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7 observations from Bills’ win over Titans: Stefon Diggs’ unguardable tour continues


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 The Bills and Titans recently played their share of tightly contested and memorable primetime games. But their most recent battle on ‘Monday Night Football’ did not qualify for that distinction.

This time the Bills crushed the Titans 41-7, as the two teams are seemingly heading in opposite directions to begin the year. The Bills used a dominant third quarter to compile an insurmountable lead en route to another blowout victory.

“We have an attitude of domination,” Bills defensive end Von Miller said. “We’re not playing to just win the game, we’re playing the game to dominate the game.”

The Bills are now 2-0, looking every part the Super Bowl contenders oddsmakers pegged them to be entering the regular season. So how did they put together another comprehensive victory on Monday?

Here are seven observations from the Bills’ victory over the Titans.

1. Stefon Diggs is unstoppable to begin the year

On a night where the Bills didn’t have Stefon Diggs’ running mate Gabe Davis due to injury, a logical expectation would have been for the Titans to do everything in their power to make someone else beat their defense. It quickly became apparent the Titans had no answers for Diggs as the Bills’ star receiver raced out to another incredible game. The Titans were without top cornerback Kristian Fulton, and Diggs kept Titans starting cornerback Roger McCreary guessing every time the receiver ran a route at him. Diggs ran with purpose, charging hard in and out of breaks to maximize his separation versus man, and then did an excellent job uncovering throughout the game against zone coverage as well. His efforts helped him top his gaudy numbers from Week 1 against the Rams with even more dominance.

 

In that Week 1 showing, Diggs ran 26 routes on plays ending in a pass attempt or sack, and the Bills targeted him on 34.6 percent of those passes. Against the Titans, Diggs upped his game. He was on the field a lot more this week when it was still close (82.8 percent of snaps before backups entered the game in garbage time), running a total of 35 routes. Quarterback Josh Allen targeted Diggs 14 times throughout the game, giving Diggs a ridiculous 40 percent target rate. That rate doubles what is normally accepted as a great target share, further cementing Diggs’ superiority against the Titans. Diggs also was electric after the catch, helping him average an unbelievable 4.23 yards per route run on a full game’s worth of snaps.

Diggs has completely erased any lingering concern about his disappointing performance against the Chiefs in the playoffs. He brought his game back to levels from the 2020 season, and we’re seeing just how dominant he can be, with or without Davis. Once Davis returns to the lineup, the ripple effect from Diggs’ outstanding start to the season will open up opportunities for their explosive second receiver. But that’s down the line. On a night where he had the Titans’ full attention and the Bills’ rushing attack couldn’t get going, it didn’t even matter. Diggs was unstoppable.

2. Josh Allen the WR elevator

Diggs doing what he did without Davis is a leading reason why the Bills were able to race to another blowout victory, but Allen also deserves a ton of credit. The Titans knew Diggs would hurt them the most, but Allen’s manipulation of the defense, and how he elevated his receiving options after Diggs in select moments helped push the Bills forward. The Bills went with a mishmash of receivers from snap to snap, but it didn’t matter who was on the field. Allen disguised his true intentions long enough on most snaps to maximize a play to what the Titans’ defense surrendered.

Outside of Diggs, the other top three receivers were NFL castoffs in one way or another. Isaiah McKenzie was once released by another team, and didn’t find much on the free agent market. Allen saw a vacancy to the deep middle and exploited the Titans defense by hitting McKenzie for a 28-yard gain. Jamison Crowder drifted down the Jets’ depth chart last season and signed a low-cost contract with the Bills this offseason. On a third-and-9 deep in Bills territory, Allen rocketed a pass into Crowder, where the accuracy was so on point it led the receiver to the first down and more on top of it. And Jake Kumerow, a crowning jewel of an example who spent time on practice squads a couple of seasons ago, ran free deep down the left sideline. Allen hit him perfectly in stride for the team’s second biggest gain of the day, a 39-yard reception.

It’s clear Allen is on a different level over his last four appearances than we’ve seen from him before, but it’s the way he’s doing it that’s so impressive. After two weeks and seeing how the rest of the league is playing, Allen is the best quarterback in the NFL right now. There hasn’t been a single defensive tactic that has given him trouble to this point, and it’s a scary thing to game plan for defensively. If he continues this trend, he will smash every single-season passing and offensive record the Bills have ever had.

3. Why Kumerow, and is Crowder closing the gap on McKenzie? WR rotation without Gabe Davis

Heading into the season, the two surefire things we knew about the receiving group were Diggs and Davis. But there has always been a lingering question about what it would look like if one of them had to miss time, and Monday offered up our first glimpse into the team’s thinking. Davis played on almost every snap against the Rams, so the Bills used four different receivers to help fill the Davis void against the Titans. Here is how the snap share looked before the game entered garbage time with the Bills up 41-7.

