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Bills Mailbag: How much will Isaiah McKenzie be used moving forward?

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Buffalo Bills 33, New England Patriots 21 (copy)

Bills receiver Isaiah McKenzie put on a show last Sunday against the New England Patriots. Will it mean the coaching staff led by Sean McDermott gives him more playing time?

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Welcome to the first edition of the Bills Mailbag in 2022. Let’s jump right into your questions …

Ed Helinski asks: With Isaiah McKenzie’s performance against New England, how do the Bills keep him in the lineup, especially with Cole Beasley and Gabe Davis returning? Barring any injuries, how might this all play out with the Bills’ wide receivers?

Jay: Here’s what offensive coordinator Brian Daboll had to say about the subject Monday. “Yeah, I mean, we’ll see. Look, we have confidence in Isaiah, just as much as we have confidence in” Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders, Gabe Davis, Dawson Knox, “all the guys that we have.”

That doesn’t exactly clear things up. My take on it is this: McKenzie showed more than enough against the Patriots to be a part of the weekly lineup. Daboll says repeatedly that it’s a matchup league, and the game plan changes weekly to take advantage of those matchups as best as possible. McKenzie clearly has the skills to challenge defenses with his speed, and it’s on Daboll to come up with ways each week to take advantage of that. I think we’ll see more of him going forward.

PlayAction is new to The Buffalo News' extensive NFL coverage. Each week, Mark Gaughan, who has covered the league throughout his 38 years at The News, distills X's and O's and strategy relating to how the Bills match up with their next opponent. All in about two minutes.

Sam Ruggiero asks: Happy New Year Jay! What a fantastic win over those nasty Patriots! Isaiah McKenzie had a career day with 11 receptions. He ran several jet sweeps and Josh Allen threw short passes to him and open receivers under coverage all day! Why, oh why, have they not done that all year? Seems like they “out-Belichicked” Bill Belichick!

Jay: It’s a legitimate second guess after seeing how McKenzie played against the Patriots. Here is what Allen had to say when asked about that. “Hindsight is 20/20. It is what it is. We can't figure out what makes us go in the past. We have to figure out what makes us go in the future. He was an absolute beast on the field today. Again, that's going to give us opportunities going forward and helping this team out, but we're going to need everybody going forward.”

That’s a pretty spot-on response.

pmalnikof@roadrunner.com asks: Did the Bills’ game against the Patriots break an NFL record for an offense going for it on fourth down? I read in The Buffalo News between the two teams it happened 10 times.

Jay: First of all, thanks for reading. Yes, the two teams did attempt 10 fourth downs – four by Buffalo and six by New England – with eight conversions (three for the Bills and five for the Patriots). There is no record keeping that I could find on number of fourth-down conversions in a game, but for the season, the Bills’ defense has been on the field for 33 fourth-down conversion attempts by the opposing offense, which leads the league. The Patriots are second in that category, with 31. The Detroit Lions have gone for fourth down the most, 36 times, after they went 3-for-4 in their game against Atlanta last week. The NFL record for fourth-down attempts in a season is 39, set in 1995 by the Patriots (17 were successful), so the Lions are on pace to set a new record.

Even after going for it six times against the Bills, New England ranks tied for 26th in fourth-down attempts this season, with 17. The Bills rank tied for 15th with 20 attempts, eight of which have been successful.

Jeff Miller asks: Piggybacking off last week’s Cole Beasley questions, does he have any trade capital? And, when a player is on roll of “consecutives,” – touchdown passes or running touchdown games in a row, etc. – will Josh Allen do what he can to extend that streak? Let’s cut the wings off the Falcons and make them wish they never got off of the airplane.

Jay: It only takes one team to be interested, so it’s possible. Beasley has one year left on his contract, and a team trading for him would be responsible for his $4.9 million base salary. That’s an affordable amount based on his production, but of course, there are other factors involved. If Beasley continues his one-man crusade against the NFL’s Covid-19 protocols, another team will have to put up what the Bills have endured this season. He’s also going to be 33 next year, and although he has 76 catches this season, his yards per reception of 8.4 is the lowest of his career. For those reasons, it’s hard to see another team giving up any great value to trade for him. As for continuing streaks, that’s entirely dependent on the significance of the streak and both the player and coaching staff. If one or both of them find it that important, they’ll try to allow it to continue. A good example last year was the Bills tying the NFL record for most receiving touchdowns by different receivers in a single season. They really wanted to break that record, although they were unable to get the one more needed to set it alone.

