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Bills Mailbag: What's gone wrong on Sean McDermott's challenges?

Jay Skurski

This week's Bills Mailbag deals with Sean McDermott's struggles on challenges, Zay Jones' future, passing on Patrick Mahomes and the future at tight end, among much more. Let's dive in ...

Sam Ruggiero asks: McDermott is a wonderful coach. He has built a powerful defense that is gaining increased recognition nationally. He seems to understand the game well. So, why is his success rate at challenges so abysmal?

Jay: Every challenge is different, so there isn’t one thing you can point to as the reason for why he has struggled in that area. McDermott won his first challenge as a head coach in 2017 and has lost his last 11. Against the Patriots, I thought McDermott’s first challenge was foolish. The replays we saw in the press box did not appear to show clear evidence that James White came up short of the first down. I understand why McDermott threw the challenge flag for a second time in the second half. The Patriots had gained 31 yards to move deep into Buffalo territory. The issue is, a pick play can happen as long as it’s within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage. Again, there was not clear enough evidence to produce offensive pass interference. Knowing that a second-half timeout in a close game was at risk, it was an ill-advised decision by the head coach.

IDon’tTrustTheProcess asks: Robert Foster and Zay Jones have not had an impact on the offense through four games. The fan base is clamoring for Duke Williams, seeing a need for a big wide receiver playing outside and in the red zone. A deadline deal for A.J. Green makes a lot of sense and we have the cap space, too. Thoughts?

Although improved, the offensive line has had issues with pass protection, especially on the right side. In my opinion, Cody Ford should be playing inside, where he could have a Hall of Fame career. Do you think the alternating right tackle situation is hurting his development and the continuity of play on the offensive line?

What grade would you give to the first big test of the Year 3 Sean McDermott Bills? I continue to see undisciplined play, penalties, poor special teams, questionable play calling/game plan, poor clock management and challenges. The lights-out defense kept the game from being a blowout.

Jay: Let’s take these one by one …

1. Green would be a great addition – if he’s healthy. He has yet to play for the Bengals this season. That would be the biggest sticking point in any deal. Cincinnati would also have to be willing to trade him. Given that they should probably do a full-scale rebuild, perhaps they would, but there’s no guarantee of that. The last part deals with compensation. If the Bengals ask for a first-round draft pick, I’d say thanks, but no thanks.

2. I’d pump the brakes on Ford having Hall of Fame potential as a guard. Based on what? I’d settle for solid starter. I don’t think the rotation with Ty Nsekhe has hurt Ford’s development. Rather, it’s been an adjustment catching up to the speed of NFL pass rushers. Overall, the line seems to be cohesive with either Ford or Nsekhe in the game. It’s on offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and sometimes quarterback Josh Allen to better handle pressure. Any team is going to struggle to pass protect against a blitzing defense, which is why the play calls and reads by the quarterback are so important.

3. I gave McDermott an "F" in my report card last week. All of the issues that you mentioned have been noticeable – at times. Overall, though, McDermott has the team off to a 3-1 start. Any Bills fan would have signed up for that before the start of the season. Yes, it was disappointing to lose to the Patriots the way they did, but it doesn’t overshadow the first three weeks. McDermott should also get some credit for the defensive success, too. It’s his scheme, after all.

Ed Helinski asks: What are your thoughts on the offensive play calling by the Bills’ coaching staff? It seems out of sync, disorganized and makes it challenging for the offense to continue its momentum.

TNFP69 asks: Did you have the same feelings as I did during the time Matt Barkley was in the game – not ready to play and what should the coaches call? Seemed to be some indecision and panic.

Jay: I disagree on the not ready to play part. He dropped in a perfect throw to John Brown on third down on his very first pass. Now, you can question the play calling when Barkley came in. I thought Frank Gore should have gotten more work in the last 10 minutes against New England. I hated the fourth-and-goal call of a fade to Zay Jones.

Mike Canfield asks: Is there any chance that the Bills would actually trade or release Zay Jones this year?

Jay: Cut, no. Trade, maybe. Jones has been taking a beating in my Twitter mentions after last week’s game. A perceived lack of effort isn't sitting well with Bills fans. Jones, though, still has an important role on the offense as the third receiver – even if he’s not living up to the expectations that come with being a second-round draft pick. Releasing him does nothing to strengthen the roster, unless you believe Duke Williams would provide an upgrade. If the coaching staff felt that way, the move to promote Williams would have already been made. He was signed to the 53-man roster Saturday and could make his NFL regular season debut Sunday.

I’d also classify a trade as unlikely. The Bills don’t figure to be sellers at the trade deadline. If they were to move Jones, it would have to be for a player. That possibility can’t be entirely ruled out, but player-for-player moves aren’t that common at the NFL trade deadline.

