Sal's Sticks: Bills at Vikings

September 23, 2018
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Over one of the 10,000 Lakes (WGR 550) - The Buffalo Bills walked into Minneapolis Sunday and busted Survivor pools across the country. According to the point spread, they pulled off the biggest upset in the NFL in 26 years, and they did it in convincing fahion. A lot went right. Not much went wrong. Here's all of it.  
 

AHEAD OF THE STICKS

  • QB Josh Allen

What a coming out party for Allen, if that’s what this turns out to be. He was the Bills’ best offensive player all day, decisive, accurate, and athletic. Allen’s first half was nearly flawless, if it weren’t for four passes that could have been caught - two of which were flat-out dropped. Other than the four balls, Allen had only three legitimate incompletions on 18 attempts through the first half. He was also the team’s leading rusher through the first 30 minutes, with 37 yards on seven carries, averaging 5.3 yards per-run, including two touchdown runs. Final passing numbers for Allen: 15-for-22 for 196 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
 

  • DE Jerry Hughes

Hughes was an absolute monster coming off the edge in this one. He’s been the Bills’ most consistent, and probably best defensive player through the first three games. Sunday, Vikings’ left tackle Riley Reiff was overmatched all afternoon. Hughes was flying by him seemingly with ease, wreaking havoc in the Minnesota backfield all day. He finished with a sack, another two QB hurries (to go along with three from last week), and a forced fumble.
 

  • LB Matt Milano

This is the Matt Milano we saw most of the second half of last season. The second-year linebacker filled up the stat sheet with eight total tackles, including one for a loss, a sack, a QB hurry, an interception (which came while he was laying on his backside), two pass breakups, and a fumble recovery. That’s a pretty remarkable day.
 

  • CB Tre’Davious White

It’s not the numbers White put up that get him on this side of the Sticks, it’s the numbers the guys he was defending didn’t. White was matched up much of the afternoon with Vikings' wideout Stefon Diggs, who finished with only four catches for 17 yards. In fact, Diggs had only those four grabs on 10 targets his way. Vikings’ quarterback Kirk Cousins just didn’t have anywhere to get Diggs the ball thanks to White.
 

Offensive Line

They weren’t great, but they were good and effective. The biggest reason the line makes this list is for how they were able to bounce back after two poor weeks, especially playing against the stout defensive front the Vikings presented. They allowed three sacks and had some hiccups in the run game, but the group battled and grinded their way to 128 rushing yards and giving Allen the time he needed on critical plays.
 

  • Run defense

It’s a lot easier when the opponent becomes one-dimensional, and that’s what Minnesota was, but the bottom line is this: 14 yards rushing allowed. 2.3 yards per-carry.
 

  • CB Ryan Lewis

What a spot to be in for Lewis. He was claimed off waivers from the New England Patriots after final cuts, then signed to the Bills’ practice squad, then suddenly put on the active 53-man roster where he not only got his first NFL start, but played in his first NFL game. This one's not about the numbers, but simply about having the confidence and ability to step into that type of situation and help shut down a very worthy opponent.
 

  • Coaching

For all the criticism head coach Sean McDermott and his entire staff have taken for the first two weeks of the season, they all deserve praise for how well they prepared the Bills for this contest. A team that was being made fun of around the league for their first two showings and having a player quit on them at halftime, then starting a rookie quarterback in his first ever road start,could have easily gone to Minnesota and just hoped to look better and keep it close. However, they were ready for everything the Vikings did, threw things at Minnesota they weren’t ready for, and played without a doubt their best four quarters of football in quite a while.

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll did a great job with personnel and formations to keep the Vikings off-balance. McDermott turned defensive play-calling duties back over to coordinator Leslie Frazier, and his “team effort” approach produced great results.  

 

BEHIND THE STICKS

  • Third quarter offense

Ok, ok, I’m being picky, but when you win a decisively as the Bills did, I have no choice but to be picky while trying to find things to put on this side of the ledger. I would like to have seen them keep their foot on the gas when they got the ball for the first time in the third quarter, up 27-0. However, their first drive was the exact opposite of what they had done in the first half. The Bills went three-and-out, starting with a fumble by Allen on the center exchange, followed by a sack given up, then a run just to get back some yardage. They ultimately punted on that drive and the next four. In fact, every Bills second half drive ended with a punt. Their final third quarter offensive numbers: 14 plays, 29 yards, 0 points. I would include the fourth quarter offense here, as well, but by that time the game was in-hand and they were just grinding down the clock.

  • WR Kelvin Benjamin 

Once again, Benjamin shows up on here for the wrong reasons. This time, it's because of two huge drops early in the game, one of which might have been a touchdown (clearly would have been at least a first down near the goal line). He bounced back later with three catches for 29 yards, but did his young quarterback no favors by not coming up with those grabs.  

  • Illegal formation penalties

The Bills had three of these. That’s three too many. All of them occurred in the last 10 minutes of the second half. It’s great that Daboll uses so many formations and different personnel packages, but if he’s going to do that his players need to be smarter and better at lining up where they are supposed to.

 

THE BIG PICTURE

Either people were masquerading as the real Buffalo Bills the first six quarters of the season or they’re doing it now. What an incredible difference and complete transformation it’s been.

Here are the numbers: over the first six quarters of the season, the Bills were outscored 75-9. Over the last six quarters, they’ve outscored their opponents 41-9. How do you explain that? The difference in defensive coaching? Josh Allen’s sudden jump in progress? The team banding together after Vontae Davis left at halftime? Maybe all of the above and who knows what else? No matter what it is, the tenor and even outlook of this Bills season has turned faster than the weather in Western New York.

Looking at the schedule before the season, this game against the Vikings looked like it may have been the hardest one to win. That’s what made Sunday so much more impressive. The Bills didn’t just win a game, they didn’t just beat a team. They completely dominated the team many picked to win Super Bowl LIII (including me, by the way), and they did it both on offense and defense. They got after the Vikings with their pass rush, shut down the running game, and watched their rookie quarterback become a leader before their eyes. If I had told you this team would be 1-2 after three weeks, there’s almost no doubt the win you’d think they would have would be one of the first two games, against the Baltimore Ravens or Los Angeles Chargers. But here they are, beating the Vikings soundly in their own brand new, incredibly beautiful house. They did it without LeSean McCoy, by the way.

The question now is “is it sustainable?” Can they put together back-to-back weeks of at least something close to the same type of performance? Things don’t get any easier when they head to Green Bay to face one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in Aaron Rodgers next week. Can six terrific quarters turn into 10? If it can, we could be talking about the Bills being 2-2 after, what many believe is, the toughest quarter of their schedule. They have a chance to completely flip the script on everything. The first two games. The way they have been made fun of. The outlook on the season. The narratives on Josh Allen. It’s all right there in front of them now to get back on track and, eventually, where they wanted to be to start.

I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, and I’m not trying to get you to do that, but the Bills' performance on Sunday has to make you sit up and take notice. And it will nationally, too.  

The team many people have been projecting to pick first overall next April and totally dismissed as dead after only two weeks suddenly has a pulse. With the way they’ve played over the past six quarters, especially on defense, that pulse could very well turn into a pretty loud heartbeat.


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