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Bills roundtable at the bye: Unsung hero? Biggest surprise? Biggest concern?

Bills roundtable at the bye: Unsung hero? Biggest surprise? Biggest concern?

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Dawson Knox leads all NFL tight ends with five receiving touchdowns.

With the Bills at 4-2 at the bye week, News Bills writers Jay Skurski, Mark Gaughan, Katherine Fitzgerald and Jason Wolf were asked to assess where the team stands. 

Who has been the Bills’ unsung hero?

Jay: Tight end Dawson Knox will get some votes, but his praises have been sufficiently sung, so I’ll go with safety Micah Hyde, who never quite seems to get the recognition he deserves. Hyde leads the team with three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown against Patrick Mahomes, and has five passes defensed, one sack and 24 tackles. Week after week, he shows up and plays high-level football for the Bills’ secondary. It’s about time he got some more love for that.

Mark: I’ll pick two: Jordan Poyer and Mitch Morse. Are they unsung? That’s debatable. Since Poyer led all NFL safeties in tackles last year and didn’t make the Pro Bowl, I’ll still consider him unsung. Opposing quarterbacks certainly show him and Hyde respect. They’re 2 of 11 on passes 20-plus yards downfield and the two completions both took great catches (by Kansas City’s Mecole Hardman and Tennessee’s Julio Jones) and video reviews. Morse has underrated stoutness up the middle and is good on the move on the second level in run blocking. 

Fitzgerald: Let’s go with Jerry Hughes. The 12th-year defensive end looked good against the Titans. He hasn’t had perhaps as many splash plays as others on this defense, but that’s also relative to the Bills’ league-leading 16 takeaways. Of his two passes defensed this season, the tip on fourth down against the Texans stands out. Houston running back David Johnson was open otherwise.

Wolf: Mitchell Trubisky. The former No. 2 overall pick and backup quarterback was highlighted by Hyde and Poyer for running all over the field in practice and helping the defense prepare to face Patrick Mahomes during the week leading up to Buffalo’s 38-20 victory against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. But his contribution to the marquee victory was largely and rightfully overshadowed in the aftermath of the game. The Bills hope he remains an unsung hero. But he’s terrific insurance, in the event Allen has to miss any time. 

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.

What has been the biggest surprise so far?

Jay: Precisely nobody saw Knox leading NFL tight ends in touchdown catches through six weeks. Knox, who suffered a fractured hand against Tennessee, has taken the step forward so many hoped he would with five touchdown catches. The physical talent has always been there, and now the production is catching up to the potential. The hope is he’ll only miss a few weeks. Given how big of a role he’s played on offense, he won’t be an easy player to replace.

Mark: The play of Greg Rousseau and Spencer Brown. It’s surprising they’re both getting so much playing time and playing so well considering they both sat out the 2020 college seasons. Obviously, it’s early. The jury is out on all rookies. When Rousseau was drafted, I figured he’d be inactive most of the first half of the season. In April, I set the over-under on sacks for his rookie season at 1.5. He already has 3.0. Glad I didn’t put any cash on that one. Brown was making the jump to the NFL from the Football Championship Subdivision at Northern Iowa. If you had told me Cody Ford would struggle to open the season, I’d have said Ike Boettger would take his place. Brown’s emergence – so far – has upgraded the right side of the line.  

Fitzgerald: I wouldn’t have predicted tight end Dawson Knox at five touchdowns and Stefon Diggs at just two. It’s unclear how much time Knox will miss with a hand injury, but his uptick in production has been notable. The surprise is not a reflection of Knox’s capabilities, and of course when defenses plan around Diggs, he’ll have more options. But to already match his total touchdowns from the last two seasons in just six games shows how deep this offense is.

Wolf: Knox. The tight end has erupted in his third pro season, and should have a sixth touchdown, had a holding penalty not wiped out a score against Tennessee. He later threw a two-point conversion to Josh Allen, despite a broken bone in his hand that required surgery. It’s unclear how much time he’ll miss, but the Bills need him back ASAP. He’s turned into an indispensable part of the offense.

What is your biggest concern going forward?

Jay: The red-zone offense. The Bills go into Week 7 ranked 27th in the NFL in converting trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard into touchdowns, doing so just 55.17% of the time. That inability to more consistently score touchdowns is allowing teams to hang around, and as the loss to the Titans showed, doing that enough will come back to haunt a team. The Bills have the potential to be great, but to get there, they have to finish drives.

Mark: Let’s discount injuries. That’s the biggest concern for any good team. Is the pass rush good enough to get the Bills to the Super Bowl? It’s better and deeper than last year. Will it be good enough in the playoffs against elite teams? Will the O-line hold up against the most elite front fours? The run game looks a bit improved. But is it good enough against the best defensive fronts in the league? 

Fitzgerald: I think this is pretty straightforward – the Bills need to be more effective in the red zone. Going 55.2% isn’t going to cut it, particularly with the options they have on offense. Their 33.8 points per game are second in the NFL, less than half a point behind the Cowboys. But they could be scoring more, and need to, as evidenced by the loss in Tennessee. A big stop on fourth down isn’t pivotal if you can capitalize on opportunities earlier in the game. 

Wolf: The Bills have more red zone opportunities than any team in the NFL, but their 55.2% conversion rate ranks among the worst in the league. The Bills converted just one of four trips into the red zone in their Week 1 loss to Pittsburgh, and just two of five in their Week 6 loss to the Titans. This isn’t just a problem against good teams. The Bills settled for four short field goals in the Week 4 blowout victory against Houston. It’s confounding for an offense with so many weapons. The Bills could easily be undefeated.

What is the next “circle the date” game on the schedule?

Jay: Miami on Halloween. The Bills believe in the next game being the most important one on the schedule, and I’ll play along. Coming off a tough loss to Tennessee, it will be important to get the season back on the right track. The reeling Dolphins are just the right opponent for that, and beating up on Miami is never a bad thing. Last year, the Bills made a run after their bye week. They have a good chance to do so again this year.

Mark: I’m going to channel my inner Sean McDermott and say Miami. After that, Jacksonville. This is the NFL. You make a couple of bad plays and get a couple of unlucky bounces and you’re in trouble. Kansas City was in a dogfight through three quarters last Sunday with Washington. A couple of weeks ago, Cleveland was up only 24-21 in the fourth quarter against a Texans team that the Bills waxed, 40-0. The Jets’ defense currently ranks No. 7 in the NFL in scoring and No. 2 in the red zone. Not too shabby. My advice to fans: Enjoy every week of the ride.

Fitzgerald: Thanksgiving night against the Saints. As it currently stands, the Bills don’t face another team with a winning record until then, and their four opponents between now and the Saints have combined for five wins. Their next prime-time game comes on a short week and on the road. It’s also the Bills’ first taste of the NFC South, with Tampa Bay looming after that.

Wolf: It’s natural to look ahead to the road game against the Saints on Thanksgiving, or to the road game against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers on Dec. 12. But after the loss to Tennessee, the Bills need to come out of the bye week with a fire and get back to business. So at this point, I’m circling the next game, at home against the Dolphins on Halloween. It should be a treat.

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