Karen Sniadecki asks: You’ve been rightfully critical of the performance of the Bills’ special teams. What actions would you suggest to address their deficiencies?

Jay: I’d find a new punter to start. Corey Bojorquez has the worst net average in the NFL through four weeks. After that, there isn’t a whole lot that can be changed. The hope has to be that Heath Farwell, who is in his first year as an NFL special-teams coordinator, learns quickly on the job and puts his players in the right positions. The Bills can’t afford another mistake like the one on the blocked punt last weekend against the Patriots. That was embarrassing for Farwell.

Luigi Mike Speranza asks: In your opinion, do you think the Pegulas may decide to shoehorn a stadium into the downtown area to eliminate the issue of bad tailgating behavior that is gaining national media attention? The access, egress and lack of parking will make it a nightmare to attend a game.

Jay: It would be unfair for me to speculate on what the Pegulas want. In reality, I’m not sure they even know what they want right now. The team has commissioned a study to explore all of the possibilities in regards to the stadium situation. That includes staying in Orchard Park or building in a new location. The impression I get from fans is they are perfectly happy with the setup in Orchard Park. The tailgating has become legendary, even if some might refer to it as infamous. As for the stadium itself, yes, it’s old, but it’s still a good place to watch a game. As part of this job, I see the rest of the stadiums in the league. I’d put New Era Field somewhere in the middle. It’s not the best, but it’s not the worst, either. I’m sure there will be continued pressure from the NFL to get a new stadium built. How that plays out will be the biggest story in Buffalo sports not too far down the road.

Dave Universal asks: How’s trading out of pick No. 10, generational quarterback Patrick Mahomes looking now?

Jay: It looks terrible for the Bills, but the same thing can be said of the nine teams in front of them in the 2017 draft. It has to be frustrating for Bills fans to watch Mahomes turn into the best quarterback in the NFL with the draft pick they originally owned, but you can play that draft regrets game every year. An interesting question to consider: Would things have been different if Doug Whaley got the ax and Brandon Beane was hired at the same time as Sean McDermott?

Rick McGuire asks: How much longer do you think until Brandon Beane’s and Sean McDermott’s patience runs out with tight end Tyler Kroft? Dawson Knox has performed admirably in his place, and in my opinion has earned the starting job even when (if) Kroft returns.

Jay: McDermott often mentions the importance of availability, so there may be some level of frustration there, but I think he genuinely feels for Kroft, who worked hard to come back from a broken foot only to suffer an ankle injury. I agree regarding Knox, who has flashed a ton of potential through the first month of the season. When/if Kroft returns, he might very well find that Knox has taken the starting role for good.

Dawson Knox ignites Bills' offense with touchdown, big gain against Bengals

Hamburg Overhead Throws asks: Chances Davis Webb could throw for more touchdowns than interceptions? I think that’s the goal, but Buffalo’s quarterback play over the last year-plus has me confused.

Jay: The Giants, who drafted Webb in the third round in 2017, didn’t think so. Neither did the Jets, who cut Webb at the end of training camp this year. Webb won’t get a chance to answer that question Sunday for the Bills, since he wasn’t promoted to the 53-man roster by the 4 p.m. Saturday deadline to be eligible to play. That means Josh Allen will face the Titans, after it was announced Saturday morning that he cleared the NFL's concussion protocol. Based on the question, and the Twitter name of who sent it, this person is of the opinion that’s not a good thing. I understand the concern about Allen after his performance against the Patriots. It was arguably the worst start of his career. If he can bounce back with a better showing and lead the Bills to a win over Tennessee, it will go a long way toward easing some of those concerns. Heading into the bye at 4-1 would be a good feeling for fans.

Louis Stromberg asks: Jay! How we doing? In honor of the trip to Nashville this weekend, please rank the following ‘Villes’ – Williamsville, Shelbyville, Jason Pominville, Cruella de Vil, Louisville. Thank you sir – see you in the ’Ville.

Jay: I’m confused why we aren’t including Nashville. Anyway, let’s work backward. 5-Cruella de Vil. An easy choice. She was a monster. 4-Shelbyville. I’ll be honest. I had to Google this. Are we talking about the city in Illinois? If so, I’ve never been there. It might be a lovely place. 3. Louisville. Another place I’ve never been. Rick Pitino was a real creep, so he drags down the ranking. 2. Jason Pominville. Seems like a good dude. Scored one of the most memorable goals in Sabres history. I thought the team should have re-signed him. Maybe they still will. 1. Williamsville. Another easy choice. It’s the best place to live in Western New York. Thanks for all the questions this week!

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