Wayne Landesman asks: Has Tre’Davious White had surgery to repair his ACL? If so, I missed hearing or reading about it.

Jay: According to the Bills, White had surgery to repair his torn ACL on Dec. 14.

Bob Rajczak asks: Did the Bills get away with a touchdown on a missed penalty call on Daryl Williams being past the line of scrimmage at the 2-yard line on the shovel pass to Dawson Knox? Williams was clearly in the end zone when Allen actually tossed the ball and that would have been his second such call in the game!

Jay: It’s possible the officials missed that one, although a skeptic might look at that and say Williams was made even, because he shouldn’t have been penalized on the first play that wiped out a Knox touchdown. That specific penalty is one that seems to be called with some degree of leeway, especially when it doesn’t impact the play. If you watch closely, a flag could be thrown on almost every play for ineligible men being downfield, similar to how you can find a holding penalty on every play if you look hard enough.

Dan De Federicis: I felt Micah Hyde's second interception was a selfish stats padder, and memories of last year's Arizona game came to mind. I feel no matter how confident he may have been for the catch, he should have batted the ball three feet into the ground. I was wondering your thoughts on that? Shifting gears, I feel terrible for Ike Boettger suffering such a serious injury and wish him the best in his recovery. His injury left us very thin on the line and thank God there were no further injuries. Can you list the backup linemen that are or will likely be active for the Atlanta game, and tell us a little about each? Finally, there are a lot of insightful comments made by readers on The Buffalo News' Bills articles, but I don't believe I have ever seen the "Editor's Choice" badge function used by News staff in those comments. C'mon! I've got Bills Fever! How about some more engagement by you and your colleagues?

Jay: Given that it was fourth down, you’re right in saying that knocking it down was the right play in that situation. Hyde’s human, though, and I get why he made the interception. Right or wrong, stats are a big part of how these guys get paid. I’m not saying that was going through his mind as the ball was in the air, but I don’t blame him one bit for taking an interception that was there for him. Let’s face it, the situation was different from the Arizona game in that the play was not going to determine the outcome of the game. Even if disaster struck, the Patriots still would have had to recover an onside kick to have a chance to come back. Not impossible, but unlikely. As for the offensive line, if we go with the current starters being Dion Dawkins, Jon Feliciano, Mitch Morse, Daryl Williams and Spencer Brown, the top backups are Cody Ford, Ryan Bates, Tommy Doyle and Bobby Hart. Ford, a former second-round draft pick, was activated from the Covid list Thursday. Doyle is a rookie fifth-round draft pick and Hart is a seventh-year veteran with 67 career starts. Both of them are offensive tackles. That would make Bates the top interior backup, so it’s possible the Bills could elevate an offensive lineman from the practice squad from the game. Jacob Capra and West Seneca’s Evin Ksiezarczyk are the two linemen currently on the practice squad. As for the comments section, I like to think of the mailbag as my weekly engagement!

Dan from Orchard Park asks: It was great to see the offensive line step up through recent adversity. Do you think rolling Josh Allen out has aided their improvement? Also, any word on Allen’s gift to his O-line?

Jay: You can count on me to ask the tough questions, Dan. Allen bought watches for his offensive line this year. “Some nice ones,” he said after the game against the Patriots. As for rolling him out, that can definitely help the line, although I thought against the Patriots, Allen had more time in the pocket for any game that I can recall this season. I agree that it was a really good showing by the line at precisely the right time.

Will from Buffalo (living in California) asks: You answered a previous mailbag question about why the Bills don’t use a 4-3 on first downs and replied: "The Colts, for example, have used that formation on 191 first-down plays. They’ve used two tight ends and two receivers on 93 plays.” Where do you get that info? Can you Bing it? (I don’t pump up Google). Is there a special website only sports writers can access or do you just watch a ridiculous amount of football?

Jay: The NFL has a website frequently used by media members for that type of information. It’s called “GSIS,” which stands for game statistics and information system. It’s got a lot of valuable resources for those who cover the league on a daily basis, including information like you just referenced.

Jim Pulvirenti asks: Do you think that the NFL sometime in the future will add a second bye week for each team so that they could move the Super Bowl to President’s Day weekend?

