A column by Senior Sports Columnist Chuck Pollock
The Bills have been favored in all seven games they’ve played this season, several of them by some of the longest odds on the board.
Trouble is, they’re 3-4 against the spread in ’23. Those three covers came when they dismantled the Raiders, Commanders and Dolphins on consecutive Sundays.
That’s when the country was becoming convinced Buffalo was a viable Super Bowl contender.
Since then … ugggh.
First there was the Bills’ lethargic loss to Jacksonville in their “home game” at London. Next was an embarrassing performance at Highmark Stadium against one of the NFC’s worst teams, the Giants, that required a blown call on the game’s final play to preserve an undeserved victory. Then, four days ago, the AFC’s then-last-place team, New England, drove 75 yards in the final two minutes at Foxboro for the touchdown that handed Buffalo a galling defeat.
Now, tonight at Highmark (8:15, WKBW-TV, Prime-TV, WGR-AM 550, WPIG-FM, 95.7) the Bills host Tampa Bay, a rejuvenated 3-3 Buccaneers team behind quarterback Baker Mayfield that’s hardly the patsy it appeared to be when the NFL released its schedule in May.
The Buccaneers aren’t intimidated by being on the road as they’ve won at Minnesota and Chicago and were it not for a botched drive last week against Atlanta, they’d be 4-2 and leading the NFC South.
Still, the Bills are a solid 7½-point favorite, presumably because the Bucs are a team they should beat. Of course, that’s what we thought the previous three Sundays and Buffalo went 1-2 against those supposed softies.
THESE last few days, Bills’ coaches have been frantically trying to ascertain the problem: coordinator-stifled offense, injury-decimated defense or coach Sean McDermott and his staff.
In truth, it’s a bit of all three.
And how do you fix it on the fly?
Ken Dorsey has taken a lot of heat, as offensive coordinators often do. But he didn’t overthrow a wide-open Stefon Diggs by seven yards on a deep route against the Pats, he wasn’t responsible for quarterback Josh Allen being under pressure on 40% of his drop-backs and it was Gabe Davis who managed to catch only one of six passes thrown his way.
Play-calling might be part of it, but so is execution.
We know the mantra about Buffalo’s defensive injuries. Losing the units’ three best players for the year — cornerback Tre’Davious White, outside linebacker Matt Milano and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones — is hurtful and that was compounded last Sunday by the absence of DT Ed Oliver, out with a toe injury.
Still, this unit, with McDermott calling the plays, gave up a season-high 29 points to a Patriots team averaging a league-low 12 points a game coming in.
Even special teams have “contributed” to the Bills’ woes as dependable place-kicker Tyler Bass has missed three of his last four field goals the past two games, all of them impactful.
“I HAVEN’T slept much,” McDermott admitted earlier this week. “We’re going to work tirelessly to get this thing figured out. Are we a physical offense, can we be more physical, what does our effort look like?
“How much do we strain, I’m talking about the intangibles of how we play as a team, not just the offense.”
He added, “I’m talking fundamentals and techniques. They’re not fancy things … sexy words to use that are earth-shattering. Anybody can run a play, but it’s how you run it with toughness, fundamentals and techniques. That comes from the attitude you’re going to play with.”
When asked about his role with the offense, McDermott explained, “From a head-coach’s standpoint, I’m involved. But I also believe in allowing my coaching staff to do their jobs. I try not to micromanage, but I do step in when I need to and we’ve had increased communication over the last few weeks, whatever area it is. I’m not gonna just stay quiet. We’re trying to win games and do things the right way because that helps you win games.”
FINALLY, besides the current injury situation, the Bills could also be down to one tight end, rookie first-round draft choice Dalton Kincaid. Starter Dawson Knox has a wrist injury that requires surgery from which he could miss some time and Quintin Morris is nursing an ankle injury that caused him to miss practice this week.
Then, there’s defensive tackle. With Jones already out, Oliver was limited in practice as was Jordan Phillips (back) this week.
Bills 20, Buccaneers 16
(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com.)
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