Center Mitch Morse was active Sunday for the Buffalo Bills, but joined backup quarterback Matt Barkley in being the only players to not participate in a single snap against the Arizona Cardinals.
The reason for that, coach Sean McDermott said Monday, had nothing to do with Morse’s recovery from a concussion suffered in Week 8 against the New England Patriots.
“He was healthy. Coach's decision right there,” McDermott said. “We know Mitch is a good player and just felt like for that week, meaning last week, we felt like we had at least some momentum with the group we had in when Mitch went down and wanted to take a look at it one more week there.”
That grouping, from left to right, was Dion Dawkins, Ike Boettger, Jon Feliciano, Brian Winters and Daryl Williams.
Zack Moss outsnapped Devin Singletary, Cole Beasley earned the game ball, and Josh Allen said the Bills will do their best to put the heartbreaking loss to the Cardinals behind them.
McDermott insisted that Morse not playing was strictly a “football decision,” and had nothing to do with anything the center did – or didn’t do – off the field. When asked if Morse was benched, McDermott said, “No, he was not benched.”
When a reporter followed up by asking if Morse was still the team’s starting center, McDermott replied, “that lineup will be determined every week.”
Whatever McDermott wants to call it, taking Morse out of the lineup is a big move. At the time the Bills signed him to a four-year contract before the start of the 2019 season, they made him the highest-paid center in the NFL.
Taking him out of the lineup when healthy amounts to a benching – no matter what phrase is used for it.
“They've played a couple of games together, and that's the direction that we decided to go with last game,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said of the Bills’ starting group against Arizona. “That doesn't mean anything for next week or the week after that. We just had some continuity going with those guys. They've done a good job in there together. And we'll see where we go from there.”
Injuries to Morse, Feliciano and Cody Ford at different points in the season has meant the Bills have lacked continuity up front through their 7-3 start.
“That's the hand you're dealt with some of this stuff during this year,” Daboll said. “Obviously, we'd love to have continuity with the guys that we have. But we have confidence in whoever's out there. And we'll work hard at it to get it right. I appreciate those guys. They work their tails off. And we'll get it right. They've all got to be ready to go, as you've seen in a couple of those games where three guys had to play for certain guys who went down. The guys we have out there active in a game, they've all got to be ready to go, know their assignments.”
In addition to self scouting, the Bills will have an opportunity to get healthy.
By dressing Morse, but not playing him against Arizona, the Bills were able to take advantage of a rule change this year. NFL teams are allowed to keep 48 players active on game day this season, but eight of them have to be offensive linemen. With Ford inactive because of an ankle injury, that left the Bills with just eight offensive linemen, including Morse. Keeping him out against the Cardinals, even if he was healthy, means Morse will have nearly a full month to recover from the concussion he suffered Nov. 1 against New England. Buffalo’s next game is Nov. 29 at home against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Here are four more takeaways from Monday’s video conference calls with McDermott, Daboll and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier:
1. Some injured players will have a chance to return soon. McDermott said Ford, who missed Sunday’s game with an ankle injury, and linebacker Matt Milano, who is currently on injured reserve with a pectoral injury, are both improving.
Milano is required to miss at least one more game, making him eligible to return in Week 13 at San Francisco.
“I think both (Ford and Milano), from what I’ve been told this morning, are moving in the right direction,” the coach said.
As for wide receiver John Brown, who left Sunday’s loss with an ankle injury, McDermott said further evaluation will be needed.
“He tweaked his ankle a little bit there. He had been dealing with the knee, so he's a tough sucker, man, and he's working through it and that's all we can ask for at this point,” McDermott said. “So we’ll know more in the coming days and weeks here.”
Jay Skurski grades the Buffalo Bills after their 32-30 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at State Farm Stadium.
2. This year’s bye week will look different. The Bills and every other team will be required to stay in their home city during the break in the schedule. So that means no quick trips home – or to the Bahamas. With the Covid-19 pandemic raging around the country, McDermott left his team with a message before they left the facility.
“We were pretty detailed with them before I left them this afternoon with the meeting that we had together. It is unique, and from some of the research we've done, there's quite a few teams who have picked up Covid on the bye week because naturally it’s less structured time, less time in the building and more time outside of the building, so just awareness to that,” he said. “Now we're basically going out into society again and we've got to be very mindful of that and accountable to the people in our building and to our season at this point.”
Having a bye week this late in the season has presented its own challenges.
“We were going to have that short, at least a mini bye, what was going to be the Thursday Kansas City game and we didn't get that opportunity there, so we've really gone 10 straight weeks in addition to training camp without a break here,” McDermott said. “I think the guys need some rest. I feel like again the rest is needed, with what we've been balancing with Covid and trying to play the season and quite a few West Coast trips to boot.
“Just been real proud of the way the guys have handled it obviously, you know short of the result yesterday in the last last 30 seconds of the game there. Last 20 seconds, 11 seconds, if you will. But, you know, we still have a lot to work on. Even if we had won the game, I would still be saying we have a lot to work on. Because we do and that's the evolution and the journey of a season.”
3. The Bills are up to second in the NFL in most penalties against. The team has been flagged 68 times in 10 games, second only to Atlanta, which has been whistled for 69 penalties in nine games.
The Bills were flagged nine times for 69 yards against the Cardinals, but it may have been an offsetting penalty that was most costly. Tight end Dawson Knox was whistled for an illegal block in the back in the third quarter, wiping out a 21-yard completion to Devin Singletary that would have given the Bills a first down at the Arizona 40-yard line.
“Yeah we have to be smart in that situation. The gain was already established,” McDermott said. “I don't like to slap our guys on the wrist and make them not aggressive during the play, but we also have to understand how plays are being officiated and what is and isn't a smart football play at that point and time. It's a play Dawson wants back and it's one he can learn from. And to your point on penalties, we had too many penalties that killed drives yesterday at key moments in the game, and particularly in the second half of the game.”
4. Frazier had high praise for Ed Oliver. The second-year defensive tackle remains stuck on just one sack this season, but Frazier said statistics don’t tell the whole story.
“He’s still a disruptive force in there,” he said. “He hasn’t been able to put together those flash plays or those statistical numbers that people are so anxious to see, but he’s been a disruptor and people have to pay attention to him on the interior. He’s getting off of blocks and hustling and making some of those splash plays that don’t end up in the statistics, but he’s doing a good job for us. Eventually, those statistics will come, but as long as he’s being a disruptor on the inside and creating some pass rush, there’s time where he’s getting the push to get the quarterback off his spot but that doesn’t show up in the stat lines. But he’s doing a lot of good things for us.”