Three things on my mind as the Bills get ready to restart their season against the Dolphins…
It’s A Hard (No) Knox Life
Dawson Knox’s breakout year is on pause as he recovers a couple weeks from the broken hand. It should only be a couple weeks because the Bills have not put Knox on injured reserve. The question is what the Bills do without him.
I think Tommy Sweeney will be the first man up because I think the Bills value the ability to present run/pass questions to defenses by having a tight end on the field. Back in week one, the Bills ran a heavy dose of four and five receiver sets. It didn’t work out so well. Since then, they’ve been primarily an 11 personnel team with one running back and one tight end on the field. It’s the same formula that built an elite offense last year. I think the Bills stick with it and I think that means Sweeney.
That’s said, I also think Gabriel Davis actually would be the better playmaker to replace what Knox has brought to the offense in terms of explosiveness. When push comes to shove, the Bills will prefer Davis on the field as the fourth option even if it does make the reads easier for defenses.
However, I highly doubt push will ever come to shove when the two games Knox will miss are against the punchless Dolphins and Jaguars. Unless we get an “any given Sunday” type surprisingly close game, I think Sweeney is the guy who gets the most new reps in place of Knox.
Two Hands For Tua
Tua Tagovailoa has looked pretty good his last two weeks after getting back from the injury A.J. Epenesa caused week 2. Against the Falcons play to play to play last week, Tua was actually fairly impressive. Were it not for a couple of bonehead interceptions, Miami probably is coming to Buffalo off a win.
Tua is, basically, still a rookie. This will only be start number 14 in his career. He is still going to be prone to rookie mistakes. Especially on the road. Especially in Buffalo. Especially against a defense as experienced and talented as the Bills.
The Bills are going to have two or three or four chances for easy interceptions. All they have to do is catch them. And they better catch them because there’s a decent chance Tua’s other plays will actually be pretty effective.
Red Dead Zone Redemption
The Bills red zone offense has been an issue all season long and it was a big talking point following the loss to Tennessee. The Bills are currently 26th in the NFL in red zone efficiency. That sounds bad, but there’s a big small sample size alert coming.
The 2020 superstar Bills offense was only 13th in red zone efficiency at just under 62%. If this year’s Bills had converted just two more red zone possessions into touchdowns, Buffalo would be matching that same percentage. They’re not far off.
Brian Daboll also raised a fair point that the Bills have had more red zone possessions and, therefore, more chances to fail. The numbers support his point to a degree. Last year, the Bills had 68 red-zone possessions. This year, they’re on a 16-game pace for 77 red zone possessions. In addition, four of the top five most efficient red zone teams this year are all also among the ten teams with the least red zone trips.
I have very little concern about the Buffalo red zone offense, but it has nothing to do with the numbers. I think this problem is very easily fixable because of what the film revealed about the Bills failures in Tennessee.
Josh Allen was atrocious.
He left multiple receivers open in the end zone. He seemed to make poor reads. He scrambled from clean pockets. And of course, he failed on two different sneaks. It’s arguable that Allen was the reason the Bills lost to Tennessee. An average or reasonable game from Allen Monday night likely gives the Bills an extra red zone conversion or two and likely a win. I’d probably have to come up with an entirely different ‘Thing’ this week.
This is also not who Josh Allen has been for the last year and a half and there’s no reason to think it’s who he will be going forward. The guy had a bad game. It happens. I fully expect Allen to make plenty of good to MVP level of plays the rest of the season and for the red zone conversion percentage to go up as a result.
There’s not going to be much drama about picking a winner in a Bills game for a few weeks. Maybe not for any game the rest of the season except for the one in Tampa. So of course, my pick will be a Bills win. The question is how close the game is.
There are some reports that Brian Flores has lost the locker room in Miami and even some speculation that he might not have that head coach job much longer. I don’t see it yet.
The Dolphins lost their last two games and three of their last five on last second field goals. Last week, they rallied from a two touchdown, fourth quarter deficit to take a lead before losing at the buzzer again. I think this is still a team fighting for its coach and for whatever is left in their season. Maybe it’s just pride. NFL teams with their backs to the wall are dangerous. As long as Miami still believes the wall is standing, I don’t think they walk into Orchard Park and roll over for Buffalo.
That said, the Bills have their own motivation this week. Just like last year, the bye week followed a heartbreaking loss. Sean McDermott and his players spent a lot of time talking about how they bounced back last year with an 8-game win streak. They think it can happen again.
The first win last year was at home against the Chargers in a game where Buffalo danced with a 4 win team maybe a little longer than expected. I think this week against the Dolphins will be about the same. Miami will battle for a while, but the Bills will take command in the second half and win going away.
There are jokes about seeing lots of Mitch Trubisky over the next few weeks and that might be a better way to gauge a Buffalo game than the actual score prediction. I give this one a 30% chance of Trubisky and a score of 38-20 Buffalo.