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7 Bills observations from Sunday’s loss to Bengals: What went wrong and what happens next?


Buddy
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After an offseason full of positivity, Super Bowl promise and continued talk of fulfilling “destiny” while clearing hurdles through trying times, the Billssaw the storybook season that never was end with an unceremonious thud. They were outplayed, outcoached and out-everythinged en route to a 27-10 loss at home to the Bengals.

The Bills’ season ends in the divisional round for the second consecutive year, but Sunday is also just the first home playoff loss in the Sean McDermott era. The Bengals raced out to an early 14-0 lead, and while the Bills did their best to keep it competitive, the cruel reality is that after the early hole, they were never really a threat to take the game back.

The Bills’ offseason has abruptly arrived, and with it, far more questions than the Bills have ever had to face in the offseason since McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane took over in 2017. But the first step is trying to figure out what went wrong Sunday and what could come because of it.

Here are seven observations from the Bills’ season-ending loss to the Bengals:

1. The Bills needed Allen to elevate the team around him, but Burrow passed him by

Even with a dramatic playoff exit last season, Bills fans could take solace that their young superstar quarterback Josh Allen played at an all-world level and looked every bit capable of one day taking the franchise to Super Bowl glory. This time around, it might be the polar opposite. While Cincinnati’s young superstar quarterback Joe Burrow elevated a patchwork offensive line and continued to push the ball down the field against a talented Bills defense, Allen and the Bills were stuck in neutral for far too long. Whether it was poor throws, poor decisions, trying to do too much or his teammates occasionally letting him down, there was no flow and no rhythm to what the Bills were trying to do offensively. The Bengals didn’t throw many surprises at the Bills as they stayed in zone coverage for most of the game, which the Bills expected. But Allen couldn’t find any consistent success.

It looked like the Bills were on to something on their first scoring drive to make it 14-7 in the second quarter, heading into a quick-tempo offense and sticking with the same group in 11 personnel through the first nine plays. But eventually, the Bengals adjusted and continued to frustrate the Bills offense to only three points the rest of the game. They certainly needed more from others around Allen, and they need to give him more talented weapons for next season. Still, it’s in these situations that the franchise quarterback is supposed to deliver those premier moments against the odds. To cover up the weaknesses and uplift the skill set of the players they do have on offense, or to push aside all of the past failed drives earlier in the game to come back and steal a victory. All game, the Bills were starving for Allen to have that moment, delivering a pass he had no business completing that sparks the team in a way it was lacking all game. Except, it never happened. Allen correctly took what was given a lot of times, but on those big plays, those calculated risks, his efforts landed too far away from his intended target.

Allen still has plenty of promise and is within the prime of his career, so he’ll likely have better days ahead. The Bills should continue to be playoff contenders for as long as Allen plays the way he has the past few seasons. But at the same time, it’s hard to ignore the seismic shift in the AFC quarterback landscape. Allen was supposed to be the adversary to Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but Burrow has usurped that spot. The results speak for themselves with Burrow. Two playoff runs, two trips to the AFC Championship Game and maybe even a second straight Super Bowl appearance. As good as Allen’s regular seasons have been, the Bills feel even further away from the Super Bowl than they did last year despite losing in the same round.

2. Is a serious Dorsey conversation going to happen?

The Bills have depended on Allen to bail them out of situations all season, and for the most part, the Bills have found a way to win with their franchise quarterback. But even throughout winning 14 games out of 18, a great season in its own right, the offense never appeared to reach its optimal state. There were signs of it through the first two games of the season, but once teams had gotten a bit of the book on this version of the Bills offense, from the third week through the end of the year, the offense felt disjointed every week. They were at times predictable, they lacked the creativity that was a staple of Brian Daboll’s game plans, they always seemed to react rather a bit later than they should have and it didn’t seem like they were ever maximizing their potential.

