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Bills Mailbag: What's going on with the defense?

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Buffalo Bills get ready for Week 4

Tremaine Edmunds and the Buffalo Bills defense are off to a slow start to the 2020 season.

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A big sign hangs outside the grass practice fields at One Bills Drive.

“FIND A WAY,” is the message, which especially this week rings true. With the NFL season feeling like it’s teetering on the brink of a Covid-related disaster, the league has to find a way to get things back under control.

The Bills, too, must find a way to prepare for a game that they weren’t sure was even going to be played. Instead of playing their Week 5 game against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday as scheduled, the Bills now must wait until 7 p.m. Tuesday. As a result, their Week 6 game at home against Kansas City has been bumped back to next weekend, allowing the Chiefs more time to prepare.

The Bills are entirely justified in feeling like they’re getting a raw deal from the NFL. Why should they be disadvantaged because the Titans ignored NFL protocols and saw Covid-19 spread like wildfire?

The Bills aren’t left with much of a choice, though. As safety Micah Hyde said Thursday, “Welcome to 2020. Expect the unexpected.” The message inside the team facility remains as true as ever – the team that can find a way best is the one that will come out on top in this season unlike any other. Now to this week’s Mailbag ...

TNFP69 asks: It’s easy to see what the strong points of the team are right now. What do you think the two weakest points are as of now?

Jay: First would be the running game, period. The Bills currently rank 28th in the NFL in rushing. The passing attack led by Josh Allen has covered that up through four games, but there will come a time when the weather turns, and the Bills will need to run the ball better. Second would be the kicking game. Both rookie kicker Tyler Bass and punter Corey Bojorquez struggled in Week 4 against the Raiders. When they are called on in critical moments, can they come through? The defense has had its fair share of struggles through the first month, but I continue to believe they will sort things out. The defense probably isn’t going to finish in the top three in yards allowed this year, but they don’t need to with an improved offense scoring points seemingly at will.

Famous (& Spooky) Potatoes asks: Is the problem with the defense coaching or personnel? I think it’s both, but with more of an onus on the coaches. Watching the Raiders game, there were a lot of times where we didn’t seem to be in nearly the correct play and had to run around too much after the snap. Bonus question: Do you rewatch games, and if yes then how so? I love the NFL Game Pass condensed game option — in about 45 minutes you get every snap, and it gives you a great feel for the flow of the game.

Jay: I have a question first. What makes a potato spooky, exactly? As for your questions, it’s an easy-way-out answer, but it’s always both. It does seem like receivers have been more open against the Bills’ secondary than in the past, which could be attributed to the coverages called. Then again, members of the Bills’ secondary might just be getting beat, too. Communication should not be an issue with this defense, given that defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is in his fourth season and most of his key contributors have been in the system for at least three years.   

I do also use NFL Game Pass for rewatching games. It’s particularly valuable when trying to get up to speed on the Bills’ upcoming opponents, or I want to rewatch a specific play from a recent game. The All-22 option is nice, too, although I shy away from making concrete conclusions from that because I don’t know the specific play call, and thus responsibilities, of each player on each play.

Rick McGuire asks: Had Brandon Beane been able to trade for Stefon Diggs last season when Diggs and the Vikings were at odds, do you think he would have changed the outcome of last season? Might the Bills have won the division and advanced in the playoffs, or were they still not quite ready yet?

Jay: Good question. I’ll say the Bills would have advanced in the playoffs. Replace Duke Williams with Diggs and the Bills beat the Texans easily. Given the way the Patriots ended last season, I’d even go as far as saying the Bills could have overtaken them for the division, too. Diggs very well could have turned the Week 16 loss in New England to a win. His impact on the offense has been that dramatic. It would have been tough for Diggs to pick up a new system on the fly, but he did pretty well without any spring practices or preseason games this year.

IDiggIt asks: Quinton Spain parlayed a one-year, prove-it deal into an extension with a good year in 2019. Does the fact that he is not starting make him a candidate to be traded before the deadline?

Jay: It’s possible, but the Bills would be selling low. I also don’t see the Bills being sellers at the trade deadline. As I’ve written many times before, this is a team set up to make a run in 2020. If anything, I would think they would be buyers at the deadline. After Brian Winters got hurt last week against the Raiders, Spain came into the game and played more than half the offensive snaps. That’s valuable depth that I wouldn’t be in a hurry to get rid of, especially considering the return is probably not going to be anything more than a day-three draft pick.

bk asks: Do you think Sean McDermott may take over the play-calling for the defense as he did before? I am sure he loves what the offense is doing, but the defense has to be driving him crazy.

Jay: McDermott was asked a question that hinted at that recently and said he had no plans to take over the play-calling. That feels like it would be a last resort, and as mentioned above, the improvements made in the second half against the Raiders means we’re not anywhere near that.

