105.5 The Team – In one of the ugliest games of football ever played, Buffalo managed to survive with a 16-12 win over the Cincinnati. Pretty or not it was a game the Bills could not afford to lose, so just getting a win sounds good to them.
That said, we’ve all seen this story before. The Bills hovering around .500 in November, only to once again be out of the playoff picture come December. At least for now the playoffs are still a possibility with four teams of .500 or worse remaining on the schedule. But to avoid history repeating itself, the Bills have some glaring issues to correct the rest of the way.
Here’s five yays and nays from Week 11…
1) Ball Security
How bout this nugget: Tyrod Taylor’s second quarter interception, was only the Bills sixth turnovers this season, which ties and NFL record for the least amount of giveaways through 10 games. Conversely the defense snapped a four-game streak without an interception, snaring two, which pushes their turnover margin to plus eight on the season. The importance of ball security cannot be understated. High school coaches everywhere wish their teams were this sting with the football. Outside of running the rock, protecting it may be the Bills biggest strength.
2) Stephon Gilmore
Other than rookie Tyler Boyd beating him for a short TD catch in the second quarter, Gilmore put together a solid bounce back effort against Cincinnati. He snared both Bills interceptions, the first of which he returned to the Bengals four, and delivered some big hits on opposing receivers that did catch the ball against him. For maybe the first time all season he looked aggressive in coverage and in his pursuit of opposing ball carries. After the game Rex Ryan said he has been challenging Gilmore to play like the player he’s capable of being, and at least for one week he appears to have answered the call. Of course one good game won’t overshadow the series of bad ones he’s had this season, nor should it. But at the very least we were reminded that Gilmore can still be a game changing talent when he wants to be.
3) Mike Gillislee
Just another day at the office for Mike Gillislee, filling in for LeSean McCoy, who left with a thumb injury in the second quarter. He made the most of his 14 carries, racking up 72 yards, which equates to 5.1 yards per carry. Only thing missing from his stat line was a touchdown, which some poor play calling near the goal line deprived him of. In 15 games since being signed off the practice squad late last season, Gillislee has amassed 593 yards, seven touchdowns and has average yards per carry is 5.8 – a franchise record for running backs with at least 100 carries. Buffalo is fortunate to have him as their No. 2 back. All he does is produce.
4) Ryan Groy
The fact that this is maybe the first time he’s even crossed your mind since the game kicked off, is a good sign. Replacing Eric Wood is no easy feat, but he made it look easy on Sunday. Behind Groy and his offensive line mates, the Bills ran for 183 yards and one touchdown. Another barometer of Groy’s success, All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins finished with just one tackle.
5) Dan Carpenter
On a day where a record 12 extra points were missed across the NFL, not a single one came from Dan Carpenter. He went one-for-one in the PAT category, and was a perfect three-for-three on field goal attempts as well. One of those FGs even came from 54 yards out and Carpenter drilled it to give Buffalo a lead they’d never relinquish. The fact that Mike Nugent missed two PATs for the Bengals made Carpenter’s flawless day that much more important.
1) The Penalties
Penalties continued to be drive killers for the Bills offense and drive helpers for their opponents. Fortunately, Buffalo was able to overcome the nine penalties they committed, but they can’t play the three win Bengals every week. Between weeks four and seven the Bills had kept the penalties to a premium, averaging 6.5 of them per game over that span. In the three games since we saw two straight weeks of double-digit penalty totals (12 and 11) before the nine this week, for an average of 10.5 flags per game.
One third of the nine penalties came on the Bengals first quarter touchdown drive, where three calls against Buffalo kept the series alive. One was a Jerry Hughes’ headbutting penalty, which was just plain stupid, but really his neutral zone infraction on a third-and-eight play proved most costly. The one silver lining here is that only one of the nine flags came in the second half, exemplifying their effort to be more disciplined after the intermission.
2) Goal-to-go offense
On three different occasions Buffalo pushed the ball inside the Bengals five with an opportunity to score a touchdown. Only once were they able to punch it in and a big reason why had to do with the play calling in those situations. With just over 11 minutes left in the second quarter, the first Stephon Gilmore interception set the Bills offense up at the Cincinnati four. This time around Anthony Lynn got a little too cute with his play calling, before a holding penalty wiped out any chance for a touchdown. They settled for a field goal instead. Later on, a run heavy drive pushed the ball to the Bengals two and once again the Bills failed to score a touchdown, as Lynn called pass plays on second and third down. It was an absolute head-scratcher considering Gillislee had gashed the defense for most of the drive. The Bills entered Week 11 converting 66 percent of their red zone trips into touchdowns. That number took a hit after converting just one of their three tries this week.
3) Tyrod Taylor
After piecing together the best performance of his career in Week 9, Taylor’s Week 11 effort paled in comparison. Sure he completed 70 percent of his passes, but only for 166 yards. It was the fourth game this season where Taylor hasn’t thrown a single touchdown pass. He did however toss an interception, trying to force the ball to Marquise Goodwin in the end zone just before the half. It was a very uncharacteristic throw and decision by Taylor. There were also several occasions in the second half where he missed receivers on plays that could have helped put the game away by extending the lead further.
According to Pro Football Focus, Taylor only attempted five passes that traveled at least 10 yards in the air on Sunday, completing three of them for a total of 37 yards. Just two of those traveled at least 20 yards in the air, he completed neither of those with one being an interception. Injuries to top wideout, Robert Woods, and running back, LeSean McCoy, once again left him with limited options in the passing game. Regardless, he left some plays out on the field and needed to be better.
4) The inability to get Charles Clay involved
At this point it’s just laughable that Clay continues to be a non-factor each week. And the only explanation anyone, whether it be Rex Ryan or Anthony Lynn, provides is that “they aren’t going to force the issue,” or that “they aren’t focused on just getting him the football.” Fine, but the Bills didn’t sign Charles Clay to a five year, $38 million deal, so he could simply run block. He hasn’t caught more than five passes in a single game this season, or been targeted more than seven times. Over the last two contests he has made only eight receptions for 34 yards. Oh, and he still hasn’t scored a touchdown this season. No, he doesn’t have to be the focal point of the offense, but at the very least he needs to become a bigger part of their gameplan. Otherwise a great talent is going to waste.
5) More injuries
Even after a win, there was this defeatist vibe about Rex Ryan after the game, which he fully admitted had a lot to do with the in-game injuries to WR Robert Woods and RB LeSean McCoy. We’ve since learned that Woods knee injury isn’t as bad as it looked on the field. There’s no ligament damage but a sprain could still keep him out a few weeks. As for McCoy, he had surgery on his dislocated thumb after the game and is expected to play in Week 12. Still, the excessive number of injuries have left the offense treading water throughout most of the season. It will be tough to stay afloat if they continue to pile up. .
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