The Bills have officially been eliminated from the playoffs, though in reality, they’ve been out of the postseason mix since the midway point of the season when it was clear they were going nowhere with a rookie quarterback and a moribund offense.
Nothing has changed in Sean McDermott’s world, though. He knew going all the way back to training camp that this was going to be a step-back year for the Bills after they ended their playoff drought in 2017. He understood the salary cap constraints he and general manager Brandon Beane were faced with, and how that was going to impact the way they could build the 2018 roster.
So, with three games left, McDermott remains on the course he has been on, using all of these games, particularly the ones in December, to evaluate his roster in terms of projecting who the Bills will move forward with in 2019.
“I’m really looking at the quality of our play and how we develop,” McDermott said when asked what his priorities are as the Bills get ready to host the Lions at New Era Field. “Certainly, want to win games, don’t get me wrong. We’re trying to sustain success over the course of time. That’s what we want to do; that’s how you win a world championship. In order to get there, though, there’s evaluating our roster, knowing who we like, who can help us moving forward and who may not have taken advantage of the opportunity, quite frankly.”
McDermott admitted this is not where he wanted to be, but again, there were too many obstacles for the Bills to clear if they hoped to contend for a playoff berth, and he was prepared for the inevitability of being an also ran.
“We’ve eliminated ourselves from the playoffs, but there’s a bigger purpose,” he said. “The bigger purpose is how we develop into that team that we’re trying to become, which is that caliber of team, that standard. Like I mentioned before, it’s the quality of our play. That’s really what I’m looking for from each and every individual, from us as coaches, from the units, offensive, defensive, and special teams is our quality of play that will lead to sustained success over the course of time and eventually, the ultimate goal.”
The Bills have made strides on offense under rookie quarterback Josh Allen, and playing the Lions will give him another test as he’ll be facing a defense that ranks 12th in yards allowed and is fourth in sacks per pass attempt.
With the running game struggling so much, at least running plays that don’t include Allen’s mad dashes from the pocket, Allen has had to shoulder more of a burden in the passing game, and that’s probably not a bad thing. He is learning under fire, and he’s certainly doing so in adverse conditions with an offensive line that is one of the weakest in the NFL. The lessons he’s learning now should prove beneficial for the future.
“I would say probably in the last couple of weeks, really, when he came off of the injury and the way that he worked through the injury,” McDermott said when he was asked when he felt Allen began to take charge of the offense and become its leader. “Really, you become the leader by earning the respect of your teammates. He was willing to do that early on; he didn’t try to jump out in front when he hadn’t earned it.
“Overall, we’ve got a young offense and that’s been well documented, probably because of that but also because of the way Josh has developed. I think if you polled the players, most would say that Josh, certainly LeSean (McCoy) does good things as well, but Josh, because of the quarterback position, has become the leader.”
This will be the 11th regular-season meeting. The Bills lead the series 5-4-1. Buffalo has won four of the last five games including a 17-14 decision at Ford Field in 2014 in the one season that Kyle Orton was the Bills’ quarterback. The first time the Lions played at New Era Field, then Rich Stadium, in 1991, they won a meaningless season finale, but that broke a 17-game home winning streak by Buffalo.
BY THE NUMBERS
6 – Games the Bills defense has held the opponent under 250 yards which is partly why Buffalo is now No. 1 in the NFL in fewest yards allowed. However, the Bills are 2-4 in those games.
- LB Matt Milano underwent surgery to repair a broken fibula and he was placed on the injured reserve list.
- CB Taron Johnson underwent shoulder surgery and he is also on season-ending IR.
- WR Robert Foster has enjoyed two 100-yard receiving games, the only two by a Bills receiver this season. Both came against the Jets, making him the first Bill to have two 100-yard games against the same team in the same season since 1999. Foster led the wideouts by playing 96 percent of the snaps, an indication of how much he has risen in the last couple weeks. This was also the first game the Bills played without Kelvin Benjamin, whom Foster replaced in the starting lineup.
- TE Charles Clay saw his snap count dip to a season-low 55 percent and he caught just one pass for six yards. It certainly seems like his time with the Bills could be nearing an end even though he is signed through 2019.
- RB LeSean McCoy did not practice Wednesday and he’s day-to-day with a hamstring injury.
- RB Keith Ford was called up from the practice squad as a precaution in case McCoy can’t play.
- S Dean Marlowe was activated from the practice squad, most likely in an effort to give the sagging special teams a boost.
- K Stephen Hauschka was limited in practice after suffering a hip injury, but the Bills believe he’ll be fine for Sunday’s game.
- CB Ryan Lewis remains in concussion protocol and did not practice.
WR Robert Foster. The Bills signed Foster as an undrafted free agent out of Alabama, and it was in no small part because the team’s new offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, was in that role with the Crimson Tide last season. Foster didn’t do much at Alabama, but Daboll liked his speed, and his upside, and the Bills brought him in. Foster didn’t show much in training camp and preseason, and it was somewhat of a surprise that he made the team. Then, when he made only two catches in the first six games, the Bills hit pause. They cut him, re-signed him to the practice squad, and that’s when things turned. When he was brought back up to the active roster, he made an immediate impact and now he has two 100-yard receiving games since then and seems to have become the Bills’ big-play receiver.
It has become apparent in the last three games that Josh Allen has taken ownership of the Bills’ offense that figures to continue for the rest of the season. In each of the last three games, he has accounted for more than 80 percent of the yardage gained with his arm and his running. The Lions have been stout against the run this season, and Buffalo has been anything but a good running team. The Bills rank ninth in the NFL only because of Allen’s scrambling as they have struggled behind a weak offensive line to get push for the backs. Allen may be able to burn the Lions on runs if they’re in man coverage, but the Jets did an excellent job in the second half making Allen stay in the pocket.
Detroit’s offense has been inconsistent all season as it ranks 24th in yards and 25th in points. The Bills’ defense, on the other hand, has been inconsistent at times, but the highs have been higher than what Detroit’s offense has produced at its peak. The Bills have the ability to lock it down and they have six games where they have yielded fewer than 250 yards. And in eight of the last nine games, opposing teams have passed for 170 yards. One area the Lions may look to exploit is Matthew Stafford checking down to RB Theo Riddick with Bills’ LB Matt Milano out for the season. He was the Bills best coverage LB.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Bills WR Robert Foster vs. Lions CB Darius Slay. Foster has made nice strides in the past month and has become Josh Allen’s big-play receiver. He had a career-best seven catches for 107 yards last week against the Jets, including a big 38-yard reception that set up the Bills’ go-ahead score in the fourth quarter. Slay has not had a great year, but he did have a 67-yard pick-six last week off rookie Josh Rosen in Arizona.
Bills front four vs. Lions offensive line. In the loss to the Jets, the Bills’ pass rush was non-existent, and it will have to be more effective against established QB Matthew Stafford. Buffalo ranks No. 1 in the NFL in pass defense, and the Lions have not been as efficient moving the ball through the air, especially since the departure of Golden Tate, so this looks like an advantage for the Bills. Stafford has been sacked 37 times, and the Bills have the ability to get pressure with their front four, which enables them to cover with seven.