A column by Sun Senior Sports Columnist Chuck Pollock
When we last communicated about the Bills, they were licking their wounds trying to figure out how – again – they had managed to lose a fourth straight divisional playoff game, the last two with the advantage of playing at home and being favored.
The latest was a 27-24 decision to the Chiefs, who have administered three of those divisional defeats.
There was plenty of blame to go around, but NONE of it should have been directed at placekicker Tyler Bass who missed the potential game-tying field goal with 1:47 to play. That 44-yarder wasn’t an easy kick with the swirling winds at Highmark Stadium that night.
And, is there any non-Bills-obsessed observer who doubts that even if Bass made the kick, given the time remaining and two timeouts, Patrick Mahomes would have swiftly guided Kansas City the 40 yards needed for Harrison Butker to break Buffalo fans’ hearts with a field goal for the second playoff game in three years?
This loss wasn’t about a missed kick, rather it was indisputable proof of the Bills’ deficiencies.
START WITH the offense.
Supposed No. 1 wide receiver Stefon Diggs was a no-show – three catches for 21 yards – as he was for seven of the season’s last 10 games. General manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott continue to maintain that Diggs is “the man,” but it comes off more as ego assuagement than fact.
Against Kansas City, he dropped a touchdown pass and, in the regular season, his eight drops were tied for sixth-most in the league.
Gabe Davis, the alleged No. 2 wide receiver, didn’t play against the Steelers or Chiefs in the postseason due to injury, but in the previous five games he had six receptions, none in three of them.
In the KC game, wideout Trent Sherfield dropped a pass in field goal position on a drive that could have ended in a touchdown. That’s 10-14 lost points between Diggs and Sherfield in what ultimately was a three-point game.
The line performed well, allowing the fewest sacks in the regular season (24) and while Buffalo was ninth in rushing yards, it was tied for first with Baltimore in yards per carry (5.2). Feature back James Cook was fourth in the league in rushing (1,122 yards) but a bit inconsistent from game-to-game.
ON DEFENSE, it’s hard to argue how well the linebackers and secondary performed while ravaged by injury. Even against Kansas City, those two units played well. The line, not so much. It was as if nobody told that position it was a 6:30 game.
The line’s inability to stop KC’s running game let the Chiefs’ offense be two-dimensional making it even tougher for the short-handed linebacking corps and secondary to anticipate what was coming. There were also no sacks and few quarterback pressures.
Every member of that unit had either one tackle or none with the exception of Von Miller, of all people, who conjured two in limited action. The Bills coaches, especially McDermott, have bragged about depth on the defensive line, but after that performance, those pronouncements need to be reassessed.
OF COURSE, the next issue is the salary cap which the Bills are way over. Estimates range from $40-$50 million, though the most persistent figure seems to be $43 million. That’s one of the highest in the league with only the Chargers, Dolphins and Saints in more dire positions.
Beane’s problem is not only the cap, but also that he has 22 veterans with expired contracts soon to be unrestricted free agents.
Meanwhile, the Bills are in the midst of their annual coaching changes.
McDermott, for the last three years, has fired a coordinator, seemingly to insulate himself from blame for his own game-management gaffes.
This year it happened early, at midseason, when he dispatched Ken Dorsey, the offensive coordinator and replaced him with quarterback coach Joe Brady. When the season ended he lost the interim tag and was named OC. Dorsey landed on his feet, though, being hired to that job with the Browns.
Last year, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier decided to take a season off – wink, wink – and miraculously McDermott decided he was the best choice for DC. After doing both duties this past season, McDermott, in the league’s lower tier of head coaches for game management, named linebacker coach Bobby Babich as defensive coordinator. The question is who will call the plays. Protocol dictates that it should be Babich but, after having done it for a year, it’s hard to believe McDermott’s ego will let him relinquish that responsibility to a first-year coordinator, a position he held for nine years with the Eagles, Panthers and Bills. Beane has already said he has no problem with McDermott calling the defense next season.
Two years ago, though, McDermott did his most obvious scapegoating.
He fired special teams coach Heath Farwell, inferring he called for a deep kickoff in the notorious “13 seconds” game which helped the Chiefs tie it in regulation before winning in OT. However, a number of players “off the record” claimed it was McDermott who made the ill-fated call. Farwell was immediately hired to the same position in Jacksonville.
So riddle me this: How does Matt Smiley, the Bills current special teams coordinator, still have a job?
This past season, Buffalo ranked 28th of 32 NFL teams in the all-encompassing special teams rankings.
Among his lowlights were the game-losing punt return for a touchdown in overtime against the Jets in the season opener. But the worst came in the Denver game at Highmark when the Broncos missed the potential game-winning field goal at the end of regulation only to get a second chance when Smiley’s field goal-defensive unit had 12 players on the field … the second try wasn’t missed.
McDermott had a quick trigger on the others, but Smiley coaches on.
(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com)