Facing a 2018 playoff team on the road, Buffalo escaped with a 14-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans Sunday afternoon.
The Titans, now 2-3, clearly are a playoff-caliber team. They have a top-10 defense, play physical on both sides of the ball, and with more help from their kicker, may have sent the Bills to a second straight loss.
Other than a 46-yard shovel pass from Josh Allen to Isaiah McKenzie, Buffalo’s offense moved in small increments. But, with the game hanging in the balance, the dormant running game produced four straight first downs to run out the clock on the Titans.
Now at 4-1 – the best start for Buffalo in eight years – the Bills kept pace with the unbeaten Patriots, and the stingy defense will likely maintain its number two overall standing behind New England.
The Bills head into their bye week with a ton of momentum, and here are five quick observations from yesterday’s win:
Where has this guy been hiding?
Jordan Phillips had three sacks – in the first half! Phillips put up nearly half his career sack total over five seasons in the league in the first 30 minutes of the game.
While touted rookie Ed Oliver is still looking for his first sack (he did share today’s team lead with six tackles), it was nice to see Phillips provide a pass rush from the defensive tackle position.
Since the Bills rarely blitz, getting a steady pass rush from the front four makes a tough Bills defense even tougher.
Allen makes better decisions (mostly)
Allen was 23 of 32 today (72%), and many of those nine incompletions were well-placed throwaways when the defense had the Bills’ receivers covered up. He also slid feet first a couple times on scrambles (probably to his chagrin).
However, he was hit hard by Tennessee linebacker Rashaan Evans on a scramble, and Allen never saw Evans coming. Bills fans likely exhaled a breath of relief as Allen bounced back up, and ran off the field.
Later, on his only improv moment, Allen inexplicably through into double coverage that ended in an interception. The Titans took advantage of the short field driving for the tying score.
Overall, Allen served as a capable game manager in his return from a concussion, and one would expect the offense to open up a little more in two weeks when the Bills play the winless Dolphins.
The right-wing offense
Talk about conservative offensive play calling. Other than a couple first-half intermediate throws to John Brown, the Bills took no real shots down the field Sunday. Unlike last year, when Allen connected on some deep balls, the chunk plays are coming few and far between.
For most of this season, the Bills have looked to drive the field with time-consuming drives. While the time of possession advantage is admirable, the dearth of big plays is a direct correlation to the Bills’ low point production.
The Bills have the second lowest scoring offense (points per game) of any NFL team with a .500-or-better record. For the Bills to score, they have to execute to near perfection on offense.
Fortunately, the Titans’ defense broke down on Allen’s shovel pass to Isaiah McKenzie. The 46-yard play led to a short TD pass to roster promotee Duke Williams. Speaking of number 82…
The Duke makes his mark
While presumptive number three receiver, Zay Jones**, wasn’t targeted one time in Sunday’s victory, Duke Williams proved an integral part of the Bills’ close win.
A standout in the preseason, Williams was one of the Bills’ last preseason roster cuts. He was quickly signed to the practice squad, and was added to the 53-man roster 24 hours before the game.
Early on, Williams got some looks, and he finished with four catches including the winning TD grab. Williams may not be a speed guy, but he has a big body, soft hands, and is a great complement to the speedy Brown, and crafty slot receiver Cole Beasley.
With Jones’ role fading fast, Williams may have solidified the Bills’ number three receiver spot.
Special teams not on par with offense and defense
The Buffalo defense is number two in yards allowed, the offense is in the top-half of the league, but the special teams?
In the third phase of the game – and the least heralded – the Bills have been mediocre at best.
Special teams was the tangible difference between the Patriots and Bills last week, and it didn’t look much better this week.
Punter Corey Bojorquez got off a couple of boomers, but they ended in dreaded touchbacks. And touchbacks are the equivalent of an unforced error: You didn’t force the opponent to return the ball; you didn’t give your special teams a chance to down the ball inside the 10; and touchbacks are terrible for the net punting.
Speaking of net punting, Buffalo was the worst in the league four games, and held the position after Sunday’s win.
Maybe you’re thinking: Who cares about net punting?
Coaches sure do.
Poor net punting, over the course of a game (or games) adds up to better field position for the opponent.
Statistically, Buffalo’s punt returners average 5.0 yards per return, while opponents come in at over 12 yards per punt return.
And, while Andre Roberts has sparked the Bills’ kickoff return game at 28 yards a return, Roberts has just four returns in five games. A lot of that may come from Buffalo not giving up scores, which lead to kickoffs.
Stephen Hauschka, the Bills’ money man on field goals the past two years, has only attempted six field goals through five games, while making four.
One common thread you see in all great teams is balance in all phases of the game. The Bills still have a long way to go to attain that balance.
**Local Buffalo websites are reporting that Zay Jones was traded to the Oakland Raiders Monday night.
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