The Buffalo Bills have had an up and down season so far, one similar to so many we’ve seen in the past. They’ve beaten impressive opponents, such as the Broncos and Falcons, but then followed those up with a loss to the Bengals, a loss that leaves a sour taste in fan’s mouths over the bye week. Still, heading into the bye week at 3-2 is something to be excited about, especially considering the weak state of the AFC.
The bye week is a great time for teams to self reflect, and take the time to figure out what they’ve done well, and what they can improve on. I’ll attempt to do just that.
Biggest surprise: The secondary
It’s safe to say that few saw the Bills secondary, one completely rebuilt from last season, being this good. The Bills secondary has been far and away the strongest unit on the team through the first five games, as they’ve already racked up eight interceptions on the season. Rookie Tre’Davious White, thrown into the top CB spot right off the bat, has been tremendous so far, and looks incredibly comfortable already at the NFL level. Free agent safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer have been ball hawks, reeling in six of the team’s eight picks. Their best performance of the season came against Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons, as they held the Falcons high powered offense to 17 points, and were the biggest factor in the Bills upset victory.
Biggest disappointment: The running game
The Buffalo Bills led the NFL in rushing a year ago, so the bar was set relatively high. However, it’s safe to say the Bills won’t reach that level this season. Last year LeSean McCoy was racking up 100 yard performances by the bunches, and was seemingly unstoppable at times. This season, McCoy is averaging just 3.2 YPC and has failed to reach the end zone. It’s obvious that teams are stacking the box, and taking away McCoy, because the Bills simply don’t have the passing game to scare teams out of the box. Also, if there’s one thing to truly question the new coaching staff about, it’s their decisions regarding the backup RB position. Mike Tolbert has a fairly large role in this offense, and he’s just not enough of a threat to warrant it. He’s slow, clunky, and provides no real big play value. The Jonathan Williams release was confusing when it first happened, and five games in, still has many scratching their heads.
MVP: S Micah Hyde
How good of a free agent signing has Hyde been so far? He was the biggest key in the Bills beating the Falcons, picking off Matt Ryan twice, including an athletic diving grab. He’s been all over the field, seemingly always in the right place to snag a tipped ball, or make a timely tackle. While some questioned what his role would truly be here, it’s safe to say that he’s a full time safety, and so far, the Bills’ biggest free agent signing has been a tremendous addition.
Honorable mention: Jordan Poyer, Jerry Hughes
LVP: DT Marcell Dareus
This situation is a tricky one to say the least. I think it’s safe to say that if Dareus didn’t have such a massive contract, he’d no longer be on the team. He’s fallen out of favor with the coaching staff, and is one of the least featured defensive players on the team, often playing less than 50 percent of snaps. However, when he does play, he’s not the dominant player that he once was, and appears to be just another guy out there. Maybe it’s a motivation issue, or maybe he’s lost a step, but if this Bills defense wants to reach the next level, it needs more out of it’s best player, and I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
Dishonorable mention: Zay Jones
Outlook going forward
I don’t think any of us truly know what this team is yet. Against the Broncos and Falcons, they looked like a playoff contender, but against the Panthers and Bengals, they looked like a team with no offensive identity. The defense is good enough to keep them in games, even if the offense continues to struggle like they have so far. Unfortunately, I don’t see any quick fix when it comes to their offensive struggles. They lack weapons, especially in the passing game, a problem they had well before Charles Clay and Jordan Matthews were knocked out with injuries. Now, they barely have NFL caliber players for Taylor to throw to, and it shows.
The Bills have a chance this season if they can find a way to get the running game going, and with a guy like McCoy, it’s certainly possible. The boxes are going to continue to be stacked against them, but if they can get more creative, and try to get McCoy into space, they’ll see a lot more offensive success. Also, while he may be a great leader, Mike Tolbert just isn’t good enough to continue to have a major role on this team. Teams simply aren’t afraid of Toblert, and a better backup RB could help this running game in a major way.
The Bills need to capitalize on their upcoming schedule. Off the bye, the Bills have home games against the Bucs and Raiders, two teams that look a lot more beatable than they did before the season began. They follow those up with a Thursday night matchup against the Jets, another game they should win. The Bills need to win at least two out of these next three games if they truly want to be a contender in the AFC, and while it’s going to be a struggle, it’s more than doable.