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Bills observations: Joe Brady’s offense provides spark in Sunday’s win vs. Jets


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With the week the Buffalo Bills just had, Sunday’s 32-6 win over the New York Jets serves as a collective sigh of relief.

The team dropped three of their last four, including two to opponents with losing records. Pressure was mounting. The team seemed tightly wound. The offense wasn’t performing, so they fired Ken Dorsey. And as rudimentary as it is, the offense didn’t seem to be having fun. Bills head coach Sean McDermott admitted how important it is for his team, and his franchise quarterback, to get back to that youthful exuberance.

“I think just getting him back to having that look in his eye, and having some fun out there,” McDermott said Friday. “The guy that we have watched over the years here, but also back at Wyoming, right? Just going out there and having that joy when he’s playing.”

And then early in the third quarter Sunday, even when the Bills were in control but not quite delivering a vintage, over-the-top offensive performance, came the cathartic release of the past six weeks of frustration.

Josh Allen delivered a haymaker of a throw to Khalil Shakir, just past a defender’s arm, perfectly in stride. Shakir did the rest, getting to the sideline before froggering through traffic to work back toward the middle and into the end zone.

But that wasn’t the moment.

It was Allen, who wore a million-mile stare for weeks on end, sprinting the entire length of the field to celebrate with Shakir. In that instant, the old Allen was back.

“I saw more of his personality,” McDermott said after the game of Allen.

It may be only a temporary victory, but the Bills took the first small step toward rescuing their season. A brutal stretch of games remains, but with the win, the 6-5 Bills are only half a game out of a playoff spot.

Here’s what stood out from their thorough victory over the Jets.

McDermott deserves some credit, albeit temporary, for providing a spark

As the Bills fell to 5-5, there was plenty of blame to go around. The offense was sluggish and inconsistent, while some late coaching errors gave away the Denver Broncos game after it appeared like they were going to steal the win. As Tuesday morning arrived, despite those coaching blunders, McDermott opted to fire Dorsey. The move didn’t come with universal acclaim. The Bills offense had put together good metrics through their first 10 games, as inconsistent as it was. But there was something clearly missing from the offense, and after weeks of that same feeling, McDermott made the controversial decision to move on.

Quarterbacks coach Joe Brady was promoted to interim offensive coordinator, and at least for one week, it went about as well as it could have.

Working against a tough defensive opponent, one that has given them challenges each of the last three matchups, the Bills delivered on offense. They finished six of their first eight drives with points. After shaking off some early rust in a feeling-out process against the Jets and only managing a field goal on the first three drives, the Bills went on to score three touchdowns in only four offensive series at the end of the second quarter and into the third. On those three touchdown drives, they averaged 10.9 yards per play, with six plays that gained at least 10 yards. The dynamic and explosive Bills were back, at least for one game. And despite the controversial decision to fire Dorsey, McDermott deserves some temporary credit for correctly feeling the pulse of his team and knowing a change of some kind was needed.

McDermott spoke to the leadership and energy Brady exuded over the last several days since being appointed. The easy part is to be that person within the first week of the change, so now it ultimately falls on Brady, Allen and the offense to provide consistent energy over their final six games — and if they’re lucky — into the playoffs. They have to supply the very consistency they lacked, which forced the Bills to make a drastic change in firing Dorsey, a human they universally loved within the building.

And it ultimately falls on McDermott to make sure this one result against the Jets doesn’t wind up the usual temporary boost you see from teams across sports when a prominent coach is fired. In many cases, teams usually return to their identity ahead of the coaching change. But the Bills and McDermott can’t afford that. Too much is on the line from a team and personal perspective. The Bills have a roster that should be in the playoffs, and anything less ultimately falls on the coach, who could wind up on the hot seat beginning in 2024. The stretch against the Philadelphia EaglesKansas City ChiefsDallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Chargers will be the ultimate proving ground if this temporary change in attitude, energy and performance is a permanent one.

However, for now, all is well in Orchard Park.

12 personnel returns

When the Bills drafted tight end Dalton Kincaid in the first round, part of their offensive vision was to utilize 12 personnel within the 2023 offensive structure. It’s something they’ve long been fascinated by but never committed to because they lacked the personnel to do so. They used it on only 38 total snaps during the 2022 regular season, but through their first seven games this year, the Bills used it on a whopping 138 snaps. Their first five games accounted for 88 percent of those 138 snaps. But as the season progressed, they’ve moved away from it.

Part of that was due to the injury to Dawson Knox. His last game before going on injured reserve was against the Patriots in Week 7. In the three weeks after, against the Tampa Bay BuccaneersCincinnati Bengals and Broncos, the Bills did not run a single snap of 12 personnel. That changed against the Jets.

It wasn’t a huge piece of the game plan, but they used Kincaid with backup tight end Quintin Morris just enough to provide different looks and keep the Jets on their toes. The Brady-led offense used it on seven different snaps and averaged seven yards per play — a full 1.6 yards per play more than their other 64 snaps. That small reintroduction of the strategy after the Bills had recently abandoned it was just a minor tweak Brady made to help the overall offensive picture, and he was smart to do so even without having Knox available.

With Kincaid thriving, the Bills face a difficult decision

Speaking of Kincaid, the Bills might have a difficult road to navigate whenever Knox is ready to return from his wrist injury. Knox has now gone through the mandatory four games missed on injured reserve, although the team hasn’t provided an update on the tight end’s potential return.

However, there were several instances of when Knox was healthy, Kincaid taking a back seat or playing a different role than the one he has been thriving in over the last four weeks. Kincaid has become a reliable second option for Allen, filling a void in the Bills’ offense. At times, he even functions as Allen’s primary target, as seen during the first half against the Jets. Simply put, the proliferation of the Bills’ passing attack cannot afford to take Kincaid off the field as their top tight end for as much as they might need to upon Knox’s return.

After the game, McDermott spoke about what Kincaid has meant to the offense over the last four games.

“To me, it’s what I’m used to,” McDermott said. “When you see a tight end, you know, what I came up around in Philadelphia, what I came up around in Carolina with respect to Greg Olsen in Carolina and Chad Lewis or the other tight ends we used in Philadelphia with Donovan (McNabb) there. For a young player like Dalton to come in and develop this rapport now that you’re seeing with Josh, it’s really good I know for the quarterback. In terms of, when you have that security blanket over the middle of the defense, it’s nice to have.”

McDermott also pointed out Knox is a valuable piece to the team, but the coach has talked glowingly of Olsen during his Carolina days for a long time and wanting to have a player like that on the Bills roster. For McDermott speak about Kincaid in that way is notable. The rookie has been as advertised — perhaps even better — and his on-field value is worth the difficult navigation they may have to encounter upon Knox’s return.

Floyd and Oliver ascend as Miller’s snap count lessens again

The Bills were up against a completely overwhelmed offense that employed the worst starting quarterback in the league, along with multiple injuries along the offensive line and the defense rightfully cleaned up. It all started with the play of the defensive line, as defensive end Leonard Floyd and defensive tackle Ed Oliver continued their All-Pro caliber 2023 season with 3.5 total sacks between them. Both players routinely win their pass-rushing opportunities and set up their teammates for success and quarterback pressure opportunities.

The duo’s performance also softens the blow of not getting anything from defensive end Von Miller, who once again appears to be taking a micro-step back rather than ramping up into the full-time player his contract needs him to be at some point. Miller played on only 16 defensive snaps Sunday and failed to register any pressure yet again. The lingering hope from him and the team is that things will start to go back to normal for Miller once he can play in a brace that isn’t as bulky, which conceivably would help his overall movement skills. And that timeline could sync up around some big games as the Bills try to both qualify for and advance in the playoffs. But for now, Miller is just a milquetoast rotational pass rusher lacking a defining move that can get him close to the quarterback, and the Bills continue to take it slow.

Bills MVP: CB Rasul Douglas – Two interceptions, one fumble recovery and consistently excellent coverage. General manager Brandon Beane appears to have struck gold in his midseason acquisition of Douglas.

Bills LVP: LT Dion Dawkins – It’s tough to pick an offensive lineman for this because they collectively played so well, but Dawkins allowed a sack and took a handful of penalties.

Up Next: The 6-5 Bills head to Philadelphia to take on the NFC-leading Eagles, who are 8-1 heading into their Monday night game against the Chiefs. The Bills are currently 3.5-point underdogs.

“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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