Here’s what looked good and what didn’t watching the All-22 version of the Bills and Chargers…
What Seemed To Go Right
Leslie Frazier greeted the media for his regular session on Monday with a grin from ear to ear. Without even being asked a question, he beamed “that’s more what we’re looking for.” He had every right to be that happy. Let me detail the ways.
Jerry Hughes continues to be the most unsung stud in the NFL. I counted eight QB pressures by Hughes. There are games where the Bills as a team don’t get to eight. He was constantly in Justin Herbert’s personal space and, as usual, almost always in the right spot against the run. Whatever the next level down is from Joey Bosa, Hughes is there.
The pass rushing as a whole was fantastic. I counted 28 total pressures among 12 different players. Frazier blitzed about two-thirds of the time and did a great job varying the looks. The Bills were also aggressive chasing into the pocket when tight ends or running backs stayed in to block. For much of the game, Frazier was pushing the correct pass rush buttons. There’s a giant caveat about this that I will mention below.
Quinton Jefferson continues to be a versatile, lunch pail level producer. He made plays both against the run and the pass. He was tied for second on the team with three pressures. Jefferson might not make many Pro Bowls, but he’s a big asset to any team.
For the second straight week, Ed Oliver started a bit slow, but grew into the game later. He was a force in the fourth quarter, outside the foolish roughing the passer flag. Like Jefferson, I had Oliver with three QB pressures.
AJ Klein did plenty more AJ Klein things. One of the best parts of his blitzing game is his ability to fight through a running back block. It’s not that Klein is always bigger, faster or stronger, but he often finds a way to avoid the block and still stay on his feet. If Matt Milano is back healthy this week, the Bills are going to have a (great) problem because neither guy belongs off the field right now.
Tremaine Edmunds did not have a hugely standout game, but he made an under the radar play that might have saved the game. With a ten point lead early in the fourth quarter, the Chargers had a 2nd and 2 at the Buffalo 8 yard line. Josh Kelley took a handoff heading up the middle and bounced outside. When Kelley makes his move, Edmunds is engaged with a lineman and a yard or so, horizontally, behind Kelley. Edmunds disengages and drills Kelley at the seven. If there’s any hesitation or if Edmunds is blocked even a fraction of a second longer, the Chargers have at least first and goal. Instead, Klein stuffed a third down attempt on the next snap and the Chargers settled for a field goal. Four more points there could have drastically changed the end of the game.
Levi Wallace, overall, had a pretty solid game in his return from the Covid list. It was a tough assignment with plenty of reps against Mike Williams and Keenan Allen, but the Chargers top two receivers only combined for seven catches and 66 yards. Wallace deserves some of the credit for slowing them down.
Tre White does, too, of course. I thought this was one of his better games. The interception was a good, instinctual read of Herbert’s eyes while in zone coverage. It was one of the few rookie level mistakes by the Chargers’ starting QB.
I could go on and on about defensive players. In fact, I thought the only guys who did not have standout games were Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. I didn’t think either played bad, but it was more the rest of the defense rose to the safeties’ regular high level.
Offensively, the run blocking was about as good as it’s been all year. Most of the damage came behind the left side of the offensive line: Mitch Morse, Jon Feliciano and Dion Dawkins. Per Next Gen stats, Buffalo ran 20 times for 122 yards left of center while only 52 yards on eight carries going right. HOWEVER… Zack Moss accounted for 31 of those right side yards with a play that started right but had to bounce back to the left. Morse/Feliciano/Dawkins were excellent in this phase all day.
This Moss run is a play that needs its own mention. He, basically, got 31 yards all on his own. The play is run straight into the B gap between right guard and tackle. Nothing is there, so Moss spins and heads left. He pauses to check for space in a gap up the middle, but the far defensive end is being blocked into the hole by Dawkins. Moss continues further left and finds space behind an Isaiah McKenzie (of all people!) block. He steps through a tackle and then accelerates away from a defensive back enough to get 31 yards. Moss lost 15 of them on the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty he did not appear to deserve, but it was still an excellent run.
