Unimpressive, unconvincing, undefeated

September 11, 2017
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The Buffalo Bills beat the New York Jets, who are bad. No frilly lede here. Nothing to wax poetic about. That’s what happened on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills distributed 68,751 tickets for the game. Most of them showed up. The Bills won, 21-12, and sometimes they played a train whistle at the stadium on third downs.

It was far from impressive. It was not convincing. And that’s why you get no fireworks in the first graph of this piece. Call it what it is: the Bills won. Do we really learn anything about a football team with low expectations when it beats a team with even lower expectations?

Here are the narratives you’ll get out of this game:

The Bills were resilient in victory

They overcame an opening-drive interception in the end zone and a missed field goal on another long drive. They could have collapsed when the Jets made it 7-6 at the half, and they did not. That’s good! Right?

Yes, yes that’s good. But this is the Jets we’re talking about. Who, outside of some long field goals and one touchdown drive, really didn’t mount any sort of offensive attack. Bilal Powell was nonexistent. The passing game was a nonstarter. The Bills made Josh McCown attempt 39 passes and he didn’t crack 200 yards. That’s some serious garbage they put up on offense. There wasn’t much of a bomb to dismantle in crunch time here.

Tyrod Taylor didn’t throw to his receivers enough

I mean, sure. Tight end Charles Clay and running back LeSean McCoy had a combined 15 targets, while no receiver had more than two catches. Jordan Matthews led the team in receiving yards, but had 47 of those 61 on a single grab.

That’s not exactly the definition of balance, but everyone involved with the Bills insisted they were taking what the defense was giving them, which was huge gains on short passes to McCoy and Clay. I think there’s something to that, but this will be a narrative you hear a lot this season if the balance doesn’t shift. I think Taylor had a good game on Sunday, but his critics will be very tough to please. They won’t stay quiet if he doesn’t get Zay Jones and Matthews more involved.

The Jets are tanking

I guess. But you could also argue that the Bills have set up Tyrod Taylor to fail by trading away his best receiver and assembling an offensive line that’s a work in progress at best. Cordy Glenn has a foot injury and was in the rotation for snaps on Sunday, but there’s no telling how long it will take for him to get back up to speed.

Taylor looked good moving and throwing on the run, but it’s a front five that already got him a concussion in preseason WITH Seantrel Henderson in the lineup. The Bills will play better defenses than the Jets this season. In fact, they’ll play one in Carolina next week. So it’s tough to say what we should expect out of this offense just yet.

Boy, that Bills team can run

They sure can! I’m glad you noticed, because they’ve been the best running team in the league the last two seasons in a sport that’s skewed into overwhelmingly pass-focused offenses. But LeSean McCoy is very good and looks healthy. The run blocking seemed strong. And Taylor looked good in his decision-making on Sunday as well. He said in postgame that there was only one designed run for him late in the game, and he joked that he “slid for the first time” to avoid taking any “unnecessary hits.”

But it is an important factor in this season. The Bills need to stay healthy and they need to run the ball. They were able to do that on Sunday, and it’s clear that the coaching staff won’t shy away from their strengths just because those pieces were put in place by the former regime. The Bills have made a significant effort to turn over the roster this year, making trades and cutting former draft picks they don’t see having a future in Buffalo. But they know McCoy and Taylor are important for this team, at least this season.

Sean McDermott was asked a bit incredulously after the game about McCoy, wondering if the former Eagles coach ever wondered how in the world his former team traded the running back to the current one.

McDermott froze on the podium for a moment, weighing how to answer that question.

“We’re fortunate to have him,” he said with a knowing smile.

McDermott got his first win and players gave him the game ball.

Hey, that’s great. Good for him. But right now his best quality as a head coach is that he’s not Rex Ryan. McDermott didn’t make any glaring errors on Sunday. He will be tried and tested, but the Bills were given a softball to start the 2017 season. That much was clear when Todd Bowles elected to punt with less than 4 minutes to play down nine. When the opposition is rife with cowardice and ineptitude, it isn’t very hard to shine by comparison.

McDermott will be weighed and measured this season. They’ll play the Patriots twice and have a lot of other good coaches to game plan against. The Jets are a lovely warmup and a win’s a win, but it wasn’t exactly like the Bills put themselves in a class beyond the Jets on Sunday.

But here’s the thing: narratives are meaningless. They are themes we establish so we better understand the way something unfolded and try to explain why it happened. Humans look for patterns because patterns mean order. But the truth is that most of these patterns are rife with biases and misinterpretation.

If you want to feel good about the Bills this season and if 1-0 gets your juices flowing, I think that’s fine. I disagree, but we make our own choices in this world and must live with the consequences. I just really can’t think of many things I’m going to take away from this game in a few weeks other than “boy, the Jets sure do stink.” Still, there is some room for optimism if you simply demand it.

Consider this: The Bills are still very much a work in progress at this point. Every team is, of course, but the Bills in particular are still figuring things out on offense. Taylor said after the game that they hadn’t even decided where the offensive coordinator was going to call plays from until Sunday’s home opener.

Rick Dennison worked two games up top and two on the field in preseason, and the team decided to have him on the field against the Jets on Sunday. Taylor said some “injuries” on the staff meant there weren’t a lot of offensive coaches on the sideline, and the face-to-face communication helped him.

He’s also a quarterback who hasn’t gotten the chance to make many throws to his wide receivers, both because of injuries and the fact that his targets keep getting traded. It’s very easy to say not much from this Jets game matters, but you can spin it in an optimistic way as well.

The Bills might get better! They’ll also play against much better teams. That’s the problem with the NFL these days: you can’t play the New York Jets every week.

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Ryan Nagelhout
About Ryan Nagelhout

Ryan Nagelhout is a contributor to The Buffalo Star, mostly covering the Bills. He's also a writer for UPROXX Sports and Editor in Chief of The Goose's Roost, and he happens to be a brilliant arena and stadium food critic.

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2 Comments on "Unimpressive, unconvincing, undefeated"

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jeffismagic
jeffismagic

The Bills managed a win so they get credit for that. The NFL is a results based business. Moving forward, this coaching staff will need to get a lot more creative than what we saw on Sunday if they want to beat NFL teams who will win more than 6 games this year.

doubled
doubled

Good stuff, Ryan. If they can pull off a win in Carolina (hmmm, not likely) then I’ll get excited.

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