Jeff Miller asks: I don't watch much ESPN, but the panel on “Highly Questionable” is admittedly brutal to Josh Allen. This week, the best they came to giving him due respect was "He's done better than I expected but ... ” “Around The Horn” didn't even mention him. Among your colleagues nationwide, are there plenty of skeptics, and what are they saying?

Jay: I’m going out on a limb here, Jeff, and thinking you might not be on social media much. An entire industry has conceivably been built on doubting Allen – and then Bills fans rushing to their quarterback’s defense. Truthfully, it’s all a bit over the top. Yes, there were plenty of hot takes before the draft about Allen, who was as polarizing a prospect as we’ve seen in recent years. Recently, many of those with the hot takes have admitted that Allen has blown past their projections. There are some who need more convincing, which is fine. Everyone’s definition of “franchise quarterback” is different. My advice to Bills fans is enjoy Allen’s development on a weekly basis. He’s become one of the most exciting players in the league. Rushing to dunk on the Allen “haters” on social media just doesn’t seem like a productive use of time.

Brenda Alesii asks: It seems we finally have our franchise quarterback, but Jim Kelly and Josh Allen have more than their QB position in common. Each man has two first names. Could that be the secret of their success?

Jay: I don’t think so. In fact, I thought you weren’t supposed to trust a person with two first names? A whole lot of trust is exactly what Allen is building on a weekly basis with Bills fans.

Mark Coughlin asks: When Brian Daboll is sending in plays to Josh Allen’s helmet, does he have time to add any special reminders? I’m thinking something like, "Now remember, Josh, we’re in field goal range, so you can’t take a sack!”

Jay: OK, so maybe he hasn't earned the trust of all Bills fans. I can feel the sarcasm coming through Mark’s email. There is no question the sack Allen took against the Raiders in the fourth quarter was one of his worst plays of the season. Given all the good, though, it’s certainly something the Bills can live with.

Randall asks: What are the differences between the Marcus Mariota-led Titans we saw last year versus this year’s Ryan Tannehill-led team versus the Miami Tannehill-led teams?

Jay: According to those who cover the Titans, the biggest difference in the offense under Mariota and Tannehill is pace. Tennessee is doing things a lot quicker with Tannehill under center, and that’s allowed him to have success running play action. Think about all the time Mariota spent in the pocket during the game against the Bills last year. He was a sitting duck for the Bills’ pass rush, which made no sense given the way he played in college at Oregon. As for Tannehill’s improvement, a big case can be made for getting away from Adam Gase. When you see Gase actively ruining Sam Darnold’s career, it’s clear he’s not the quarterback whisperer he was made out to be. Gase made his name coaching Peyton Manning, for crying out loud. Who do you think was the real coach in the relationship?

Daniel Sanford asks: With NFL Covid-19 cases on the rise, is there a tipping point where the season will be paused or even outright canceled? There's only so much maneuvering you can do with this schedule without punishing healthy teams.

Jay: There has to be, although I’m not sure where it is, exactly. I’m not even sure the league knows. Obviously, there is a lot at stake for the league financially. Every effort is going to be made to play a full season, or at least as close to a full season as possible. In hindsight, it’s looking like a poor decision on the NFL’s part not to have built in an extra week in the schedule to make up for postponed games. If the league wants to preserve the Super Bowl date, perhaps the bye week between the conference championship games and Super Bowl is eliminated. I would not be in favor of adding a Week 18, since that would punish the teams that finish in first place in each conference by meaning they would go nearly three weeks between games – and potentially even longer in games that matter.

Aden asks: Is there any news on possible home games with fans?

Jay: The latest is that there seemed to be a coordinated effort from players after the Week 4 win over the Raiders to put pressure on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allow a limited number of spectators. Quarterback Matt Barkley, defensive tackle Harrison Phillips and long snapper Reid Ferguson tagged Cuomo in tweets asking for fans to be allowed at Bills Stadium before the next home game against the Chiefs. The state, however, has not given any indication that such an announcement is coming. At this point, I would be shocked if fans were allowed in the foreseeable future.

Louis Stromberg asks: With the Bills’ plans constantly changing this week, please power rank the following plans: Planetariums, paper planes, eggplant, "Planet of the Apes," plantar fasciitis. Have a good weekend!

Jay: Five-way tie for fifth: Here’s why: I’ve never been to a planetarium, but I probably should because I always stink in the astronomy-related categories on "Jeopardy!" Paper planes are more work than the payoff is worth. Eggplant brings nothing to the table. It’s too bland. "Planet of the Apes" is probably cool if you’re into science fiction, but that’s not me. Plantar fasciitis can’t be any fun, either. Have a great weekend, as well, Louis, and everyone else. Enjoy the game Tuesday – if it gets played.


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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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