Sal's Sticks: Bills at Texans

October 14, 2018
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What a horrible loss and way to lose for the Buffalo Bills. They had an excellent opportunity to get to .500 after such a disastrous start to the season, but not only did they fall short, they did it in heartbreaking and frustrating fashion. The defense played lights out once again. The offense, not so much (again).

So let’s get to The Sticks…..

 

BEHIND THE STICKS

  • QB Nathan Peterman

The Bills’ backup quarterback had a chance to be hero. For about 10 minutes, he was. Then it happened. Again. A pick-six thrown in a tied game to give the Texans a 20-13 lead and ultimately the win. Peterman came in relief of the injured Josh Allen with 2:41 left in the third quarter and finished the game 6-of-12 for 61 yards, one touchdown and then two interceptions on the final two drives of the game, including that pick-six. It was as disastrous an ending as he could have had.
 

  • WR/PR Ray-Ray McCloud III

McCloud started the game by fumbling the opening kickoff. The Bills recovered that one, but the same can’t be said for his costly fumble on a punt return in the first quarter. The Texans recovered and were able to convert that into the first touchdown of the game. 
 

  • Blocked punt/Overall special teams play 

On top of McCloud’s two fumbles, the Bills’ special teams units had a really rough day. They had a punt blocked which turned into a field goal to make it 10-0 Texans, and committed some costly penalties, as well. Taiwan Jones also fumbled the kickoff return immediately following the winning pick-six. He recovered it, but it was a costly play because the Texans kicked off from their own 20 after a penalty and the Bills had a chance for terrific field position. They started at their own 13 instead.
 

  • QB Josh Allen under pressure

Allen did some nice things, especially with his legs and in scramble situations, but while in the pocket, as soon as he saw or felt some pressure, he bailed too quickly and/or made the wrong decision on where to escape. He needs to diagnose what’s happening and get rid of the ball quicker. He finished the game with only 84 yards passing through almost three quarters of play. That’s just not good enough. 
 

  • Penalties

After doing a great job in this area the past few weeks, the Bills committed far too many penalties and did so at crucial times. Overall, they saw 12 flags thrown against them which cost them a total of 104 yards!

 

AHEAD OF THE STICKS

  • The Defense!!

I’m not sure where to start, or end, with the defense. I’ll just write that the entire unit goes on this side of The Sticks and give reasons why:

  • 216 total yards allowed
  • 3.8 yards per-play allowed
  • Allowed the Texans to go only 3-for-13 (23%) on third down.
  • Sacked quarterback Deshaun Watson seven times
  • Forced thee fumbles
  • Had two interceptions
  • Had an incredible eleven tackles for loss

The Bills defense may be playing better than any other defensive unit in the league right now.
 

  • Linebackers

The team’s group of starting linebackers was, once again, all over the field making plays. Between middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, weak-side linebacker Matt Milano, and strong-side linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, the unit combined for 21 tackles, 1.5 sacks, four tackles for loss, two quarterback pressures, an interception, and two pass breakups. They were outstanding.
 

  • CB Tre’Davious White on WR DeAndre Hopkins

Funny thing is, early in the contest, I really thought I was going to be putting White on the negative side of things in this write-up. He committed a couple penalties and allowed Hopkins to make a couple grabs, including one for the first touchdown of the game. After that, he basically locked down one of the top wideouts in the league, as he’s done pretty much every week so far. Hopkins finished the game with five catches for 63 yards. In the second half, he had only one catch and was targeted only twice. Watson barely even looked his way, often because of White.
 

  • Bills’ OL on Watt and Clowney

J.J. Watt had one sack, and that was partly because Allen didn’t retreat quick enough on the play. Other than that, Watt and Jedeveon Clowney combined for four tackles the entire afternoon. The Bills’ offensive line, with a little help at times from their tight ends and running backs, did a great job of not allowing those two players to wreck the game. Give credit to offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and offensive line coach Juan Castillo for coming up with a solid plan of attack against the duo.

 

THE BIG PICTURE

I’m now in my fifth year as the Bills’ Radio Network sideline reporter. Throughout that time, this was the toughest loss to digest that I’ve been around. To say the game was there for the taking would be a massive understatement because it was more than that. They were in great position to win it, and should have. To lose the way they did is heartbreaking for the fans and frustrating for the team.

We can talk a lot about how they put themselves in this position by having Nathan Peterman as their only backup plan if Allen got hurt (until Derek Anderson is ready to play), and that’s right. It never should have gotten to that point, but it did. So here they were. I don’t believe Allen would have made the same mistake Peterman did, as far as the decision to throw that ball where he did in that spot. Even if he did try, his arm strength would’ve maybe allowed for it to get there much earlier, not allowing the cornerback to break on it so well.  

Here’s the problem: I also don’t think Allen would have been able to make the touchdown pass that Peterman did to Zay Jones to take the lead in the fourth quarter, either.

All of that adds up to this team, once again, being in “quarterback purgatory.” Not in a long-term sense whereas they don’t have someone on the roster they believe is the future franchise quarterback and are never drafting high enough to get one, but in the short-term sense (they could be in the long-term, too, but it's just too early for those declarations). They have that guy in Allen (which no one knows how that will turn out and it’s way too early to judge), but right now, he’s just not ready to run the offense and throw the ball accurate enough and consistent enough to put points on the board. It’s clear the coaching staff doesn’t even trust him to do that yet, but they also don’t have anyone else they can turn to who can. That’s why he’s starting in the first place. Maybe Anderson is that guy, but here we go again with the question of whether or not it’s worth inserting the veteran into the staring lineup at the expense of giving Allen valuable time needed on the field.  

Quarterback purgatory.

The frustrating part about all of that is this team suddenly not only has a really good defense, but maybe an elite one. They’ve certainly played like that since the second half of the second game of the season. Not counting the pick-six that went against the offense Sunday, the Bills’ defense has allowed an average of only 13.25 points per-game over the last four weeks. Out of those points, several came on short fields that were handed to the opponent due to the Bills’ lack of offensive production or turnovers. For example, the Texans’ first 10 points came after they were set up at the Bills’ 29- and 21-yard lines, respectively, to start their drives. Otherwise, the defense basically completely shut them down the entire game.

If this offense could just get something going, even just being capable enough to punch two touchdowns in during one game, it’s obvious they now have a good enough defense to give them a legitimate shot to win each week. They’d even be squarely in the conversation for an AFC Wild Card berth, but it’s so hard for the offense to come by points. They grind for every little bit they get as it is.

Even with all of that being true, here they were once again with a shot to win the game. They only needed 35-40 yards to get into Stephen Hauschka’s field goal range, kicking in a dome. Even if they couldn’t get there, it would have gone to overtime at the very least. Then came the interception from Peterman. That throw is now most likely the difference between 3-3 (which would quite frankly be amazing for this team considering it’s offensive struggles and how the defense played for the first six quarters of the season) and 2-4, where they now stand.,  They had a legitimate opportunity to go to Indianapolis next week and, incredibly, be over .500 with the New England Patriots coming to town for Monday Night Football. Now they’ll simply be fighting to not be 2-5 entering the national stage and facing Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.  

They can still get to 3-4 and, at least, make it an interesting week leading up to that game. The defense may have to stand on it’s head again because next Sunday they face Andrew Luck. It would be a terrific job to hold his offense down the way they have their last four opponents. They can’t rely on doing that every single week, especially against quarterbacks of his caliber, but the reality is they have to, and I’m not sure how or when that’s going to change.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
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