CAPACCIO: Bills-Patriots: Arrow Up/Arrow Down

October 30, 2016
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By Sal Capaccio

Twitter @Salports








Even without LeSean McCoy or Sammy Watkins, this game was supposed to be a litmus test for where the Bills are. And the result is, they're still far from where they need to be, and even farther from where they want to be.  

A second poor performance by the defense overall. This time, though, through the air. But plenty of Arrows to go Down, which is where I'll start after another loss:


Arrow Down

CB Stephon Gilmore 

Gilmore may have been the worst regular player on the field overall. He was beaten twice easily in the first half by Chris Hogan, once for a 16-yard completion on 3rd and 10 and another on a 53-yard TD pass on 3rd and 13. He was also called for two holding penalties, both giving the Patriots a first down.  The second of which was on a 3rd and 12 that was incomplete.  As I reported earlier this week, Gilmore's camp is looking for top five cornerback money from the Bills as he plays out his fifth-year option. He clearly hasn't played at that level this season and Sunday underscored that.

Tyrod Taylor - passing

I had to distinguish that this is specifically for him throwing the ball because he did some nice things escaping and running when needed to. But, one of the more inaccurate performances from Taylor in his career. In fact, in both of the the last two games Taylor completed just 50% of his passes (19-for-38 Sunday).  Statistically, the lowest of his career as a starter. But, it wasn’t just about the stats against New England. He missed open receivers several times. He also put them in poor positions to gain yardage after the catch. There's no doubt Taylor and the Bills offense were working with a very limited WR group, and they virtually had no deep threat down field. However, Taylor still had opportunities to make plays with his arm that he simply failed to make.

Penalties

It felt like watching one of last year’s games all over again with the amount of flags thrown against the Bills.  Twelve.  Far too many.  And that wasn't even the worst part of all the laundry. They just always seemed to occur at the most inopportune time.  Several wiped out very good gains, and others gave New England new life after a nice defensive stop. There were substitution penalties once again, just like last year.  But most glaring were the six first downs the Patriots gained strictly due to penalties committed by the Bills. 

Third down defense

9-for-13 for 69% is just atrocious from a defensive perspective. In the first half, specifically, the Bills had the Patriots in tough third down situations But allowed them to convert.  New England was a terrific 6-for-8 (75%) on third downs in the first half.

Special teams

This was the one area the Bills had an advantage coming into this game. Where they had been very good this year. And the Patriots have not. But Sunday plenty of mistakes were made and plays given up in that phase. A 73-yard kick return to begin the second half was a back breaker. A dropped snap on a punt resulted in a first down run but is still something that should not be happening. A 33-yard punt by Colton Schmidt that set the Patriots up at the Bills 45 yard line. And a missed field goal at the end of the first half that then turned into a made field goal on the other end of the field for a six point swing at the end of the half.  Even the Bills punt coverage - tops in the NFL coming into the game giving up less than 4 yards a return - allowed a 9.5 average on two returns.
 

Finishing drives

It’s a cliche to say “you can’t beat the Patriots with field goals.”  But it’s true.  So, of course it’s also true you can’t beat them with no points.  And the Bills had either field goals or no points too many times, including drives they should have come away with more.  The Bills had seven drives in which their last play from scrimmage was the Patriots 32 yard line or closer .  Of those seven, they scored three TDs, but then gave the ball up on fourth down misses twice, missed a field goal, and kicked a field goal after they had first and goal from the six.  They at least left ten points on the board and possible 13-17 points adding up those situations.

Arrow Up

RB Mike Gillislee

LeSean McCoy's backup had a very nice afternoon statistically. I personally felt the Bills went away from him too soon and too often. He was running the ball well and finished with 12 carries for 81 yards for a whopping 7.1 yards per carry average. McCoy being out was certainly not the reason the Bills lost this game. Gillislee played well and was effective enough.
 

LB Shaq Lawson

With Lorenzo Alexander exiting early with a hamstring injury, Lawson was forced to play more than expected.  And the rookie played well in only his second NFL game. He had a big-time hit early on and helped apply pressure later, even getting a sack of his own of Tom Brady.  Lawson finished with three tackles, one for a loss, a sack, and two QB hurries.
 

DL Kyle Williams

The veteran had an impressive game up front, leading the Bills with three QB hurries and two tackles for loss.  He also had the team’s first of five sacks.
 

Run defense

After getting torched last week on the ground the Bills gave up only 72 yards rushing on 23 carries, a 3.1 yard average per run.

The Big Picture

0-2 stunk.  4-2 was nice and felt like the season was back on track.  4-4 feels like just another season.  That’s where the Bills stand at the midway point, projecting out to be right about where most most people thought.  8-8.  And this one looked like so many before against Tom Brady.  For seventeen seasons, the Bills just haven’t had an answer for him.  Things were supposed to be different with Rex Ryan as the head coach.  He was hired to stop the Patriot offensive-machine (or, in other words, Tom Brady).  But in three games against Buffalo with Rex calling the shots, Brady has thrown for an average of 352 yards and tossed 8 TDs.  Despite a nice performance in last year’s game in Foxboro, nothing’s really changed.

There’s still half a season to play.  And the AFC doesn’t look great beyond these Patriots.  But yet another conference (and division) loss puts the Bills at 1-4 in conference play and behind everyone when it comes to any tie-breakers.  But let’s face it - even thinking about tie-breakers right now seems reaching for something just to divert attention from the issues we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks.  Defensive issues now two weeks in a row, once adjacent the run, once against the pass.  Talent and depth issues at wide receiver that result in no defensive coordinator being threatened by their passing game.  Frustration at quarterback that seems to be growing every week.  Health issues that are now really catching up to them.  The NFL trading deadline is Tuesday and you have to wonder if GM Doug Whaley won’t be trying to make a move to help for the second half.

If, somehow, this team can grab a victory in Seattle next Monday night, they’ll still be in a decent position headed into the bye week and will have cause to feel optimistic.  Because after that, they’ll face only AFC teams and get plenty of cracks at the ones they are fighting with for wild card position.

But if they drop next Monday night and fall to 4-5, it will feel almost exactly like every other bad-to-average season we’ve seen over the previous sixteen.  Fans will want to talk more about the 2017 draft than the November and December schedule.  

There’s still hope.  But it’s fading.  There’s still time.  But it’s winding down faster every week.  

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