That ultimately falls on first-year offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, who had to go through numerous growing pains as a first-time play-caller. It wasn’t all bad for Dorsey, because the Bills usually found their way to plus results on offense. The rushing offense improved in the second half of the season, a lot likely having to do with McDermott’s push to be a more multi-faceted offense. After all, Dorsey was the offensive play-caller of a 14-win team. But there are plenty of first-year play-callers around the NFL, working with far less at the quarterback position and at wide receiver, guiding their teams to impressive offensive results. Dorsey had a top-flight quarterback running his offense, and that quarterback seemingly regressed in turnovers and, at times, reverted back to some early-year tendencies. Daboll did wonders for Allen’s career in helping him to become the player the Bills have today, but some of the unflappable qualities began to fade in 2022.

It all boils down to a legitimate line of questioning the Bills must discuss in the offseason. These are precious seasons in Josh Allen’s prime, and they are not guaranteed even two or three years from now. Are the Bills a better offense because Ken Dorsey is their offensive coordinator, or do they have room to grow with a more creative mind helping to steer the Bills’ offense? Furthermore, did Dorsey get the most out of Allen with his play-calling? This is not a situation where the Bills are trying to build up to something. If it was, patience would be the correct play. But it isn’t. They are already built. They were ready to win now. And they fell short, with a disjointed offense as a prominent feature. If the answer isn’t a resounding yes to both of those questions, the Bills need to think long and hard about who will guide their offense in the future. They have a creative young play-caller on their coaching staff in Joe Brady that has drawn some attention for the offensive coordinator post from a division rival.

It’s not an unprecedented conversation, as McDermott moved on from offensive coordinator Rick Dennison after only one season in 2017. That decision led them to Daboll, who helped mold Allen into the player he is today. Despite 14 wins and lots of passing yards and points, the Dorsey discussions aren’t, and shouldn’t, be an open-and-shut case.

3. Diggs’ emotions boil over

Although it’s less of an in-between-the-lines type of observation, Diggs’ emotional presence bled through the broadcast and after the game. On the broadcast and on the sidelines, Diggs was shown with his arms extended, seemingly looking at Allen sitting on the bench. After the game, Diggs wanted to get out of the building as quickly as possible. Likely not even showering, Diggs had all his possessions under his arm and exited the locker room before some Bills’ coordinators and positional coaches could make their way down to the tunnel from up in the booth. Practice squad running back Duke Johnson stopped Diggs before his quick exit, convinced the receiver to come back to the locker room. Diggs put his possessions on a chair about 20 feet from the locker room doors, went back in with Johnson and rejoined his team as all the coaches filed in through the doors. Diggs was one of the first players out the door just a few moments later, but others quickly followed, likely signaling the team was dismissed from whatever postgame routine they were going through. McDermott said after the fact that Diggs was present for his postgame speech, though the timing of when that speech happened in relation to Diggs leaving the locker room the first time is unknown.

McDermott didn’t have a problem with Diggs being a fiery competitor and having those emotions come out on the sideline. His teammate Cole Beasley, who has known Diggs well since the 2020 season, didn’t seem to have a problem with Diggs’ actions.

“If he was happy about the situation, we wouldn’t want the guy on the team,” Beasley said. “He’s right in the way he reacted.”

In general, all players should be allowed to process a game in the way they choose to, especially when something they work that hard for ends without real hope of winning at the end of the game. The Bills learned a lot about themselves this year, and compelling their players to process emotions the way they need to is chief among those lessons. However, the Bills will need to remain mindful of how Diggs conducted himself, listen to him in the coming days and weeks, and figure out what they need to do to move forward productively once everyone has cooled down. The thought that this will signal the beginning of the end of Diggs and Allen, or of Diggs and the Bills, is likely misguided. Never say never, of course, but the rest of the facts work against that theory. The quarterback and receiver have an established rapport that has grown into a deep-rooted friendship and working relationship. And the Bills have Diggs on a long-term deal, where he has repeatedly discussed that he’s happy in Buffalo. If anything, it’s something to keep in the back of the brain until the team reconvenes next season.

