It certainly wasn’t a pretty game – both the Bills and Cowboys were without numerous starters and the weather made for a sloppy outing – but it was a win nonetheless for Buffalo and one that keeps them in the hunt for an 8-8 record. While that may mean very little given the preseason expectations, avoiding what would be the franchise’s 10th losing season in the last 11 years would be somewhat reassuring. Nonetheless, even in Week 16 battle of back-ups, we learned some things about this Buffalo Bills team.
1) The backfield is in a very good position moving forward
Even without their most talented offensive weapon and lone Pro Bowler, RB LeSean McCoy, Buffalo was able to pile up 236 rushing yards with contributions coming from Karlos Williams, Mike Gillislee and Tyrod Taylor. In Williams’ case his 76 rushing yards and one score on 17 carries is just the latest installment of his rookie season story. He’s been as consistent as they come and a major bright spot for Buffalo, in a year where they failed to meet their lofty expectations. Williams has certainly held his own in the NFL and can be major piece of the offense moving forward as McCoy inches closer to 30.
Over the last four weeks we’ve all been witnesses to the legend of Mike Gillislee. His story could almost be turned into a motivational sports movie – practice squad back gets his chance on the big stage and excels, it’s almost Rudy-esque. After picking up 93 yards on just nine carries yesterday, which included a 50-yard touchdown scamper, Gillislee is up to 239 yards rushing on 23 carries and has scored in three straight contests. It’s safe to say that at a point in the season where everyone is being evaluated, Gillislee is earning a spot on the roster for 2016. Say what you must about GM Doug Whaley giving up veteran back Fred Jackson, but he’s done a fine job building a talented backfield since. McCoy, Williams and Gillislee can be a dynamic, three-headed, running machine for Buffalo moving forward.
2) The success of the running game can be attributed to the offensive line
With rumors swirling last week that Bills’ owner Terry Pegula was entertaining the idea of a bringing former GM and Hall of Famer Bill Polian on as a front office consultant, came talk that Polian had concerns about Buffalo’s offensive line. More specifically Polian mentioned the age of the Bills’ front, which really isn’t an issue considering that only one starter – G Richie Incognito – is over the age of 30. The offensive line has certainly had it’s fair share of ups and downs this season. The left side, which features Incognito and Cordy Glenn is stronger than the right side, but the right side also houses a rookie in John Miller and a youthful Seantrel Henderson who is reportedly battling crohn’s disease. There is no denying bolstering the o-line is a priority for Buffalo in the upcoming off-season. Both Incognito and Glenn are pending free agents who have thrived this season and deserve new contracts. It’s also never a bad idea to add depth in that area either whether by draft pick or through free agency. However, to completely discredit the Bills’ offensive front his year is inappropriate. Look no further than the dominance of Buffalo’s running game as proof of the o-line’s success. Buffalo boasts the league’s top rushing offense in terms of total yards (2,319), yards per game (154.6) and even yards per attempt (5.0). The fact that even with McCoy out of the lineup the Bills have found tremendous success running the ball says a lot. Credit must be given where it is due and the offensive line deserves a pat on the back for their efforts in respects to the running game this year.
3) Tyrod Taylor continues to progress
It’s really one of the only things Bills’ fans can still get excited about this season. There will always be questions for Taylor to answer to – is he the franchise QB the Bills’ have coveted for so long…is he good enough to lead a team to the promise land – but in 2015 he’s at least proven he can be a successful NFL quarterback. He’s efficient, posting a 100.7 QB rating and a 63.6 completion percentage this season. He takes care of the football, with a 20-to-six touchdown to interception ratio. He can also improvise in the backfield, avoiding sacks and extending plays with his legs. His 2,853 passing yards aren’t blowing anyone away, but he also hasn’t had to be a world beater with his arm, considering Buffalo’s running game has been the NFL’s best – an area he’s been a major contributor. There is no need to talk contract extensions at this point and Whaley certainly shouldn’t hesitate to draft some protection behind Taylor in case he isn’t the answer, but the fifth-year QB has at least done enough to be the Bills’ starter in 2016. We’ve all seen the success he has throwing the deep ball and it appears that he’s starting to make some of the tougher throws over the middle or in tight spots along the sideline as well. That’s the type of progression he has one more week to show he’s made and then next year, with a full season under his belt as a starting, NFL quarterback, it’s all about taking his team to the next level – that being a playoff run.
Running back Boobie Dixon dubbed Buffalo’s Week 17 meeting with the Jets ‘the Bills’ Super Bowl,’ – not quite, but the game does provide some interesting stakes for Buffalo to play for. Of course there is the whole ‘playing for your job’ concept for the players and for the team in general avoiding a losing season by going 8-8 would be at least a small consolation prize for 2015. But bigger than all that is the chance for Buffalo to shatter one of their most hated rival’s playoff dreams with a win next Sunday. Those aren’t quite the stakes that a Super Bowl provides but it’s something to make Buffalo’s otherwise meaningless game against New York next week, watchable.
While they did knock off the Jets earlier this season in a Thursday night contest back in Week 10, their second meeting presents some different challenges for the Bills. Of course back then New York had lost three-of-four and were slumping, while this time around they’re on a four game win streak. On top of that the most obvious concern is that back in Week 10 Buffalo was maybe at their healthiest, where as heading into Week 17 they are hanging on by a thread. Just this past week Buffalo was missing 10 starters. Rex Ryan announced earlier today that they’d be cautious in regards to playing McCoy this Sunday and the status of others like LB Nigel Bradham and CB Ronald Darby are still unknown. Regardless it’s going to be crucial that Buffalo gets some of these players back on the field to have a chance against the Jets.