
So far, Allen has shown he lacks the consistency and accuracy to match the lofty expectations of a seventh overall draft pick. He doesn’t consistently go through his progression reads quickly enough to deliver throws in a timely fashion. Balls that come out slow either don’t reach the receiver or fail to get to the receiver when he’s able to make a play after the catch.
If Sean McDermott follows through on the plan to return Allen to the starting spot when he recovers from his elbow sprain, then Allen has to look like, well, a starter. Growing pains will be evident and understandable, but they can’t be the primary talking point of how he performs.
If that’s the case and Allen is in the No. 1 role for all or most of the six games left on the schedule, there will be surging doubts about whether the Bills did the right thing by selecting the former Wyoming standout who many critics said was not deserving of such a high choice. There also is potential for some rebellion from veterans who are unlikely to be thrilled about having the precious time they have left in their careers wasted on a struggling rookie, even though the commitment to Allen will likely extend into next season regardless of how he plays this year.
2. Finding the right veteran backup quarterback should be a priority.
It’s easy to dismiss Matt Barkley’s impressive start in Sunday’s 41-10 victory against the New York Jets as being more of a fluke than sustainable. It’s easy to say that because his previous regular-season game dated all the way back to Jan. 1, 2017, the Jets’ defense had nothing they could use to prepare. And it’s easy to say the Jets simply stink and their players have quit on Todd Bowles, whose days as their coach would appear to be numbered.
Still, Barkley did provide the Bills the best quarterbacking they’ve had in a long time, and that shouldn’t be ignored. Never mind the low bar that has existed for QBs in this town for many years. The fact remains that, less than two weeks after joining the team and without taking all the first-team reps before a game he learned he was starting barely 48 hours in advance, Barkley looked good — good enough to convince some observers the Bills should stick with his hot hand until it goes cold.
He devoted extensive hours to learning the playbook, studying the game plan and absorbing all he could about the Jets’ defense. Teammates took notice of his tremendous work ethic and professionalism during the week, as well as the instant command he showed on the field, making it seem as if he had been with the Bills for years rather than days.
Of course, a single game doesn’t provide the proof necessary to say Barkley should fill the veteran backup spot, but it should be part of the conversation. At the moment, it gives him an edge over Derek Anderson, who didn’t look all that impressive after being similarly shoved into the starting role with minimal prep time before suffering a concussion. Anderson’s physical status would figure to be part of the discussion as the Bills assess which way to go for the veteran QB spot.
It’s also quite possible that player isn’t on the roster yet.
3. Was that a breakthrough the Bills’ offensive line had against the Jets or an aberration?
As bad as the Jets are, the talent within their defensive front is considered mainly legit. That would seem to lend credence to the idea that the dominance by the Bills’ O-line might very well be the start of a trend rather than a one-time thing. So, too, does the insertion of fifth-round draft pick Wyatt Teller as the starter at left guard.
Teller brought considerable strength and athleticism that had been lacking with his predecessor, Vlad Ducasse, who moved into the spot after Richie Incognito’s retirement. His movement and power were factors in helping the Bills to establish an effective running game for a change.
Although it continues to miss Incognito and retired center Eric Wood, the line has shown on rare occasions it can impose its will on the opposition. Doing more of that the rest of the way is critical for the Bills’ chances of being the contender they absolutely must become next season if the Sean McDermott-Brandon Beane era is to continue past 2019.
4. Maybe LeSean McCoy still has something left in those 30-year-old legs after all.
Through nine games, there was plenty of reason to question McCoy’s viability. He seemed to be doing more side-to-side and backward running rather than attacking the hole. He looked like he had lost some speed and desire to make the second and third effort that were signature parts of a standout career.
All that changed against the Jets. McCoy ran with greater aggressiveness and enthusiasm than he has shown all year in rushing for a season-high 113 yards and his first two touchdowns in 10 games.
The line’s efforts helped a great deal, of course, as did the effectiveness of a passing game that immediately put the Jets’ defense on its heels by hitting a long throw on the first play from scrimmage.
But McCoy seemed to have an attitude adjustment two days after breaking his silence with reporters and saying he had not been professional in handling his frustration over a four-game losing streak and 2-7 start. The Bills need one of their premiere players and veteran leaders to continue to step up, especially with Beane identifying McCoy as a building block for next season.
5. Is it possible the Bills actually do have a few decent wide receivers?
Once again, here we are walking that fine line between reacting and overreacting to what happened against the Jets. For much of the first nine games, there were more than a few observers who wondered whether the Bills would seek to replace most, if not all, of their top four receivers.
Now, perhaps, a revised view could be in order.
Zay Jones had been showing steady improvement and finally had a breakout in the Jets’ game with eight catches (on 11 targets) for 93 yards and a touchdown. He showed the explosiveness and precise route-running that convinced the Bills to make him a second-round draft pick last year with the expectation he would become their No. 1 receiver.
If Jones isn’t already at the top of the depth chart, he’s close, especially with Kelvin Benjamin continually proving to be a bust since the Bills acquired him for a third-round draft pick in 2017.
Benjamin’s pronounced lack of speed is in stark contrast to what the Bills get from players such as Jones, Robert Foster and Isaiah McKenzie. With players who are able to stretch the field, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll can show more creativity and aggressiveness with his play-calling, as he did against the Jets. As the Bills discovered with Barkley's 47-yard completion to Foster to start Sunday's game, they thrive on rare fast starts.