Bills WR snaps vs. Titans (pre-garbage time)
PLAYER SNAP COUNT SNAP %
48
87.3%
45
81.8%
24
43.6%
18
32.7%
11
20.0%

The obvious takeaway here is that Kumerow was thrust into an enormous role. Even more impressive, Kumerow still played on 100 percent of the team’s core-four special teams snaps, so the Bills didn’t lose anything on those reps either. The immediate explanation for Kumerow getting that time rather than McKenzie, Crowder or Khalil Shakir is that he’s the best blocking receiver of the trio. But the running game didn’t offer much as the game progressed, so it likely was the Bills deferring to Kumerow as their top boundary option rather than forcing the rookie Shakir into a bigger than necessary role in his first career game.

Now, some things could alter this approach in the future. The Bills may feel more comfortable with Shakir in future games as he adds more experience. The Davis injury also occurred at the last possible moment for the Bills, so their game plan was well established by that point. Kumerow could have been the path of least resistance as he’d been working with the first-team offense all week. If the Davis injury happened during the first practice rather than the team’s final light practice, it could have given the team more time to prep Shakir for a bigger role. The other thing that could change Kumerow as the top reserve boundary option is if Diggs is the one who has to miss time. Kumerow is a better fit for the Davis role than the Diggs one, so that could open the door for someone else in the future.

Past Kumerow, the usage of McKenzie and Crowder was especially interesting. In non-garbage time situations, those two players were on the field together on only three snaps, so it was usually a one-or-the-other situation. Less the three shared snaps, that dropped the snap counts to 21 for McKenzie and 16 for Crowder. McKenzie’s snap count was larger against the Rams, which makes you wonder if this is drifting even closer to a 50-50 split. Unlike the summer, there hasn’t been a noticeable difference between the two players, and Crowder’s consistency has seemingly caught up to McKenzie’s flashes of big plays. It’s a good problem to have for the Bills because both can be productive, but if the Week 2 snaps are any indication, Crowder could be pushing McKenzie.

4. The job of the defensive tackles cannot be understated

The identity of the Titans is Derrick Henry and their running game, which put a massive emphasis on the Bills players up the middle. That started with the defensive tackles, but without Ed Oliver and Tim Settle available due to injury it made a difficult task a bit more daunting. The Bills called up practice squad defensive tackles Brandin Bryant and C.J. Brewer to fill the void and join starters DaQuan Jones and Jordan Phillips. Between the four of them, they were dominant at the line of scrimmage and were a key reason why Henry and the Titans rushing attack couldn’t get anything established. Here is a look at how the Titans fared against each of the defensive tackles.

Bills DTs vs. Titans run game (pre-garbage time)
PLAYER YARDS PER ATTEMPT ATTEMPTS AGAINST YARDS AGAINST
2.3
8
18
1.8
9
16
1.5
8
12
3.5
4
14

Bryant is the real standout there. He was one of the last players the Bills cut from the 53-man roster but made it through waivers and they retained him for the practice squad. Their faith in him was rewarded with an excellent game. Jones and Phillips were also both outstanding and dominated their matchups up front. But they weren’t out there alone, so what were the best defensive tackle combinations against Henry?

Bills DT pairings vs. Titans run game (pre-garbage time)
DT PAIRING
  
YARDS PER ATTEMPT
  
ATTEMPTS AGAINST
  
YARDS AGAINST
  
3.5
4
14
-1.0
1
-1
1.5
2
3
0.0
4
0
5.5
2
11

Weirdly enough, the Jones and Phillips combination yielded the second-highest yards per carry average, but 3.5 is still a good figure. Once again, it’s Bryant standing out here. The Titans averaged zero yards or less in two of his three defensive tackle combinations. They only gained positive yardage when Bryant paired with Brewer, an undrafted rookie.

It is worth pointing out the Titans’ offensive line is quickly turning into one of the worst in the league. Their starting guards are an issue, they lost left tackle Taylor Lewan to an in-game injury and they’re also starting a third-round rookie at right tackle. But to the Bills’ credit, they dominated all night and didn’t allow Henry to become a factor.

5. Edmunds steps up to the challenge

With the Bills’ defensive tackle group missing a couple of key pieces, middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds needed to step up his game and help keep the Titans’ rushing attack at bay. Edmunds had to get away from blocks better than he had the previous week against the Rams, or else Henry would have found some success at the second level. Edmunds brought as charged up a run-defending and overall game as we’ve seen from him in recent appearances. He was reacting and getting downhill without delay, sensing opportunities for big plays along the way. The tackle statistics weren’t there, but that doesn’t take away from his run defending. He was an important piece in jamming up the running lanes for total team tackles.

