Here are my five takes on the Buffalo Bills’ game against the Detroit Lions Sunday at New Era Field:
1. The Bills’ pass rush needs to show some teeth.
Failing to register a single hit on Sam Darnold last Sunday was inexcusable and went a long way toward the inability to protect a 14-3 first-quarter lead on the way to a 27-23 loss against the New York Jets. As a rookie, Darnold should have been more susceptible to putting himself in position to be knocked around and even sacked.
Being able to function without much concern of dealing with contact, Darnold was able to lead the rally, which culminated in the game-winning touchdown drive. The Bills can expect similar results if the same occurs against Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
The Bills rely heavily on their front four to generate pressure. That means the assets they invested in building the interior of their defensive line — adding Star Lotulelei in free agency and Harrison Phillips in the draft, and claiming Jordan Phillips on waivers — need to do their part, along with Kyle Williams, to generate the necessary push to allow Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy and Shaq Lawson to have an impact from the edges.
Buffalo’s best hope for success is by forcing the Lions’ offense, which is atrocious, into mistakes. That will be harder to do without linebacker Matt Milano, who was lost to a season-ending broken leg. Nevertheless, Stafford is more than capable of making enough blunders to tilt the field in the Bills’ favor provided they play like a team with the NFL’s top-ranked defense overall and No. 1 pass D.
2. It’s time for Josh Allen to start showing some better accuracy.
Allen’s completion percentage through nine games, including eight starts, is 52.4. Not surprisingly, that has sparked the narrative that the issue that dogged him at Wyoming (where he completed 56.2 percent of his throws) not only hasn’t improved in the NFL, but has gotten worse.
Of course, Allen doesn’t get a whole lot of help from his receivers, who have had plenty of drops, and his offensive line. Still, even with all of that factored in, he ranks near the bottom of the league when it comes to accuracy.
For the past three weeks, the most compelling story on the Bills has been Allen’s remarkable running. He has made enough dynamic plays with his legs to establish himself as the most dangerous quarterback rushing threat in the NFL. But Allen needs to do more to show what made him the seventh overall pick of the draft. Scrambling wasn’t high on that list. A talented arm, along with the ability to consistently make difference-making plays with it, was.
Lions first-year coach Matt Patricia, the former defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, knows how to devise a scheme that will emphasize containment and force Allen to do the bulk of his play-making from the pocket. That doesn’t mean Allen won’t find opportunities to take off if they’re there, but there’s reason to believe he’ll do a bit less of that in this game.
3. Is there any chance the Bills will find a running game that involves Allen handing the ball off?
Don’t hold your breath. Among the many areas that need to be addressed in the offseason is rebuilding what once ranked as the best rushing attack in the NFL. The Bills have been a disaster in this area largely because their offensive line has done a terrible job of creating holes and their backs have been equally poor at finding them.
LeSean McCoy is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury he suffered early in the Jets’ game. He missed Wednesday’s practice, and was limited in Thursday’s and Friday’s sessions. Coach Sean McDermott wouldn’t commit Friday to whether McCoy would be in the lineup to face the Lions.
Given that the Bills are concentrating on using their final few games to evaluate younger players, it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense to have the 30-year-old McCoy on the field. What makes more sense is having rookie free agent Keith Ford, who impressed coach Sean McDermott with his work in practice Thursday, take the bulk of the carries in a run-heavy game plan.
4. Is there any chance the Bills won’t embarrass themselves on special teams once again?
There was a time when their kicking game was considered a strength, but that seems like eons ago. Danny Crossman, the Bills’ special-teams coach, seems to be headed out the door after a series of major gaffes, including having a field-goal blocked last Sunday and also allowing the Jets’ average drive start to be their own 47-yard line.
The Bills’ special teams have become sloppy and erratic, to the point where the expectation is that they will do something costly in every game.
Although the Lions have a remote mathematical chance of reaching the playoffs, they could be easily discouraged from giving a maximum effort if they fall behind early. That is, unless the Bills give them chances to hang around through big returns or other positive plays from the kicking unit.
Steven Hauschka is listed as questionable with the right hip injury he suffered after last Sunday’s blocked kick, but McDermott didn’t seem concerned about Hauschka’s being able to play at full strength.
5. McDermott’s leadership will receive yet another test.
The coach did a fairly good job of navigating the extremely rough waters of early blowout losses the Bills suffered with the way he seemed to keep the majority of his players engaged and willing to put forth a legitimate effort.
Now that the Bills are officially out of the postseason picture (they were all but gone weeks ago), the situation has changed at least slightly for a team that hasn’t forgotten that it miraculously stumbled into a wild-card spot last year.
With the team essentially taking a preseason-like approach with the extensive use of younger players in the lineup, it will be interesting to see just how hard some of the veteran players play — especially with some facing the distinct possibility of becoming free agents after the final game.