ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — After watching the All 22 angle on the Bills all season, I have a notebook full of thoughts (Not really a notebook. It’s a bunch of computer documents, but “notebook” sounds better). Let me get them off my chest.
Most Impressive Offensive Player: Devin Singletary
The rookie back was as advertised when it came to elusiveness. He could undress a linebacker like Charlie Brown taking a comebacker, but the toughness Singletary showed was a surprise.
He looked like… well… he looked like Frank Gore fighting for every yard. I’m not sure if Gore taught that trait to Singletary or if the kid just had it, but his battle was as good as his wiggle (Cole Beasley’s term, not mine) carry to carry. I wasn’t sure if Singletary could handle a big time back workload, but he quickly erased those doubts.
One of the things that always made LeSean McCoy impressive on film was his ability to make runs work by himself. It wasn’t just the 20 yarders. McCoy, in his prime, turned runs for two yards into seven on a regular basis. Singletary does that on a scary close level. He can shake tackles in a phone booth as good as the ones that make jaws drop.
The blitz pickup needs work, but otherwise, he’s a complete top level back.
Least Impressive Offensive Player: Cody Ford
The concerns about Ford against high level speed rushers was confirmed this season. It got to the point where the Bills needed to use a “caddy” with the rookie on many passing situations late in the season–often a receiver or tight end or back was lined up next to Ford. The formation would widen the rush end to give Ford an extra beat or two for the block. The “caddy” could also chip block the end. It still wasn’t always enough.
Ford was not great as a run blocker, either. There’s been a thought since he was drafted that Ford will be a better NFL guard than tackle. It’s easy to see that scenario playing out if Quinton Spain leaves via free agency.
There’s no guarantee that makes things better. The tackle responsibilities aren’t the only problem. Ford is a definite question mark going forward.
Other Offensive Thoughts
Gore got too much criticism late in the season. The numbers are hard to argue, but he played with so many “big” formations, he ended up facing a ton of high population boxes. The Bills can do better, but I wouldn’t hate it if he came back next year.
Good luck ranking the other four offensive linemen. Any order you want is fine with me. I’d go: Spain, Dion Dawkins, Mitch Morse, Jon Feliciano. All four were above average to very good.
I was a bit disappointed in Morse. Not because he was bad, but because I was expecting an A+ center for all that money and he was “only” an A-/B+ type guy. I think the Bills will survive just fine with that.
Dawson Knox developed big time as a blocker throughout the season. “But the missed block in overtime!!” I know, I know. He’s not perfect, but I thought Knox went from an issue as a blocker into a plus. I think it’s one of the big reasons why Lee Smith got 30% of the snaps or more in each of the first eight games and only topped that number once in the last eight.
Beasley is maybe the best receiver in the league at getting open horizontally. He was worth a laugh embarrassing a linebacker on a weekly basis. However, defenses could take Beasley away fairly easily by bracketing him. Now, that does require two men in coverage and can leave John Brown, Knox, etc. singled up, but it was a problem for Beasley. Teams that were able to get physical with him also had success.
Brown had an excellent year. The only knock I’d have was his performance in some big spots. I thought the route he ran on 4th down at the end against Baltimore was subpar. Not getting his feet down on the sideline in Houston is another frustrating miss. It’s not fair to expect any receiver to win every time and he did make THE play against the Jets week one, but there’s a reason why #1 receiver seems to be at the top of everyone’s Bills wish list this offseason.
(Gonna make you keep reading to get my thoughts on Josh Allen below)
Most Impressive Defensive Player: Ed Oliver
Jordan Phillips could have easily been the choice here. Heck, there’s probably half a dozen guys who could have qualified, but I liked Oliver even early in the season before he started with the sacks. I liked him even when he was dropped from the starting group midseason (I thought that was more a Phillips promotion than Oliver demotion).
For a rookie, he was phenomenal and disruptive start to finish. His first half against Dallas might have been the best half by any Buffalo D-linemen this season. He rarely seemed confused and fit in perfectly on a defense that, as a whole, might be the most disciplined in the league.