Jay: I’d consider it more likely the league goes to an 18-game regular season to get there, because doing so would be another big-time cash infusion for the league (not that it needs one). The players’ association would push back against that idea – rightfully so – but money usually talks. Truthfully, an 18-game season sounds preferable to the clunky 17-game schedule. If the NFL wanted to go to 18 games, two bye weeks might make it workable. Doing that would require starting the season a week earlier and ending a week later, which matches Jim’s timeline. Traditionally, the NFL has stayed away from the first week of high school and college football, but butting up to that doesn’t seem like the biggest deal. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility.

Frank in Williamsville asks: Watching Tre White blow out his knee on a noncontact play seemed like déjà vu all over again. Has the Players’ Association petitioned the league or the owners to find a solution to these ligament tears on artificial turf? I don’t think I have ever seen a similar type injury on a grass field.

Jay: Yes, it has. In fact, NFLPA President J.C. Tretter, the Akron native who plays center for the Cleveland Browns, wrote a letter about this very issue. Here is an excerpt from that letter, which was posted on the NFLPA’s website, that details this: “Based on NFL injury data collected from 2012 to 2018, not only was the contact injury rate for lower extremities higher during practices and games held on artificial turf, NFL players consistently experienced a much higher rate of noncontact lower extremity injuries on turf compared to natural surfaces. Specifically, players have a 28% higher rate of noncontact lower extremity injuries when playing on artificial turf. Of those noncontact injuries, players have a 32% higher rate of noncontact knee injuries on turf and a staggering 69% higher rate of noncontact foot/ankle injuries on turf compared to grass.

Earlier this year, the NFL and NFLPA tasked artificial turf manufacturers with developing a surface like natural grass that meets the specifications developed by our respective engineering experts. We also challenged cleat manufacturers to design innovative footwear that is safer and tailored to both players’ needs and to specific surfaces. There is no guarantee that artificial turf manufacturers will be able to create a product that provides as safe of a surface as natural grass, so we should not sit around hoping that happens. Until a product is developed that satisfies engineering specifications, we must take steps to protect players from unsafe field surfaces. In short, NFL clubs should proactively change all field surfaces to natural grass.”

Peter Maras asks: Jay, I very much enjoyed watching the Bills' win over New England. The team was ready play from the start and kept that momentum throughout the game. That has to be a tribute not only to the players, but to the coaching staff as well. I have just one nagging question about the game: What is the purpose of the Bills' defense calling timeout just before halftime and the end of the game? They have done that several times this season in games they were winning for no apparent reason. The Bills did not appear to need a timeout and both times it happened Sunday, the Patriots converted to a first down. The TV coverage goes to commercials during those timeouts, so I'm not sure if they are making player substitutions or what else might be going on. Can you provide any insights?

Jay: Against New England, the Bills did take two defensive timeouts in the second half, and neither of them were very productive. After the first, the Patriots scored on a 3-yard run by Damien Harris on first and goal in the third quarter. After the second, which came with 1:50 remaining, the Patriots converted fourth and 7 to keep their faint hopes alive. The reasoning for defensive timeouts is usually simple. Sometimes, the coach wants to see how the offense lines up ahead of play. Otherwise, it’s to stop the clock. Timeouts can also be used when there is confusion on the defense, which appeared to be the case before the Harris touchdown. Those are the type of timeouts that teams obviously want to avoid. Making better use of his timeouts is something McDermott would say he’s always working on.

Brenda Alesii asks: What are Sean McDermott’s New Year’s resolutions?

Jay: Good one, Brenda. I’ll say this for the reporter who asked Bill Belichick this question: She’s braver than I am. I know she’s been criticized a lot for it, but I actually feel for her. Clearly, she had an assignment, and to her credit, she was going to get that assignment done. For that, I say nice work. Obviously, the timing could have been better – the notoriously grumpy Belichick wasn’t going to bite on that question – but what if he had? The only way you can be sure is by asking. In our profession, we’ve all had to ask uncomfortable questions at times, even if that one was particularly cringe-worthy. As always, thank you for all the questions, and a Happy New Year to all. Questions for the mailbag can be submitted via Twitter, @JaySkurski, or to my email, jskurski@buffnews.com.

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News Sports Reporter

I started at The Buffalo News in 2009, and have previously been honored as one of the top 10 beat writers in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors for my coverage of the Bills. I live in Amherst with my wife, Melissa, and son, Elliott.

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