Detroit Lions-Buffalo Bills in late December was always going to be a tough sell.
That's played out this week, as tickets were available on the secondary market for as little as $6 as of Thursday. Even though there are no playoff implications, there is plenty for Bills fans to watch for Sunday.
That starts with Josh Allen and the continued development of the offense. On to this week's mailbag ...
@atv3 asks: Even though he’s been injured (and it appears to be a very serious concussion at that), how much counsel does Derek Anderson (and now Matt Barkley) lend Josh Allen day to day? Do you see either back next season to help in the quarterback room?
Jay: The best answer I can give is “a lot.” Here’s what Allen had to say about it Wednesday: “I definitely think we were a different team before Derek got here. The presence that he’s had in our locker room and on our offense has been tremendous. Then, Matt comes in, he’s kind of the same way. They just know how to be professional quarterbacks, and for me to see that, that was huge.”
That’s a telling answer, and provides a great look at what Anderson and Barkley have brought to the team. As for whether either will be back next year, Anderson was in concussion protocol for nearly seven weeks before being cleared Friday. At 35 years old, and dealing with what was a serious concussion, he may decide that the time is right to officially retire. If he’s healthy and wants to continue playing, maybe the Bills bring him back on a veteran-minimum contract, but not too many teams go that route. The third quarterback spot is usually used on a young player who may have positional versatility (think Joe Webb).
Barkley, on the other hand, would make sense to bring back. Even though his body of work is small, he did a terrific job in his lone appearance. He’ll have plenty of familiarity with the offensive system, and has a good working relationship with Allen. That checks a lot of the boxes a backup quarterback needs.
Brian Cummings asks: How many players, not currently on the roster, take the first offensive snap on Sept. 8, 2019? Setting the over/under at 6.5.
Brendan Sweet asks: How many new starting offensive linemen are we going to have next year? Same question, but at wide receiver?
Jay: I’ll take Brian’s under. I count Allen, Dion Dawkins and Zay Jones as players who are near locks to start in 2019. That leaves eight spots. Running back LeSean McCoy and tight end Charles Clay are in “maybe” range. There would be a substantial cap savings if the Bills moved on from one or both, but doing so would open another hole to fill. I’d say Clay is more likely to be gone than McCoy.
The offensive line could have as many as four new starters, while there might be two spots at wide receiver up for grabs (for this purpose, let’s say three wide receivers are classified as starters).
I give rookies Wyatt Teller and Robert Foster a chance to be in the starting lineup, too. If that was the case, the under would hit. Center Russell Bodine has one year left on his contract. He’s no guarantee to start, but could be back to compete for the job.
To summarize this rambling, I’m saying the team has six new starters: Tight end, two wide receivers and three offensive linemen.
For fun, let’s look at the defense. This sparked a good conversation in the media room this week: I’ll set the over/under at 2.5. The biggest questions are what happens with veterans Kyle Williams and Lorenzo Alexander. If both are back, I’d take the under. If both retire, I’d take the over. The two positions that could be up for grabs are edge rusher and No. 2 cornerback. If the Bills land a stud defensive end in the first round of the draft, I could see that player taking over the place of Trent Murphy/Shaq Lawson. It’s also possible that the team looks for an upgrade from rookie Levi Wallace at cornerback, even though he has been solid since getting called up to the active roster.
Andrew DiLuca asks: As the Bills get younger at positions like wide receiver, quarterback, offensive line and linebacker, do we have the correct position coaches in place? I have my doubts.
Jay: The best way to judge that would be to look for signs of progress. At wide receiver, you can say that Zay Jones, Robert Foster and Isaiah McKenzie have shown that this season, which speaks well of the job Terry Robiskie has done. Robiskie wasn’t able to get through to Kelvin Benjamin, but that might be a lost cause. Along the offensive line, it’s not as easy to see growth. Rookie fifth-round draft pick Wyatt Teller has shown some over the last month, but after that, who else? Dawkins would be the first to admit he hasn’t progressed as much as he hoped. The right side of the line, John Miller and Jordan Mills, don’t figure to command much attention when they become unrestricted free agents after this year. At linebacker, there’s a lot of promise with Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. Even Alexander producing the way he has at 35 is a feather in the cap of Bob Babich. Quarterback, of course, is the big one. I was skeptical of David Culley, who has worked with wide receivers for the majority of his career, being the one to oversee Allen’s development. Allen certainly has made progress.
Mike Jankowski asks: Why didn’t the Bills blitz Sam Darnold as the Jets did with Josh Allen?