The best part of Oliver was his motor. It’s not a real stat, but he had to lead the Bills in tackles by a linemen made ten yards or more downfield. He ran down DeVante Parker in Miami, for God’s sake! He was a top pick and he was very good, but he played like an undrafted free agent needing every snap just to keep his job.
There are all the makings of a long term star with Oliver.
Least Impressive Defensive Player: Taron Johnson
“Least” impressive is graded on a curve here. There really wasn’t anyone who was not good on this defense, but I thought Johnson had a down year.
His tackling was a big letdown after being one of his strengths last season. Johnson missed 13 tackles, which was second most on the team. His missed tackle percentage was the worst, according to Pro Football Reference. PFR had the Bills with the third most missed tackles in the NFL. It wasn’t just Johnson, but he was the ringleader.
Johnson’s coverage was just ok. I won’t pound the table predicting this, but I would not be stunned if the more physical Siran Neal gets a shot at additional snaps as the nickel corner next season.
Other Defensive Thoughts
Tremaine Edmunds was good this season, but it feels like he still has another gear. Not sure if he’ll ever get there. Look out if he does.
Shaq Lawson is well known as a wild and outspoken guy, especially among us media who listen and laugh about his giant mouth on a weekly basis in the locker room. Yet, it was his discipline at defensive end that got more remarkable every week and culminated against the Ravens. I’d argue he was the number one reason Lamar Jackson had an off day (for him). There’s no doubt he ended the season as Buffalo’s second best defensive end and his career rebirth has been one of the more fun stories to see unfold.
I’ll take Levi Wallace over Kevin Johnson, but it’s super close. You can argue the other way. Both are solidly above average as a second corner.
The adjustment away from rigid gap integrity against the run to allow Edmunds and Matt Milano more freedom to attack was brilliant. It was the top reason that part of the defense improved the second half of the season.
Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are a weekly clinic in being in the right place. They won’t be truly appreciated until they’re gone.
I was not surprised all of Jerry Hughes’ numbers were down this year. Maybe it was the wrist injury, but he went from great to just really good. He’s still the Bills best run defender on the defensive line (though I could see Oliver taking that spot next year) and a fine top defensive end.
About The Quarterback
Pros: Josh Allen got better in every category this year. Not just statistically, but on film, too.
I thought the best improvement was with his pocket presence. This was a guy who ran every chance he got his rookie season. In part, because coaches told him to do it. He started this year still bailing from clean pockets too often, but cleaned that up quite a bit after midseason. He became a quarterback that was happy beating you if you let him hang out in the pocket.
The short to mid range accuracy was very good and much discussed, though it waned a bit late in the season. However, I was most excited about the consistency of “wow” throws. Allen was hitting the small windows that separate the top QBs a couple times every week the second half of the season. I thought that was hugely encouraging.
Cons: The deep ball accuracy looked as bad on film as it did live. I don’t have anything to add. Allen’s ability to progress through reads was up and down. He was good with it late and early, but seemed to struggle midseason.
The sore thumb that stuck out more as the season went on was how late the ball was coming out. We’re only talking about a beat late, but I thought it led to linemen batting balls in Pittsburgh. The interception against the Steelers also was a throw that could have come out sooner. The play where Brown did not get his feet down on the sideline in Houston appeared an egregiously late throw, even if a top receiver should make it work. The third down throw against the Texans that hopped in front of Duke Williams could have been released sooner. If so, J.J. Watt doesn’t get a piece of Allen’s arm to disrupt it. There are very few anticipatory throws from Allen.
He seemed overwhelmed against the better defenses he faced late (Baltimore, New England and to a lesser extent, Pittsburgh) and appeared to melt in Houston. The game tying field goal drive is the Allen season in a nutshell: a mind numbing decision to try and lateral as he’s being tackled, followed by a poor throw that should have been intercepted, followed by a superb piece of quarterbacking to hit Brown and convert a key third and long.
Allen took a huge step this year. He’ll need another almost as huge step to become a “good” quarterback.