Mathematically it wasn’t technically a must win, but the Bills knew if they had lost to the Texans on Sunday, they could have kissed their playoff dreams goodbye. The good news is that didn’t happen. Instead Buffalo won 30-21, got back to .500 on the season and gained some ground in the AFC Wild Card race, among four other teams. Against Houston, Buffalo’s O-line found ways to neutralize J.J. Watt and get the running game working effectively. On defense, they weren’t perfect but they got the job done. It was an all around solid effort from a beat up Bills’ squad, in a game they needed. Let’s see what we learned about this team after Week 13.
1) Credit everyone involved in developing a game plan to neutralize J.J. Watt
Earlier today Rex Ryan credited offensive line coach Aaron Kromer for keeping Watt in check and yesterday it was offensive coordinator Greg Roman. It’s safe to assume a number of parties were involved in limiting the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year to just four total tackles and not a single sack. Kromer likely got the big guys upfront ready for the challenge, Roman devised an effective game plan to avoid Watt and most importantly the guys on the field executed. From the outset it was obvious Buffalo was going to pound the ball away from Watt, as two of their first three plays were runs off the left side of the line. On several occasions we saw the Bills even use Watt’s over-aggressiveness against him with delayed hand offs or draws that had him get into the backfield just in time for LeSean McCoy to dart away and pick up respectable chunks of yardage. With the entire right side of their O-line missing Buffalo was still able to rush for 187 yards, which speaks volumes about a guy like Jordan Mills who embraced an opportunity to start and was very effective. It was an overall strong performance from the entire offensive unit and the coaches involved in putting it together.
2) As the run game goes the Bills’ offense goes
Ryan threw the stat out on Monday – Buffalo is 6-1 when they throw the ball less than 30 times. As you can assume that means they’re 0-5 when they pass 30 or more times. They wanted LeSean McCoy and the ground game to be the focal point of the offense and well, mission accomplished. No stat reveals the Bills’ identity offensively more than that one. Against the Texans LeSean McCoy was so effective – 21 carries, 112 yards – that when Tyrod Taylor did look to pass, Houston’s secondary opened up and he was able to pick up big chunks of yardage. Taylor completed two passes to Watkins for 53 yards a piece and then of course had the 40-yard touchdown pass to Charles Clay that won them the game. That’s what an effective running game will do for you. McCoy has looked fantastic since sitting out two weeks earlier in the season to nurse that nagging hamstring injury. Through his first five games he had piled up a disappointing 304 yards on the ground and failed to crack 100 yards in any single game. In the five games since the bye week though, McCoy has piled up close to 500 yards rushing, going for over 100 in three of those contests. The star RB has also accounted for more than 100 yards from scrimmage in six straight games. Talk about being the focal point of the offense. Having an athletic quarterback like Taylor and a speedy receiver like Sammy Watkins assist with production as well, but let’s face it, the Bills will go as far as McCoy and his blockers take them. Considering who Buffalo’s next opponent is, Week 14 presents a spectacular stage for McCoy, who will be running with an enormous chip on his shoulder. Get ready for a show.
3) Dan Carpenter’s walking a fine line
Rex Ryan may have stood by his kicker, saying, “we’re not getting rid of Dan Carpenter,” at his Monday presser, but there’s no question Carpenter is really pushing his luck. The veteran kicker missed his fourth extra point of the season on Sunday, after missing only two over his first seven seasons. Of course the NFL instituted the new longer-distance PAT of 33 yards this season, which has increased the number of missed extra points league wide. In 2015, 54 of them have been missed heading into Week 14. That’s not the only area Carpenter has struggled though as he also missed this fourth field goal of the season on Sunday – a 50-yarder in the third quarter. Everyone remembers Ryan ripping Carpenter for inconsistency issues at the conclusion of the preseason and it appears they have carried over, deep into the regular season as well. Carpenter’s struggles have to be wearing on Ryan a bit, so while he remains in his head coach’s good graces for now it’s not far-fetched to think his patience is wearing thin. If it keeps up there is certainly a scenario – even if it’s not until the offseason – that the Bills likely begin looking elsewhere for a kicker.
There is no time to rest on their laurels after what was obviously a huge win – not that they will, Buffalo knows they still have their work cut out for them. The Week 13 tape should provide a nice example of how good the Bills can be, but it’s onto the next opponent – a Philadelphia Eagles team with a lot to still play for, considering they’re just a game out of first in the NFC East. The cliché ‘one game season’ mantra is the exact philosophy Buffalo must carry with them over each of the last four weeks. That’s the kind of mindset that very well could help Buffalo do something they haven’t done all year, and that’s string together four or five wins in a row. The most unfortunate part is that even if they win out and finish 10-6 their destiny lies in the hands of others. In fact Bills fans need to root hard for a Pittsburgh loss to Cincinnati this coming Sunday. The Steelers currently sit at seventh in the AFC standings, one spot out of the playoffs and after the Bengals this week, still play Denver, Baltimore and Cleveland. Say the Steelers beat Cincinnati this weekend then lose to the Broncos – Buffalo would then need either the currently 4-8 Ravens or 2-10 Browns to upset Pittsburgh in the final two weeks of the season, and that’s assuming the Bills win out and finish 10-6. Tiebreakers are a lot to think about right now and while we can maybe talk about the potential scenarios, Buffalo just needs to focus on on game at a time. Right now that means Philadelphia.