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Report Card

Bills run defense flunks test against Eagles

Jay Skurski

Grading the Buffalo Bills in their 31-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at New Era Field:


Quarterback Josh Allen was the team’s leading rusher. That’s not a good thing. Allen gained 45 yards on eight carries, with a long gain of 14 yards. He lost a crucial fumble on a designed run in the second quarter. A lot of that production came on scrambles. Veteran Frank Gore was held to 34 yards on nine carries. Gore had three carries in the first half that went for no gain. Rookie Devin Singletary got just three attempts, but did gain 19 yards on those limited opportunities. On a wet, windy day when the running game was going to be important, the Bills’ offensive line could not get the job done. The most disappointing example of that came on the team’s second drive, when Gore was stopped for no gain on third-and-1. That set the tone for the rest of the game.


It was an admittedly tough day to throw the ball with the wind howling, but playing in those conditions is a big part of the reason Allen was drafted seventh overall. He failed to come through Sunday. Allen completed just 47% of his passes (16 of 34). It’s just the second time this season his completion percentage has been less than 60. Not surprisingly, those are the Bills' two losses. Allen’s pocket presence was an issue again. He fumbled three times, and the Bills were lucky to get two of them back. Allen has fumbled eight times this season, losing three of them. That matches his number of fumbles from last season in five fewer games played. Allen has accounted for 12 touchdowns this season and 10 turnovers. John Brown led the Bills with five catches for 54 yards. Brown and New Orleans Saints star Michael Thomas are the only two receivers in the NFL to have at least 50 yards in every game this season. Allen did throw a pair of touchdown passes. The first went to Cole Beasley, giving him touchdown catches in back-to-back games for just the second time in his career. The second went to Singletary in the third quarter and covered 28 yards.


Simply put, the Bills got worked on the ground. Philadelphia piled up 218 rushing yards on 41 carries – an average of 5.3 yards per rush. “I think it was one of our best run days we’ve had in a long time, so I’m certainly proud of that,” Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson said. That’s never something you want to hear coming from the visitors’ locker room. Again, this was a day in which it was clear both teams would be focused on the running game, so that’s a huge disappointment for the Bills. The Eagles’ offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage, particularly in the second half when they piled up a whopping 156 yards. Philadelphia had five runs of at least 13 yards. Star Lotulelei had just one tackle. His performance will never be based on just stats, but why is the $10 million defensive tackle not on the field at the goal line?


The Bills weren’t prepared for the Eagles’ screen game. Running backs Mile Sanders and Jordan Howard combined for four catches for 59 yards. They had miles of running room after making their catches. The Bills did a good job against Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, holding him to two catches for 20 yards, but Ertz’s running partner, Dallas Goedert, caught a 5-yard touchdown pass. Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White was called for defensive pass interference in the first quarter, extending a Philadelphia drive that ended in a field goal for the game’s opening points. The pass rush sacked Wentz three times, with defensive tackle Jordan Phillips accounting for one of them. That gives Phillips five sacks this season. He’s making himself some good money as an impending free agent. At first glance, defensive end Jerry Hughes did not seem to have a big impact on the game. The same goes for Trent Murphy.


Things started off strong when Corey Bojorquez boomed a 57-yard punt into the wind after the Bills’ opening possession. It went downhill from there, though. Bojorquez couldn’t pin the Eagles deep in their territory in the second quarter, adding to his NFL lead with another touchback. Stephen Hauschka missed a 53-yard field goal at the end of the first half with the wind. It was no gimme, but it would have been a big momentum boost if Hauschka could have converted. Hauschka also had an extra point blocked in the third quarter. Bojorquez had a net punt of 29 yards in the third quarter and 30 yards in the fourth quarter. Return man Andre Roberts made a good decision in the first half to allow a punt to bounce into the end zone for a touchback. Roberts returned two kickoffs for 50 yards, but was not able to return any of the Eagles’ four punts, making one fair catch and watching as two went into the end zone for touchbacks and the other went out of bounds.


This is two weeks in a row serious cracks have shown up in the Bills’ defense. Coach Sean McDermott called it “concerning” that the Eagles ran the ball so well. That’s an understatement. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll will face plenty of questions this week for his play-calling against the Eagles, but some of those questions should be asked of Leslie Frazier, too. How were the Bills so unprepared to defend the screen pass? What’s happened to the run defense? The Bills have had two opportunities against decent or good teams this season to show that they’re not simply the product of a soft schedule, and they’ve failed in both instances. At 5-2, they are still in a playoff spot, but until they beat a quality opponent, there will be questions about just how good this team is. How McDermott and Co. respond to the most adversity they've faced to this point will be the big storyline to follow this week.

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