Three weeks ago people were panicking about the Buffalo Bills. They had lost two straight and were in third place in the AFC East. After three wins in 12 calendar days, the Bills are back on top in the AFC and in control of their own playoff destiny. Not a bad two weeks.
While we take stock of the win and what the performance on the field means for the rest of the season, we’ll dive into another edition of Studs and Duds.
As a reminder, this column looks simply at the performance in the most recent week, or weeks in this case, identifying who stepped up and who struggled and what those performances might mean for the Buffalo Bills going forward. Some heroes will just have one-off great games while some struggles could signal major issues, so we’ll make sense of that together here.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.
David Quessenberry (and Brandon Beane)
It almost feels wrong to put Quessenberry here since he’s a backup tackle who was thrust into the starting lineup and then also playing injured. However, you can’t argue the result on the field.
Quessenberry was a major weak link on Thursday night. He was beaten repeatedly on the edge by Josh Uche and one particularly terrible rep led to a strip sack of Josh Allen that could have cost Buffalo points. It’s a testament to his competitive spirit that he battled through injury, but even his healthy reps didn’t look great.
This highlights a larger problem which is Buffalo’s lack of offensive line depth. Yes, Ike Boettger is working his way back from injury, which could help the interior of the line, but the tackle depth behind Dion Dawkins and Spencer Brown is concerning and made even moreso by the fact that Brown himself hasn’t been playing well. If Dawkins were to miss more games, we saw firsthand on Thursday how bad that would be for Buffalo.
This brings us to Beane. He’s been a tremendous GM but he has missed on the offensive line more times than not. This version of the line has struggled since the start of the season, under-performing in most metrics and looking soft on the field; yet, Beane didn’t bring in any help at the trade deadline. Instead, opting to trade for a backup safety that he has never used.
If the lack of offensive line depth costs the Bills in a crucial game, I think it would be fair to pin some of the blame on their inability to adjust or add reinforcements in the middle of the season.
Lack week we called out Dane Jackson despite commending him for admirably filling in for Tre’Davious White when he was likely never intended to be a starter. