CAPACCIO: Bills-Bengals: Arrow Up/Arrow Down

November 20, 2016

By Sal Capaccio

Twitter @Salports

This was one the Bills really needed.  After losing three in a row, things were spiraling out of control quickly.  A win can at least reel it back in a bit and restore some confidence in a team that badly needed it back.  As much as it’s still going to be tough to do, a win also gave them some renewed life in the wild card race, especially with both the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens losing to NFC opponents.  It wasn’t the most cleanly game played.  It wasn’t the most entertaining game.  But it was a win on the road against a conference opponent that has gone to the playoffs the last five seasons in a row and six of the last seven.  So it was a good win no matter what.  It also gives me a chance to once again - and finally - start with my Arrows Up:

Arrow Up

CBs Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby

I’m putting both these corners together because they’ve both been so maligned this year, and especially recently.  But both stepped up and played, at the least a solid game, and maybe even a terrific game.  Gilmore had two interceptions, almost scoring on the first.  He also led the team with three passes defensed, and was tied for the second most tackles with six.  He was also much more physical than he had been recently.  Gilmore hit Bengals WR AJ Green hard on the very first series.  Green landed awkwardly and actually tore his hamstring.  He also drilled Tyler Eifert after a 21-yard reception, causing the tight end to come up hobbling and sore.  As far as Darby, he said he found out “at the last second” he’d be starting after head coach Rex Ryan made it clear there would be an open competition for his spot this week.  Then he went out and allowed virtually nothing to be caught his way, contributing four tackles along the way.

2nd half defense

The defensive numbers were fairly good overall, but they were downright dominant in the second half.  Until the final drive, when the Bills sank back into a prevent defense up by four points, the Bengals ran 17 plays for 37 yards in the entire second half.  They had four consecutive 3-and-outs.  They had the ball for less than ten minutes of a thirty-minute half.  Most importantly, over the final 30-minutes, the Bills defense pitched a shutout.   

C Ryan Groy

There was a lot of worry about Groy having to start and play for Eric Wood.  But he looked like he had been a part of the starting offense all season.  He didn’t look out of place at all and was a key part of a running game than rushed for 183 yards and 5.4 yards per carry.  Bengals’ All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins was held to a single solo tackle all game.  

RB Mike Gillislee

It seems like LeSean McCoy’s backup is a regular on this Up list.  Once again Gillislee filled in superbly after Shady went out late in the first half.  He ran 14 times for 72 yards (5.1 average) and was also vital to the Bills power run game when they needed to gain a first down on several key short yardage plays.

DT Kyle Williams

The veteran finished with four tackles, one for a loss, and a QB hurry.  But all that still wasn’t nearly reflective of how dominant he was.  Williams was a constant penetrator and disrupter all afternoon and easily the best and most consistent player on the field for the Bills defense.

K Dan Carpenter

On a day when there were an NFL-record 12 missed extra points around the league, Carpenter went 1-for-1, but also 3-for-3 on field goals, including a 54-yarder that gave the Bills the lead for good.

PR/KR Brandon Tate

An underrated big part of the game for the Bills was pretty good field position most of the day. A lot of that was because Tate had an excellent day returning punts and kicks.  He had two kickoff returns both for 33 yards and also had a 20-yard punt return.

2nd half penalties

One.  For five yards (see below).

Arrow Down

1st half penalties

The Bills just kept destroying their own chances throughout the entire first half, committing 8 penalties for 70 yards.  Three of those directly gave the Bengals a first down.  

Redzone/finishing offense

The Bills came into the game as the 6th-best team in the NFL converting redzone trips into TDs.  They were doing it at a 66% clip.  But in this one, they only converted one of their three trips inside the 20.  Moreover, they had the ball on Cincy’s side of the field seven times throughout the game, but only managed one touchdown and three field goals.  The other three trips resulted in an interception at the two yard line and two punts.  

Third-down offense

The Bills were 3-for-12 on the afternoon on third downs (25%).  They came into the game converting over 40% of those plays.

Passing game consistency

This can go hand-in-hand with the struggles on third downs, but the Bills passing game, already coming into the game 31st in the league averaging only 188.7 yards per game, had only 159 net yards.  Of course much of it lay at the feet of Tyrod Taylor.  After maybe his best performance as a Bills QB last time out, he didn’t back it up with a strong showing.  He had a nice completion percentage (70.3%) going 19-for-27, but misfired on a couple important balls that could have helped put the game away, or at least further out of reach.  He also made a poor decision to throw the ball to the corner of the endzone when Marquise Goodwin was covered well, which resulted in an interception.  Taylor luckily got away with a late throw to the flat in the fourth quarter, as well, when a Bengals defender stepped in front of it and knocked it down but came a whisker away from a possible 99-yard pick-6.  However, Taylor was clearly impacted by the loss of both Robert Woods and LeSean McCoy in the passing game.  His number-one wideout and his top safety valve out of the backfield that can always turn nothing into something.

The Big Picture

A loss in this game and the Bills season would have been effectively over.  Fans would have already started to talk about the 2017 draft and organizational changes, and they’d be justified in doing so.  A win didn’t put them in a playoff position (still quite a way to go for that), but it at least keeps the conversation going about it for another week.  And with the 2-8 Jaguars coming to Orchard Park next week, they also have a solid opportunity to gain even a little more ground in the standings.  Of course it would have been nice for the Bills to take care of their own business in other games and not have to watch the scoreboard, but that’s the reality of it right now.  And the other reality is they may have to move forward without yet another top wide receiver, Robert Woods.  If his MRI reveals any significant damage that could keep him on the shelf for a an extended period of time, it’s going to be tough to overcome given the struggles of the passing game already.  However, there’s a possibility Sammy Watkins returns this coming week, which would obviously be a huge boost to the offense.  This team still has holes and issues.  As all teams do.  Fortunately, they played a team that has more than them right now, and did what they’re supposed to do in that situation.  And maybe even more fortunately, the current record of their remaining opponents is 23-37, and that includes a 7-2 Raiders team.  So, 16-35 outside of that game.  Now the task is to continue to take advantage again.  And again.  And again.  It’s the only chance they have.  But it’s a chance.


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