Buffalo Bills Will Make Playoffs but Are Not Super Bowl Contenders

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistDecember 8, 2021

Buffalo Bills running back Zack Moss, left, takes a hand off from quarterback Josh Allen during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Orchard Park, N.Y., Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

Before you sell the Buffalo Bills' playoff stock in an overreaction, take a deep breath and exhale, but adjust expectations accordingly after their eye-opening 14-10 loss to the New England Patriots.

The Bills field one of the most balanced rosters, ranking fifth in scoring while allowing the second-fewest points. In their remaining five games, they'll host the Carolina Panthers (5-7), Atlanta Falcons (5-7) and New York Jets (3-9). None of those teams have the personnel to exploit the Bills' weaknesses in the trenches.

At worst, the Bills will finish 10-7, which would probably qualify for a wild-card spot in the AFC, but they're not going to advance past the divisional round. Three of Buffalo's opponents have exposed a fatal flaw in its defense.

In a Week 6 against Buffalo, the Tennessee Titans ran the ball for 146 yards, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill finished 18-of-29 passing for 216 yards and interception in a 34-31 victory.

Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (front) and Bills linebacker Matt Milano (back)
Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (front) and Bills linebacker Matt Milano (back)Joshua Bessex/Getty Images

Two weeks ago, the Indianapolis Colts rushed for 264 yards while quarterback Carson Wentz completed just 11 of his 20 pass attempts for 106 yards and a touchdown in a 41-15 blowout win over the Bills.

The Colts essentially provided the blueprint in how to attack the Bills defense, and the Patriots executed it to a tee with 222 rushing yards in swirling winds at Highmark Stadium Monday.

The Bills have failed to match the intensity of opponents who control the game at the line of scrimmage, which is a problem for a team that may face one or more of the top-six rushing offenses in the playoffs. The Baltimore Ravens, Patriots and Titans can all rack up 200-plus rushing yards with a run-heavy game plan. In Week 12, Tennessee ran for 270 yards without running back Derrick Henry (foot surgery), albeit in a loss to the Patriots.

If the Colts or Cleveland Browns sneak into the postseason with their top-five rushing attacks, Buffalo wouldn't match up well with either team. In any game with inclement weather, which minimizes the passing game, the Bills would struggle to adjust their offense to the conditions.

The Bills don't bring enough physicality to the gridiron, which explains why the Colts and Patriots embarrassed them within the last three weeks, running the ball through the heart of the defense for a combined total of 486 yards.

To make matters worse, Buffalo knew what to expect going into the game with New England because of the weather conditions and still failed to stop the run. Rookie quarterback Mac Jones threw just three passes while running backs Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson rushed for a combined total of 189 yards.

After Monday's game, safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer seemed agitated with a question from WIVB reporter Jerry Sullivan and their team's run defense:

TSN @TSN_Sports

Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde were not happy when asked if they were embarrassed by the run defence tonight. https://t.co/5lwqZ8CRyh

TSN @TSN_Sports

As Micah Hyde was leaving the podium, he had this to say to WIVB reporter Jerry Sullivan, who asked the question about the Bills run defence. https://t.co/Qigk975fzl

Head coach Sean McDermott pinpointed glaring issues on both sides of the ball with a common thread that highlights a basic aspect of the game.

"Not good enough," he said. "We've got to be able to run the football, and we've got to be able to stop the run. Those things don't change. The message hasn't changed, in terms of physicality, and the necessity for physicality in what we do.

In addition to the Bills' inability to slow down the Patriots' downhill attack, they struggled to convert in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on one of their four trips inside the 20-yard line. Buffalo doesn't have a reliable run game to finish drives deep in the opposition's territory. On Monday, quarterback Josh Allen led the team in rushing (39 yards) on six carries.

Through the 2021 campaign, the Bills have primarily relied on Allen to move the ball through the air with a deep pass-catching group that includes Stefon Diggs, Emmanuel Sanders, Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis and Dawson Knox. While he's led his team to a 7-5 record in the thick of the playoff discussion, the Bills running backs haven't provided much help on the ground.

Allen accounts for roughly 30 percent of the Bills' 1,400 rushing yards. Running back Devin Singletary doesn't have great speed, elusiveness or the power to shrug off defenders between the tackles. At 5'9", 205 pounds, Zach Moss brings a bruising run style, but he struggles to find open lanes, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. Matt Breida has the speed to rip off big plays, but he's more effective running outside the tackles.

Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll
Bills offensive coordinator Brian DabollTimothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

According to The Athletic's Joe Buscaglia, McDermott and play-caller Brian Daboll have to iron out wrinkles in their differences, but that's not going to change the complexion of the offense. 

"There is something amiss between McDermott and Daboll — a potentially growing disconnect between how the head coach wants his team's offense to play and the way the offensive play-caller operates on game days. But it's not just as simple as conforming to what McDermott wants. The Bills are not equipped to be a physical run-oriented team. That much is clear."

During Monday's postgame press conference, McDermott seemed to suggest that his team's offense doesn't reflect his philosophy.

"If you were in the team meetings in training camp, you would know what style of offense I want,” McDermott said. "That identity needs to embody toughness."

Perhaps Buffalo needs to shift its mentality going into potential slugfests, but at this point in the season, the Bills cannot change their identity on either side of the ball. As more of a finesse club, they must score in bunches, forcing teams to abandon the run game in an attempt to keep pace with a top-five scoring offense.  

The Bills can run up the score against mediocre teams that struggle to move the ball or stop high-octane aerial attacks. On the other hand, they don't have an alternative winning strategy if the opponent dominates the time-of-possession battle with a ball-control offense. Allen and his weapons wouldn't have much margin for error while watching most of the game from the sidelines.

One way or another, the Bills would face a physical test during the postseason, and they don't have the answers for it. 


Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.