4. No one outside of Diggs challenged the defense

One of the prominent features of the Bills’ thunderous loss, perhaps poetically, is that every part of their roster they had glossed over in past offseasons became a significant issue against the Bengals. The first was at receiver, which likely helped bring on some of Diggs’ frustrations. As starting receiver Gabe Davis has continued along with inconsistent results all season, opposing defenses slowly figured out that if they find a way to slow down Diggs, the Bills really didn’t have much of a counter with their passing offense.

The Bills neglected to add another boundary receiver in the offseason or ahead of the trade deadline, believing too strongly in Davis’ ability to step into a full-time role. By the end of the year, they had to use either rookie slot receiver Khalil Shakir on the outside, or past-his-prime practice squad receiver John Brown as Davis’ primary backup. On top of that, they were also woefully short on productive slot receivers. Shakir showed some potential at times, but the Bills were hesitant to widen his role the entire season. Isaiah McKenziestruggled with dropped passes and inconsistent games all season. At their lowest point, needing a play, the Bills found their way back to Beasley as their primary slot receiver, despite cutting him in the offseason and him retiring early in the year. Beasley played the first nine snaps of the Bills’ lone touchdown drive, likely because Allen couldn’t trust anyone else. It was an institutional problem at wide receiver outside of Diggs and one that is crying for changes in the offseason. Don’t be surprised if it’s a big priority in the next few months.

5. The offseason offensive line neglect stood out, too

Allen took hit after hit for a second week in a row, underscoring a season-long problem. The offensive line was revealed as below average, with no depth to speak of behind their struggling starters. Right tackle Spencer Brown was a big disappointment in his second season, left guard Rodger Saffold was a liability as a pass blocker for much of the year, and right guard Ryan Bates saved some of his worst moments for late in the season. Even locked in left tackle Dion Dawkins regressed as a pass blocker this season. But the trouble for the Bills was that they never had an in-house answer to pivot to with all their struggles.

Under McDermott, they have made at least one change to their starting five every year except for this one. But they had no other choice. Overall neglect of adding interior offensive linemen through the draft meant it was either the struggling Saffold, or journeyman Greg Van Roten in the lineup. Van Roten was a far worse option. Without adding a legitimate veteran backup offensive tackle, the Bills would have had to replace Brown with David Quessenberry. Like Van Roten, Quessenberry was a far worse option. If there was one injury to a starter, which there were plenty in 2022, the Bills instantly went from a below-average unit to a bottom-tier offensive line. A disruptive defensive line would usually get the better of the Bills’ offensive line, and that’s precisely what the Bengals did to add to the Bills’ offensive frustrations on Sunday. It would be fair to expect quite a few changes along the offensive line and its depth for 2023.

 6. Defensive end swings and misses

The Bills thought they had their closer in star edge rusher Von Miller, but when he suffered a season-ending torn ACL, the pass rush was never quite the same from that point forward. Second-year defensive end Greg Rousseau stepped up to the challenge as a consistent player, but the rest of the defensive end room failed to live up to expectations. The Bills spent two substantial draft resources — a second-round pick — on A.J. Epenesaand Boogie Basham. And in their third and second seasons respectively, in a game where the Bills’ season was on the line, the Bills instead opted for Shaq Lawson to get the second-most defensive end snaps and practice squad player Kingsley Jonathan to take away snaps from Epenesa and Basham. Lawson is playing on a veteran minimum contract, and the Bills drafted both Epenesa and Basham hoping to best the production Lawson gave them before he left in 2020. The Bills desperately needed one of the defensive ends to make a positive impact against a backup Bengals offensive tackle, and no one did. As good as Beane has been with his first-round picks, Basham and Epenesa have added to a low hit rate of Day 2 picks on his watch.