On top of the run defending, Edmunds chipped in a sack on a blitz and tipped a pass that led to an interception. As a free agent at the end of the year, these impact games make the team’s decision on him so compelling. Both teammates and coaches highly regard Edmunds, but that doesn’t mean he’s a slam dunk to return past 2022. If Edmunds makes this level of play his new standard, the Bills would have difficulty justifying letting him walk out the door.

6. DE snaps and splits with all five active

Unlike their Week 1 win over the Rams when they made defensive end Shaq Lawson inactive, the Bills decided to have all five defensive ends on their roster active against the Titans. That included Von Miller, Greg RousseauA.J. EpenesaBoogie Basham and Lawson, and with a five-person rotation comes the curiosity as to how they would divvy things up when the game is still competitive. Of course, this game turned into a blowout in the third quarter, which altered the snap counts, but the results before garbage time began are noteworthy. The biggest question is how Lawson’s presence would impact the snaps of Epenesa and Basham. Including how often they lined up on a specific side, here are the usage numbers for all five players.

Bills DEs snaps & roles (pre-garbage time)
PLAYER SNAP % DE SNAPS LDE SNAPS RDE SNAPS
81.1%
30
11
19
59.5%
22
18
4
37.8%
14
1
13
10.8%
4
3
1
10.8%
4
3
1

As we can see, Lawson really had no impact on Rousseau or Epenesa. Lawson’s snaps really came at the expense of Basham above all else. Both Lawson and Basham lined up at left defensive end almost exclusively before garbage time began. Epenesa’s role as the top reserve right defensive end went primarily unchallenged.

One other interesting piece was Miller cracking the 80 percent mark of snaps. It’s unusual for most defenses run by coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, but it’s been the norm for Miller throughout his career. That snap percentage when the game was still competitive is higher than what Miller played against the Rams, so it’s something to track moving forward.

7. The running game is the weak link at the moment

As dominant as the Bills were throughout the game on both sides of the ball, the rushing attack was non-existent until the contest was well in hand. Starter Devin Singletary was their most effective runner, but that isn’t saying much. Before the Bills started to run the clock at the end of the game, Singletary had 16 yards on five carries. Zack Moss and James Cook added four carries and zero yards of their own. The Bills’ offensive line wasn’t getting any push against the Titans, which is a slightly concerning characteristic moving forward because it could decrease how unpredictable the offense is to defend. It got so bad that offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey almost abandoned the pass altogether.

After the Bills turned the ball over on downs in the first quarter, there were a total of 35 offensive plays before the Bills took a 41-7 lead. Five of those 35 plays were penalties. Of the 30 remaining plays, the Bills called a pass play on 27 of them — a pass to run split of 90 to 10 percent. To Dorsey and the Bills’ credit, they just leaned in on what was working rather than trying to force the issue with the rushing game. It worked this week, but this issue will likely need repair moving forward due to coaching preference. McDermott has stressed the desire to be as multi-faceted on offense as possible, and that 30-play stretch is the opposite of what the head coach usually covets.

Bills MVP: WR Stefon Diggs – He was unguardable; the 12 catches for 148 yards and three touchdowns are video game numbers.

Bills LVP: Late-game injuries – The Bills watched as starting safety Micah Hyde (neck), linebacker Matt Milano (stinger) and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (hamstring) all left the game with an injury while the game was well in hand.

Up Next: The Bills hit the road for one of the best games on the Week 3 schedule, a showdown with the explosive 2-0 Miami Dolphins.

Final Thoughts:

For the second week in a row, the Bills didn’t leave any room for interpretation. The only difference this time was that they should have beaten this version of the Titans quite handily if the Bills were as good as advertised. The Titans team they defeated on Monday is a far cry from the group that captured the No. 1 seed in the AFC last season. Regardless of that talent disparity, the Bills accomplished the mission and added some style points for the blowout win.

This Bills team has steamrolled through their first two opponents, but things are about to get quite daunting over the next four weeks. With road games against the Dolphins (Week 3), Ravens (Week 4) and Chiefs (Week 6) on the way, we’re likely to learn if the Bills can win the close contests. We know they can pad early leads with an excellent second half. They’ve mastered that. But now, this year’s team has to learn about dealing with the in-game pressure in the fourth quarter. Whether it’s facing a deficit and coming up with a touchdown late in the game or putting away the contest with a key defensive stop, that’s the next thing the Bills must get acclimated with ahead of their seemingly inevitable playoff chase this season. Regardless of what’s next, the Bills couldn’t have asked for a better start to their season.

 

 

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”
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