Fine line

October 09, 2017 - 12:01 pm
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If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the 2017 Buffalo Bills, it’s that they need multiple things to go their way in order to win games. The defense has to be stingy and take the ball away. They have to be efficient on offense and capitalize on their good opportunities to score touchdowns. And they may need the odd bounce to go their way.

That’s life when your offense is challenged when it comes to throwing the ball. It figured to be a tough day passing for the Bills, and that was before we knew it was going to be pouring for much of the day in Cincinnati. Injuries prior to the game and then an injury to tight end Charles Clay early against the Bengals saw to that.

The Bills checked the boxes for taking the ball away and getting some bounces in losing to the Bengals on Sunday. But the rest of the formula did not play out and the Bills will head into the bye week at 3-2 because of it.

The defense was unable to handle A.J. Green and the Bills paid a price for that. Green beat rookie corner Tre’Davious White early for a 77-yard touchdown in the first quarter then had a 47-yard catch and run at the end of the third quarter that set the Bengals up to take the lead for good one play later.

Those big pass plays made all the difference in this game. The defense gave up only 20 points and for much of the day did a decent job but the big plays proved to be too much to overcome. That’s largely because the Bills are just impotent on offense.

221-yards is the total from Sunday. 221-yards! That’s both passing and rushing, by the way. If you’ve ever wondered how a team holding a 3-0 advantage in turnovers can be in a position to need a game winning drive, 221-yards on offense is a good place to start answering the question. Faced with a situation where Tyrod Taylor absolutely had to make something happen, the Bills quarterback forced a high throw into what appeared to be a triple covered Zay Jones. That’s how the Bills suffer just their second turnover of the season and their first since the very first possession in the opener against the Jets.

Considering how little the Bills are really getting out of their running game it almost blows my mind that they have a 3-2 record. Getting more out of their passing game is going to be even more challenging with Clay hurt. I’m fresh out of ideas to jump start their passing game. The best I think you can hope for is what you got last week in Atlanta, when the Bills didn’t exactly impress through the air but found their way to a couple of big throws down the field to Clay. Those plays were nowhere to be found against the Bengals, maybe in large part because Clay left the game so early.

For all the hand wringing about the lousy passing game, here’s something that seems hard to refute through the first five games of 2017. The running game is stalled. After the opener that saw the Bills pile up 190 yards against the Jets, the numbers just are not impressive.

LeSean McCoy and Mike Tolbert totaled 14-yards against Carolina. They combined for 62-yards in the win over Denver. Results against Atlanta were better, but still only 107 yards. 79-yards is the total from the two running backs against Cincinnati. The zone blocking scheme so far, a change from the past two seasons when the Bills lead the NFL in rushing, is not working.

And what about the depth at running back? Two years ago Karlos Williams had nine touchdowns. Last year Mike Gillislee had eight touchdowns. Tolbert might be a fantastic leader and a guy I’d like on my team, but as the number two option for a team that wants to be known for running the ball he’s just not enough of a threat. I can certainly understand why the Bills parted ways with both Williams and Gillislee. This isn’t even necessarily a complaint about the release of Jonathan Williams in September. The point is, in a league where running backs seem to grow on trees, where is the Bills fast, elusive threat as a compliment to McCoy? Tolbert may make the occasional run for a first down, but it often feels like the Bills are limiting their potential whenever McCoy has to come off the field.

It bears repeating. If the Bills are going to be built around their running game, shouldn’t they have at least another running back, maybe two, to put on the field that is in some way a threat? There was a series against Cincinnati where McCoy was off the field for a few plays in a row and on one of those they motioned Tolbert to line up out wide. I’m sorry, but is that to be taken seriously?

So what’s it all mean? A 3-2 record is something many of us would’ve signed up for when the season started, so that’s good. But no surprise, injuries have started to mount and the Bills roster choices at the skill positions have left them perilously short of players that can impact the game. Is the 3-2 record good enough for the Bills to consider making a trade to try and improve? Right now, they are one McCoy pulled hamstring away from being almost comically undermanned.

Do they want to do anything about it? They’ve got a week off to ponder that.

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