CAPACCIO: Bills-Chiefs: Arrow Up/Arrow Down

November 26, 2017
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The Bills walked into Arrowhead Stadium ten point underdogs.  They walked out six point victors.  Let’s get to how.


ARROW UP
 

QB Tyrod Taylor

Stop me f you’ve read or heard this before.  Taylor didn’t put up great numbers.  But he was efficient and smart and gave his team a chance to win.  And he did more than that Sunday.  He was one of the reasons they won, despite average numbers in the passing game.  Taylor finished 19-for-23 for 183 yards, but had no interceptions and threw a big TD to Zay Jones.  He also added 27 yards on the ground with smart running when he needed to.  It was a good day for the QB one week after being benched.
 

RB Travaris Cadet

Cadet did exactly what a good backup running back is supposed to do.  He gained valuable yards in critical situations when needed.  Cadet finished with 28 yards on six carries and added another 21 yards on three catches.  Every time he touched the ball it seemed he was helping the offense.  
 

WR Zay Jones

The rookie wideout just seems to be getting better and better each week and has really done a great job of picking up the slack for injured players at the position.  The numbers weren’t overly impressive but the magnitude of the plays were.  Jones finished this one with three catches for 33 yards, but one of those was for the only touchdown of the game for the Bills and another was a for a huge first down that helped set up a Stephen Hauschka field goal to make it 10-0 in the second quarter.
 

Run defense

Was this really the same team that was gashed over and over again the last three weeks?  Because it certainly didn’t look like it.  The Bills’ run defense held the Chiefs to a stingy 55 yards and only 2.9 yards per run.  Kareem Hunt, the league’s second leading rusher headed into the game, was held to just 17 yards on 11 carries (a 1.5 average).  Kansas City’s leading rusher on the day was QB Alex Smith with 35 yards.
 

Pass rush

Alex Smith was only sacked twice in the game.  But he was clearly effected by the Bills’ pass rush several other times, contributing to his pedestrian 23-for-36 for 199 yards performance.
 

Containing WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce

The Bills' defense clearly had a game plan centered around Hill and Kelce.  And they executed it.  Aside from one Kelce reception for 25 yards, neither did anything to really threaten the Bills' defense.  They kept the two in front to them all afternoon long.  Hill finished with seven catches for only 41 yards, an incredibly low 5.9 yards per reception average.  His longest gain of the day was for only 11 yards.  Outside of his one 25-yarder, Kelce finished with only two other catches totaling 14 yards.  It was a team effort on the two.  All different linebackers and defensive backs had a hand in doing the job.
 

CB EJ Gaines

The Bills are a much better team with Gaines on the field.  He made several key stops in the open field on Chiefs’ pass catchers, finishing with seven solo tackles to lead the team.
 

DE Eddie Yarbrough and LB Lorenzo Alexander

Yarbrough didn’t show up in a big way on the stat sheet, finishing with two tackles and one QB hurry, but he was a big part of several key plays for the defense when they forced Alex Smith into incompletions or mistakes.  And Alexander was finally used more as a pass rusher - and it made a difference.  He was credited with one of the two sacks for the team on the day, although both of these guys kept fighting off blockers and converged at Smith on the play.
 

LB Matt Milano

Everything I just wrote about Yarbrough applies to Milano.  Only two tackles on the afternoon but he stood out several times when he was on the field just by being in the right place to do his job or allow others to do theirs.


P Colton Schmidt and punt coverage unit

Schmidt was the unsung Player of the Game for the Bills.  He punted seven times and kept the ball out of Tyreek Hill’s hands virtually every time.  And even when Hill caught it, he had nowhere to go thanks to Schmidt’s terrific hang time and angles and punt coverage from his teammates.  Of Schmidt's seven punts, none of them were touchbacks, yet Hill had zero total yards in returns.  Zero!  FOUR of Schmidt’s seven boots rested inside the Chiefs' 20 yard line. Two were fair catches for Hill, not even giving him a chance to have a return.  The Chiefs’ average drive start for the game was their own 22, which isn't very good.  Their starts only when they got the ball via a Schmidt punt:  their own 8, 19, 23, 28, 38, 12, and 14.  Average: Own 20.  That’s great work by both Schmidt and the coverage unit.


K Stephen Hauschka

Yes, Hauschka missed a 52-yard field goal, ending his NFL-record streak of 13 straight from 50 or longer, but he got right back at it, hitting two huge kicks when the Bills needed them most, connecting on a 56-yard bomb that may have been good from the mid-60s at the end of the first half, then a big 49-yarder on the Bills’ first drive of the second half to answer a Chiefs’ touchdown.


ARROW DOWN


Running game

After a terrific performance last week, the Bills' running game struggled again, and against a team that hasn’t been stopping the run very well.  They need to have more than the 2.8 yards per carry they had Sunday.  104 yards total, but far, far too many runs that ended behind the line of scrimmage instead of in front of it.  And when it came time to run the clock out, they couldn’t get anything at all, which meant continually giving the ball back to the Chiefs.
 

Second half offense

Two years ago in Kansas City, the Bills had a great first half on offense and a horrible second half, and it cost them the game.  This one was following the same script and would have had the same ending had it not been for the defense.  The Bills second half offensive totals: 71 total yards, one field goal and four punts in five possessions before kneeling it down to end the game.


Rick Dennison's short yardage play-calling

As opposed to many other games this year, the Bills were actually staying in front of the chains, so to speak, getting good yardage on first down.  But when it came to second and short and especially third and short, their offensive coordinator either got too cute or just didn't use what had been working to get them there.  Not nearly enbough of FB Patrick DiMarco leading the way, as he has done so well this season, and too much throwing, handing off, or pitching it in the backfield.  The Bills had plenty of opportunites to make it a two score game in the second half, but continually got stopped in situations they should have owned.  And too often it was because of the play calling and/or personnel usage.


THE BIG PICTURE


The NFL is funny, isn’t it?  I remind people every year, every week, that it’s a week-to-week league.  You really never know how things are going to turn out.  Before Sunday, the previous three weeks had been a nightmare for the Bills.  They couldn’t do anything right on offense or defense and even had a quarterback controversy.  Think all the way back to the start of the season, and then through the first half of it.  The Chiefs looked unstoppable at 5-0.  Their QB was playing at an MVP-level.  The Bills started 5-2 and had the city talking playoffs for the first time in eighteen years.  But both teams fell apart in their own, horrible ways.  

Now, Alex Smith looks more like the QB who began his career in San Francisco than the one we saw through the first month, and they’re the team that has fans talking about making a switch to a rookie QB.  They’re now 1-5 in their last six after this loss. But even with their struggles lately, who could have seen the Bills going into Arrowhead and coming out with a win after the way they had been playing?  

You just don’t know.  It’s the NFL.  Things change all the time.  It’s a long season and you just have to let it play out.  And that’s exactly what the Bills need to do - just keep playing.  They’re squarely in a wild card hunt as they head to December, and on top of that, they gave the Chiefs - the team that started the year 5-0 - a critical loss to pull them back to the pack.  It’s going to be a wild finish, and if there’s one thing that’s certain it’s that nothing is certain.

The Bills now have three straight home games to start December.  The first, next week, is against the New England Patriots.  Obviously an incredibly tough task.  Sunday’s win in Kansas City re-energized the fans.  But a win against the Patriots would almost (ALMOST) erase a lot of what happened over the three games prior to Sunday.  It would put the Bills right back in the spot most believed they could be in to still have a legitimate shot at the postseason.  But now with this win at the Chiefs, it also allows for a small amount of error to still be a part of the equation. 

Look at the standings.  The AFC as a whole is still no better than it has been all season.  Call it wide open.  Call it weak.  Whatever you want to call it it’s still right there for the taking.  Nine wins may still be enough to get the Bills places they haven’t known in almost two decades.  But to get to those nine they still have to get three of the final five.  Two are against the struggling Dolphins.  One is against a below average Colts team.  All winnable, yet as we saw Sunday, anything can happen.  Anything.  And that includes next Sunday at home to the Patriots.  

Just keep playing.


Standings prior to Sunday Night Football.  The Ravens host the Texans on Monday night.


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