Thoughts after reviewing the All-22 version of the Bills loss in Arizona…
What Seemed To Go Right
Cole Beasley is so good. Very often when the Bills get man coverage, Josh Allen will just lock on Beasley. It might not normally be a good idea, but Beasley gets free too often to blame Allen. Even better, Beasley and Allen are developing an excellent chemistry when it comes to reading and solving blitzes. The Cardinals had an incredible variety of blitz packages, but he and Beasley converted first downs against them on multiple occasions. Quarterbacks need that dependable safety valve and Beasley is very much that for the Bills.
Stefon Diggs is a great receiver. This, we know. The late go-ahead TD was plenty example of that. He’s also been a pretty good blocker the last 3-4 games. Early in the season, Diggs was probably best called a “reluctant” blocker. He still won’t stick his nose in every single time, but he’s been blowing dudes up the last few weeks. The Allen throw while draped with a defender to Devin Singletary is a good example. Diggs opens the play up by just decleating Patrick Peterson. Peterson’s legs end up over his head. It’s a devastating block. Just another feather in Diggs’ cap.
Dane Jackson needs to continue to start. I liked his game against the Jets enough to want another full game look. The Bills did not oblige against the Patriots or Seahawks, but had to in Arizona thanks to a Covid outbreak. Jackson delivered. You probably saw the smother job on DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone on the opening drive, but he was good start to finish. He’s a strong tackler and it’s rare he’s out of position in coverage. He’s the second best corner on the team right now and it’s not particularly close.
Jerry Hughes got caught peeking inside on a run play and the Cardinals got seven yards. I bring this up because Hughes remains so consistently good that the semi-minor bad plays stick out like a sore thumb. The Cardinals game wasn’t his best getting to the QB, but he was very good against the run.
I can’t believe I’m going to write this, but A.J. Klein was the best Bills linebacker on the field. He was a useful blitzer and really hung in well against an offense built on speed. My favorite play was when Klein hammered a lead offensive lineman to clear the way so he could make a tackle at the one and prevent a TD. Kyler Murray scored on the next play, but it was an impressive piece of defending.
Ed Oliver was quiet early, but had a very active second half. His work occupying two offensive linemen was the main contributor to the early second half forced fumble.
What Seemed To Go Wrong
The Cardinals are a fast defense that likes to attack and bring blitzes from all corners. They will be a problem for every offensive line and the Bills were no different. I thought Dion Dawkins and Daryl Williams had, collectively, their worst days of the year. I’d still call both “above average”, but they’ve been much better. The interior O-line was worse. I’d be throwing a stunt at Ike Boettger every pass play because you’re going to get through at least half the time. I had the Dion/Boettger side of the line tagged with four QB pressures allowed before even getting into those allowed because of blitz issues. Brian Winters was inconsistent. My reaction to watching the first half was, “If I were coaching this team, I’d have Mitch Morse (assuming he’s healthy) out to start the second half.”
I think the biggest problem with the Bills run D is they just don’t win enough 1 on 1 battles. If the offense can get a hat on every Bills hat, a 5-7 yard run is almost a minimum. Justin Zimmer, Vernon Butler and the like get single blocked way too much (Zimmer may have had his worst game against Arizona). As a result, Tremaine Edmunds and the second level defenders face too many offensive linemen they can’t shed. This was a huge problem against Murray and the Cardinals. Usually, the defense has the extra defender because the QB is irrelevant on a run play. However, Murray requires constant attention and that often removed the extra defender from the Bills side. An even matchup for the offense blocking a run play is a minus for the Bills D.
