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Analysis

Bills' defense not so elite in lopsided loss vs. Eagles

Vic Carucci

This was a mauling, pure and simple.

The Philadelphia Eagles' offensive line physically dominated the Buffalo Bills' defensive front Sunday. It did so with embarrassing ease that no previous opponent this season had done.

As much as there were other shortcomings in the Bills' performance in a 31-13 loss against the Philadelphia Eagles at New Era Field, the biggest was a defense that was absolutely abysmal – especially against the run.

"Yeah, they controlled the line of scrimmage," Bills coach Sean McDermott confirmed for reporters after the Eagles ran for 218 yards on 41 carries, an average of 5.3 yards per rush, and three of their four touchdowns. "Give them credit. They came out and established the line of scrimmage early in the game and that carried through the rest of the game."

With strong winds making conditions far more conducive to running, the Eagles did the obvious in sticking to the ground and often going with two tight ends. The rushing yards were the most since Doug Pederson became their head coach in 2016. Jordan Howard's 96 yards were more than the Bills' average of 93.1 rushing yards allowed per game. Howard's 23 carries were most by any back in Pederson's three-plus seasons as head coach. Even quarterback Carson Wentz got into the act with third-down runs of 13 and 11 yards on the Eagles' final TD drive that spanned 14 plays, 83 yards and more than eight minutes.

The Bills tried to run, too. They just weren't nearly as good at it ... or anything else, for that matter. (Cutting down on run plays by Josh Allen and increasing those by Devin Singletary might be a good place to start.)

But what was stunning was how effectively the Eagles ran on a defense that had been widely seen as elite. That wasn't merely a local perspective. That was a national view as well.

Suffice it to say that some people are probably revising their analysis after the Eagles, who stumbled into the game after humiliating road losses at Minnesota and Dallas and with a 3-4 record, spent the day pushing the Bills around. One plausible, albeit knee-jerk, conclusion is the Bills' D doesn't look so good when facing a more credible offense than most of those they largely handled through a 5-1 start. Another is that Buffalo's front seven just might not have the interior talent to match up with bigger and better blockers such as those playing for the Eagles.

Either way, there was a general feeling that what the Eagles did was administer more of a physical beating than a strategic one.

"Yeah, you can say that," defensive end Jerry Hughes said. "I mean, they ran the ball for over 150 yards. So any time you lose the rushing battle, don't get off the field on third down, certainly, they out-physicaled us. They came in there, imposed their will.

"We didn't do a good enough job up front making them one-dimensional, forcing them into some third-and-long situations to really help our offense flip the field. We've got to do a better job of just forcing negative plays on first and second down, and then trying to find a way to get a turnover to kind of use that momentum to help our offense out."

Not surprisingly, Bills interior defensive linemen made themselves scarce for reporters in the locker room after the game. Star Lotulelei kept his answers brief, saying repeatedly he would need to study videotape of the game to see what happened.

Good Eagles scheme, bad Bills communication led to long TD run

 

One play that no doubt will command the greatest amount of attention was Miles Sanders' 65-yard touchdown run on the first possession of the second half. He blew right through the middle as if working against air, while also getting help from a block by Howard, who was part of a rare two-back set implemented specifically for the Bills.

McDermott said the Bills "had a bad fit on the run," during which Lotulelei crashed into the backfield leaving Sanders with a clean opening to exploit.

"I think the momentum started with that big gash by Miles," Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson told reporters. "Then, after that, it just kept snowballing. I was proud of how our guys competed."

There was a decidedly different feeling in the Bills' locker room.

Defensive end Shaq Lawson questioned his team's desire when he told reporters, more than once, in reference to the Eagles, "I guess they wanted it more."

"It was pretty surprising," Hughes said of the way the Bills' defense was trampled. "Philadelphia came out here, they ran the ball on first and second down. We didn't do a good enough job putting them in negative plays up front. So we've got to figure out what we can do better to kind of help the team out."

After seven games, such answers aren't necessarily easy to find. Opposing teams can be just as diligent about finding ways to continue to take advantage of weaknesses they see in their studies. It's fair to say that the Miami Dolphins found some running success in their Oct. 20 loss against the Bills, and the Eagles appeared to put some that to use Sunday.

"I think, if anything, the takeaway from that is sometimes you have a bad play and a good result," defensive end Trent Murphy said. "And I think that, when you play a really good team like Philly, that catches up to you and so you have to have a good play and then you have to have a good result."

The Bills face the Washington Redskins next Sunday. The Redskins' season has been a disaster, but so has the Dolphins'. Any team determined to find success running just might be inclined to dare the Bills to do something about it.

McDermott made no attempt to gloss over what happened Sunday.

"I'm concerned any time a team can run the ball like that on our football team," McDermott said. "That's concerning."

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