7. Another Poyer injury underscores why they should move on this offseason

Perhaps on a last-gasp effort to save the Bills’ dwindling playoff hopes, starting safety Jordan Poyer dove and collided with cornerback Tre’Davious White in the fourth quarter. This was after ESPN reported before the first Bengals game that Poyer had been playing this season through a torn lateral meniscus. The first time the Bills listed a “knee” designation on the injury report for Poyer was the week before the Bears contest in Week 16, but that also carried a co-designation of “vet rest.” The first Bengals game was the first time the knee was solely listed. As impressive and commendable as it’s been that Poyer has continued to battle through all of these injuries, it’s a potentially bittersweet reason as to why the Bills would be best to move on this offseason. Poyer is an unrestricted free agent after the year, and the Bills have not done anything other than give him some performance-based incentives for the 2022 season.

The concussion and the knee injuries are the fifth and sixth different injuries this year for Poyer. He dealt with a training camp elbow injury, an early-season foot injury, a mid-season injury to his ribs, another elbow injury, and now the torn lateral meniscus in his knee. There is no doubting Poyer’s overall impact on the Bills for most of this season. They’ve been a better team with him in the lineup when he’s been available. But it’s entering a potentially dangerous situation if the team emotionally commits substantial future cap dollars to an aging player. Poyer is 31, and he’ll be almost halfway to 33 by the time the 2023 season kicks off. Considering his age, his run of injuries, potential offseason surgeries Poyer may need and his price point on the open market, it’s a situation that’s screaming for the Bills to use extreme caution.

Poyer also struggled in both playoff games. Against the Dolphins, he looked more hesitant than his usual downhill tackling style. Against the Bengals, Poyer missed some key open-field tackles, too. It could be a byproduct of all the injuries, but that only underscores the risk a team takes by investing substantial cap dollars into a player near the end of their prime.

None of those reasons even consider the Bills’ current cap constraints for the 2023 season, which are sizable. Josh Allen’s cap hit balloons to $39.7 million, Stefon Diggs is at $20.3 million, Von Miller at $18.7 million, Tre’Davious White at $16.4 million and Dion Dawkins at $14.9 million. They also have four other contracts over $10 million in Matt Milano, Mitch Morse, Micah Hyde and Ed Oliver. Middle linebacker Tremaine Edmundshas become an even more significant impact player in 2022, is seven years younger than Poyer and is also an unrestricted free agent. And Edmunds’ understudy, Terrel Bernard, has fallen to fifth on the linebacker depth chart and was inactive for the Bengals game.

The Bills face numerous difficult decisions in the offseason, and Poyer might be the toughest of all given the emotional investment in him from helping to start the Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane project. But it’s the exact type of tough, logically based decision a great franchise makes while wanting to keep their best roster around a huge quarterback extension. The Bills should take the warning sign of all Poyer’s ailments as an indicator that bringing him back on a big free-agent contract might not be the wisest way to use their depleted cap space for 2023. It would be a short-term loss without him in the lineup to begin 2023, but perhaps better than the alternative of getting stuck with a big contract on a potentially depreciating player.

Bills MVP: TE Dawson Knox  Someone had to win, and Knox had 62 yards.

Bills LVP: The offensive and defensive line  A lot of pressure on Allen and no pressure on Burrow made it into a long day for the Bills.

Up next: The Bills will clean out their lockers on Monday, and the franchise begins plotting its offseason course.

Final Thoughts

The Bills’ season is over. They didn’t live up to the Super Bowl hype and fell well short of their goals in the same round they exited a season ago. Even through all the adversity, and the disjointed offense, most everyone expected the Bills to wake up and be the behemoth they were always capable of becoming. But the truth is, they never did. Perhaps the paper monster that had been dormant nodded off for the season. But there is no doubt they missed a golden opportunity in the 2022 season.