There might be a bit of an issue brewing with the pass game. The Bills favorite personnel group is 11: one running back, one tight end, three receivers. When they go empty set out of that group, the running back is, at best, a decoy. Whether it’s Singletary or Zack Moss, they almost always run a stop or a go as close as possible to the sideline and are little threat for anything more than a check down. The tight end group has, collectively, been a disappointment and rarely wins in the man coverage the Bills’ 5-wide set often sees. The three top receivers have been great… when John Brown is out there. Gabriel Davis has seen more than three targets and more than one catch only twice since week three. He’s a rook, so uneven development is to be expected, but it only leaves the Bills with Beasley and Diggs as viable receivers without Brown. On a team that really doesn’t really run it well, either Brown needs to stay healthy or a fourth option needs to step up for the stretch/playoff run.
The Josh Allen Report
It was an uneven day made up hugely by the final drive and the final throw.
I could not say enough about the TD pass to Diggs live and it looked even better on film. It’s not even a comfortable, set throw. Allen is falling back a bit with pressure coming. It’s a bit of an anticipatory throw, which you don’t see much from Allen unless he’s in some trouble. It seems he’s throwing more to a space than hitting the end of a route, similar to a soccer pass. The ball is not only accurate, it’s incredibly catchable. Allen doesn’t throw a rocket. He almost flicks it (30 yards, mind you) and lets Diggs run to it. Allen has the benefit of already being in range for a tying field goal and throwing the pass where only Diggs can get it. He does this perfectly. Considering situation, opponent, everything, I think it’s Allen’s best throw ever and maybe without argument.
Before that, Allen had some of the same issues with pressure that have been apparent the last few weeks. The first two near Peterson INTs were very poor decisions under pressure. The one Peterson did catch is actually going to be a pretty impressive throw to Dawson Knox, but it’s against a technique Peterson showed in the first half–exchanging receivers when they cross. Ideally, Allen is learning a bit quicker during a game.
As mentioned above, there are also some really good moments against the blitz on throws to Beasley. I think the Cardinals defense is enough of a headache to make every QB seem up and down. Allen was no different.
Odds and Ends
Murray is a pretty good player. If he ever learns to play quarterback, look out. To be fair, I’m only seeing him for one game, but there’s much to be desired when it comes to passing the football. Murray was routinely and sometimes wildly inaccurate, was hesitant in taking common, NFL level throws and every throw seemed to be a fastball. Maybe it’s just one game, but scary to think that Murray can be as productive as he’s been this year with still a laundry list of areas to improve.
The Bills have been killing man coverage with crossing receivers over the middle and making defensive backs chase them the width of the field. As mentioned above, Arizona combatted that by exchanging the crossing receivers at times. It was very effective with Peterson doing most of the exchanging. I think more defenses will try it, but not sure if it’ll work without a guy of Peterson’s talent.
It turns out the Hail Murray play was just karma for the touchdown the Bills should have allowed the play before. The Cardinals come out with three receivers right and Murray quickly scrambles that direction after Mario Addison and Quinton Jefferson push the pocket in his face a bit. The pocket actually re-forms out near the right sideline and Murray has SIX seconds to throw. The Bills showed a two safety look, but Jordan Poyer pushed up and left Micah Hyde as the lone deep man. As Murray scrambles to his right, Hyde moseys to his left to address the group of three receivers. However, Christian Kirk is running a deep post to the inside and catches Hyde grossly out of position. In the photo gallery below, you can see the exact “Oh @%@$!” moment for Hyde when he realizes the problem. Murray, however, spends the entire play looking at the two receivers in front of him and Hopkins all the way on the far side. He never sees the likely TD in play to Kirk. At worst, the Cardinals get a completion and have one play to win from near the ten. The Bills got lucky here, but the luck, of course, did not last long.
Allen had his own wide eye blind moment on the Bills go ahead TD drive and it underscores the point I make above about needed another receiving option. On 2nd and 13 from the Arizona 47, the Bills send four receivers out and leak Moss late. Allen is locked on Beasley and Diggs the entire play, and never notices Moss suddenly has an entire zip code to himself (even though Allen’s legs are pointed at Moss below, his head never leaves the middle of the field). The Bills still get 17 yards to Beasley on this play, so probably not much harm done. Moss may still have been one missed tackle from a TD.