by Paul Peck, Buffalo Sports Page
I wanted a few days to think about the recently concluded Buffalo Bills season. While not a playoff season like last year, there were a lot of positives during 16 games. There were also a lot of negatives, most of them related to personnel.
All that said, I’m amazed that this team won six games. With this roster, it’s shortcomings, injuries and a rookie quarterback, this was a more amazing end result than last year’s playoff spot.
The 2018 season was almost exactly what we all expected, and what an honest Sean McDermott would tell you. Even he may be surprised by a few more wins. But this season was all about one thing: getting Josh Allen ready to be the team’s franchise quarterback.
Based on personnel, this probably should have been a three win team. There was rarely a game the Bills played where you would have said they had the superior players. So how did they win six games?
When you are well-coached, well-prepared and play with heart and emotion, you can win in the NFL. Especially when you play against teams that aren’t. The Bills always played hard. They nearly were always well prepared. That’s a tribute to McDermott. They players believe in him. They want to win for him. They give maximum effort.
For example, did anyone think the Bills weren’t going to win the season finale against Miami? A Dolphins team that rarely plays with any emotion coming up to Buffalo for a meaningless game in Week 17? No matter how many better players Miami may have had, they were never going to give the kind of effort the Bills did.
I think it’s telling that the Bills did not beat a playoff team in 2018. When they played equally talent-challenged teams (the bulk of the NFL, basically) their effort and emotion carried them to wins.
The win over Minnesota in Week 3 is a good win, their best. Now, that Vikings victory doesn’t look as good as it did then. But it doesn’t matter. They outplayed a Vikings team that probably thought it was an easy home win.
This is a good sign moving forward. Once the Bills are equal or slightly better than the Jets/Dolphins/Titans of the league, they will start to stack wins. The challenge is moving beyond beating the 7-9 mediocre teams, and beating the upper level ones like the Patriots.
Josh Allen’s Development
Which leads us to the quarterback position. You need a good one to beat those kinds of teams. Is Allen there yet? Not even close. But is one season trending towards that possibility? Yes.
I thought Allen got better every game, which is what you wanted from him. It was a typical NFL rookie quarterback season. A lot of downs and a few ups. Darnold, Mayfield & Rosen had the same seasons.
His athletic ability was a revelation, and a weapon moving forward. But he has to learn the quarterback part of the job. He’s not even close to knowing how to read defenses, check the ball down, take what the defense gives you and find the open man. But that’s OK. He’s got a season to work on that.
His running is a false positive. It was great that he used his skill, and turned bad plays into positives. But as he becomes a better passer, he’ll run less. I predict he’ll never lead the team in rushing again, and never come close to 631 yards on the ground. He better not. If he does, that means he’s not progressing as a passer. Half the times he ran need to be passes he throws next season.
I still worry about the accuracy issues. That will go towards how much better a passer he becomes. He needs to jump that 52.8% by about five points to give next year’s upgraded receivers a chance to make plays.
Better Line & Better Weapons Needed
The weapons that Allen had to work with were a joke. What Josh did even with that receiving corp is another positive in his development. I know there were salary cap issues, but how the Bills couldn’t find better options at WR & TE is a major failure by the front office.
Same goes for the offensive line. How they never even found close to suitable replacements for Incognito and Wood was another travesty. As I look at the offensive line, I hope that only Deon Dawkins is a sure starter going into next year. No one else is, in my opinion, a worthy NFL starter. Mills is serviceable at right tackle. An upgrade is needed (he’s a free agent). The interior guards and center were awful. To me, this is the priority for the offense in 2019. Not receiver. Follow the Colts lead and use high picks on lineman and find wideouts somewhere.
Development of Defense
While never really a shut-down defense, the Bills D was good enough on a weekly basis to feel good about the coaching and personnel. Tremaine Edmunds got better each week, and appears ready to become a star. Matt Milano is a perfect 2018-style linebacker who can tackle and cover. Taron Johnson is exactly what you now need, a big corner who can play the slot. Jordan Phillips was a waiver wire find who can play. Harrison Phillips will fill in for Kyle Williams.
There is still a need for another cornerback(I’m not yet sold on Levi Wallace), and another rusher. Trent Murphy was a letdown, but that’s more to do with coming off the knee injury. Shaq Lawson will never be a big rush end, but he did get more consistent.
Front Office Failings
It started with the disaster at quarterback to start the season. What were the Bills thinking not having a veteran? Now they have two??
Forcing Nathan Peterman into the starting job was the single worst move of the season, and it never should have happened. The desperation signing of a washed-up Derek Anderson was an admission of that failure. Hitting on Matt Barkley saved the position.
I laid out what I thought of the offensive line and receiver positions.
So the Bill have all this cap space and money to spend on free agents in 2019. But I’m still on the fence that I have faith in Brandon Beane and McDermott to make the right moves. Just because they have money to spend doesn’t meant they’ll spend it wisely. Sometimes too much to spend means you do exactly the opposite.
Maybe the personnel shortcomings were strictly driven by the cap issues, and the long-range idea that 2018 was going to be a wash. Let’s hope so.
This is a critical offseason. There are a lot of holes to fill. By my count, up to eight positions on offense need to be upgraded. Do it right, and this should be a playoff team. Screw it up, and jobs will be lost and another rebuilding plan will be in place.
2018 In Review
It was exactly what any smart Bills fans thought it would be. A struggle to win a lot, while breaking in a rookie QB and taking the cap hits. So basically, there were no surprises. Except maybe the win total.
It hurts to have to follow a playoff season with 6-10. But this was part of the plan, and basically the plan worked. I think we can all agree that the 2017 were not really a playoff team, just a team that made the playoffs.
Now, no more patience and understanding about waiting to win. That was 2018. Moving forward, it’s time to win and turn Josh Allen into a NFL top 12 quarterback.
If that happens, we’ll all be enjoying 2019.