Jay: They stuck to their usual plan. According to colleague Mark Gaughan, the Bills blitzed on five of 25 dropbacks by the Jets. That 20 percent number matches their season average for blitzes during a game. New York, meanwhile, blitzed on 18 of 49 dropbacks (this number includes quarterback scrambles and plays with called penalties). That’s 37 percent of the time. New York is one of the biggest blitzing teams in the NFL, while the Bills are in the bottom half of the league.
Considering Buffalo did not record one quarterback hit for the first time all season, it’s fair to wonder if defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier should have ordered more pressure. We saw the week before in Miami a great emphasis on blitzing, particularly with defensive backs, and that resulted in three sacks and nine quarterback hits.
Adam Nannini asks: Hey Jay, do you think it’s basically a sure thing that the Bills make a run at Ryan Kalil next year and offer him way too much money because of the Carolina connection?
Jay: I understand the sentiment, but wouldn’t say it’s a sure thing. Kalil is 33 years old, and while he has stayed healthy this year – starting all 13 games – he appeared in just 18 of 32 in the two seasons before this one. A two-time first-team All-Pro (2013, 2015), he’s made five Pro Bowls, but is no longer that type of player. Consider this: In 804 snaps this year, Kalil has an overall grade of 62.4 (out of 100) as tracked by the analytics website Pro Football Focus. Among centers who have played at least 50 percent of their offensive snaps, Kalil ranks No. 18. Interestingly enough, he’s one spot ahead of Russell Bodine, who played 588 offensive snaps before suffering a broken fibula early in the Week 13 game at Miami. Kalil has allowed two sacks, three quarterback hits and 20 quarterback hurries, according to PFF. Bodine has allowed no sacks, one quarterback hit and eight hurries by comparison. The point is, if fans want an upgrade on Bodine, which is reasonable, there’s no guarantee Kalil will offer that.
IDon'tTrustTheProcess asks: The loss to the Jets was predictable like many. On the three plays from the Jets' 23 on their second-to-last possession prior to the go-ahead field goal, there was not one pass to the end zone. They played conservative as always and left too much time for the Jets to come back. Who’s to blame?
Jay: IDon'tTrustTheInformationInThisQuestion – see what I did there (just kidding). On third and 5, Allen did throw to the end zone intended for Zay Jones, but the pass came a little late and Jones couldn't make the play. On first down, they ran a jet sweep with Isaiah McKenzie that looked like it should have gone for more yardage. I wouldn't call that conservative. They did run on second down, although if leaving too much time was the worry, that should have been the play. I don't think the clock was that much of a factor there. The Jets had all three timeouts and the two-minute warning. The play there was going for a touchdown. You can argue the second-down call, but I didn't have a problem with the other two.
Bill L. asks: How would you assess Harrison Phillips’ performance this year?
Jay: Honestly, I haven’t noticed him all that much. That’s not to be meant as an insult. The analytics say that Phillips has had a fine rookie season. PFF grades him at 69.8 out of 100. That ranks No. 6 on the team among players with at least 300 defensive snaps, behind Jerry Hughes, Lorenzo Alexander, Micah Hyde, Matt Milano and Shaq Lawson. Phillips has played 38 percent of the defensive snaps, so he’s solidly in the tackle rotation with Star Lotulelei, Kyle Williams and Jordan Phillips. Harrison Phillips has 25 tackles, four of which have gone for a loss, and one fumble recovery. He has just one quarterback hit, with most of his work coming against the run. I’d consider it a promising start to his career.
Louis Stromberg asks: Jay, I’m back again. I hear you shoot a mean ‘3’ ball. Can you compare yourself to another shooter? NBA or college? My initial take is Eddie House – streaky, but when you’re on, you’re on fire.
Jay: That’s an alarmingly good scouting report. I’m going with Danny Granger, but with way less talent. A little inside-outside game, streaky, probably a little too big for hanging outside the three-point line, but does it anyway. That’s me. Thanks for all the questions this week!
Story topics: Bob Babich/ Charles Clay/ David Culley/ Derek Anderson/ Harrison Phillips/ Jerry Hughes/ Jordan Phillips/ Josh Allen/ Kyle Williams/ LeSean McCoy/ Leslie Frazier/ Lorenzo Alexander/ Matt Barkley/ Matt Milano/ Micah Hyde/ Robert Foster/ Russell Bodine/ Shaq Lawson/ Star Lotulelei/ Terry Robiskie/ Wyatt Teller/ Zay Jones