Also, Moss completely decleated Bosa with a cut block on the Dawson Knox TD throw. Easily the best block of the day on the Chargers star pass rusher.
I was surprised by some vitriol from fans in Knox’s direction for his, alleged, blocking issues Sunday. I was on the field for the game and not privy to all the broadcast angle looks, so I figured I must have missed something that was a problem with Knox’s play. He did have a rep against Bosa that did not go well, but other than that, I thought Knox had a pretty solid day as a blocker. He’s been a good at it since about midway through his rookie season and the game against the Chargers was no different.
What Seemed To Go Wrong
The other guy who was the target for fan frustration post game was Brian Winters. That one I can understand. Winters had a rough, rough day. I tagged him with four quarterback pressures allowed and most were not against Joey Bosa. I’ve thought all year Winters was a solid, but not spectacular veteran who could man a guard spot competently with Cody Ford out for the year. This game has called that assumption into question. I would not be surprised if Ike Boettger gets a chance to start against the Niners.
The only other thing that was notably wrong was anything Buffalo tried against Bosa. He’s just fantastic. The play that impressed me the most was not any of his sacks or pass rushes. It was the one where Allen got injured. The play was a read-option run. If the quarterback sees the defensive end chasing the handoff, then the QB keeps and goes outside the attacking D-end. On this play, Bosa is leaning in on the run a bit and Allen did keep the ball. Bosa still smothered Josh. Essentially, Bosa played both options of the play by himself and did it with ease. That’s just not right.
The Josh Allen Report
It was not a great game for Allen. The Bills didn’t ask him to do much, but what he did do was fall into the Hero Ball tendencies way too often.
He did successfully avoid a couple of negative plays by flinging a ball into open space (the above Bosa play being one), but neither would be classified as “smart”. Allen also forced a ball into coverage off his back foot twice with the second going for an interception. The fumbled snap should have been covered instead of Allen making an attempt to pick it back up. Just bad decisions all around.
He did run the ball smartly. Late in the first half, he teased a linebacker into the wrong gap and turned the play into an 11 yard burst.
The deep ball to Gabriel Davis was an excellent rep in a variety of ways. Allen first identified the offside penalty had occurred, so he knew it was a free play. Next, he was very patient to find the deepest and best option on the field for his free shot. Finally, the throw to Davis was in an excellent spot to give his receiver a chance–high and to the outside.
Allen did properly execute the offense as called most of the day, but the majority of his stick-out plays were of the negative kind.
Odds and Ends
The big caveat to the Bills defensive performance I mentioned above is that the Chargers offensive line is terrible. Like Charles Barkley “turr-able”. Pro Football Focus has the five starters Sunday for L.A. ranked in the bottom 10 league wide for their position group. To put it more succinctly, none of the Chargers starters would start on any other team in the NFL. Not the Jaguars. Not the Jets. Give the Bills defense credit because they might have made the Chargers O-line look even worse, but this was not a fair fight.
Considering all that… wow, is Herbert good. You can see that he’s well aware of how leaky his protection is. The ball has to come out quick and it does, often to the right receiver in the right spot. Herbert hit some tiny windows in this game. The first half touchdown to Allen has no business being completed. Edmunds is all over the play, and yet Herbert puts the ball exactly where it needs to be. Look out if the Chargers ever find him one competent lineman, let alone five.
The Bills caught a big break early in the fourth quarter. After the Allen fumble, the Chargers had a second and five, down 24-17 at their own 27. They ran three receivers going right and Austin Ekeler leaked out going left. Herbert was flushed to his right and that caused Klein a problem. He was in man to man coverage with Ekeler, but followed Herbert’s scramble and left Ekeler uncovered. Herbert saw it, but overthrew his running back. If those two connect, Ekeler has no one in front of him. The most likely Bills tackler is probably Poyer, who is 20 yards downfield and on the wrong sideline. This play would go for at least 40 yards, if it doesn’t go for six points.