It was the final year before Allen’s massive contract extension fully took hold, when the Bills still had the cap flexibility to add key pieces and didn’t have to subtract more than they added. They had one of the best overall starting lineups in the entire league. And yet, nothing. As opposed to the last two playoff exits where the Bills were ascending with plenty of potential in the future, they’ll now enter an entirely different offseason. With key free agents at multiple positions, minimal cap space because of Allen and other’s contracts and already several holes they need to fill before those free agents are considered, this is a suddenly descending roster. One that may have missed its best chance at a championship. The silver lining is that Allen remains one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and as long as he’s healthy, the Bills will have a chance. But the beautiful build with their top players on rookie contracts is over. The first class of the Beane and McDermott Bills has graduated to contract extensions. The offseason questions will only grow in number, and the Bills must find a new way to build and win with their franchise quarterback.

 

“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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2 hours ago, Greg said:

Beane has a lot of work to do. Tough decisions to make. Next season is looking rough. Road games at KC, CIN, PHIL. It will be tough to get 13 wins next year. 

Whole crap.  ROAD games at Kansas City, Cinny and Philly?    Unless we dramatically change our approach, those are 3 losses.

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OLine 2023 Draft Prospects                     Free Agent Targets

O'Cyrus Torrence, 6'5" 345lbs                OG Evan Brown, Lions
Darnell Wright, 6'6", 335lbs                      OG Will Hernandez, Cardinals
John M Schmitz, 6'4", 320lbs                   WR Parris Campbell, Colts
Cody Mauch, 6'5" 305lbs                          SAF Nasir Adderley, Chargers
Matthew Bergeron, 6'5" 323lbs

 

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2 hours ago, jamsim67 said:

Yesterday, they looked like a heavyweight fighter who agreed to take a dive.

 

Sadly, that is what it looked like.   Really at no point yesterday was there a moment I thought they could win.

OLine 2023 Draft Prospects                     Free Agent Targets

O'Cyrus Torrence, 6'5" 345lbs                OG Evan Brown, Lions
Darnell Wright, 6'6", 335lbs                      OG Will Hernandez, Cardinals
John M Schmitz, 6'4", 320lbs                   WR Parris Campbell, Colts
Cody Mauch, 6'5" 305lbs                          SAF Nasir Adderley, Chargers
Matthew Bergeron, 6'5" 323lbs

 

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3 minutes ago, Crazy Legs said:

Sadly, that is what it looked like.   Really at no point yesterday was there a moment I thought they could win.

I held out hope, until it was pointless. If they had been able to score one TD, they are right back in it. I don't like being the guy in the shout-box always being negative. But having said that, I've been that guy before and it's not a good look. However, what happens at the range, stays at the range. lol

 

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I have a hard time blaming Bean for his defensive draft picks. Is it the players, or Frasiers scheme? I lean towards scheme as the problem, and if true, players like Basham and AJ can't be truely evaluated correctly.

Crowded elevators smell different to midgets............

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Thats a interesting question. Why do the D picks not perform. Bad scheme? Bad players? bad scouting? Bad coaching?

I would say D line can be evaluated at least partially independent of scheme. because it is mostly beat the man in front of you. So thats not good. Oliver and Groot showed promise. But all the 2nd round picks seem to stink ...

Nonetheless fire Frazier just to be sure ...

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Proud adopter of #54 AJ Klein and owner of Lit while sitting in the drivers seat of the bandwagon of

The Buffalo Ninety-five Percents

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3 hours ago, The Chosen said:

I have a hard time blaming Bean for his defensive draft picks. Is it the players, or Frasiers scheme? I lean towards scheme as the problem, and if true, players like Basham and AJ can't be truely evaluated correctly.

It's the scheme. Soft Zone with almost no pressure on the QB. Qood QB's and talented Receivers exploit the shit out of it consistently. That's why receivers are ALWAYS open. The idea is to contain them with in 10yrds.

Losing Von had a dramatic effect on the pass rush and Frazier was never able to improvise anything

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“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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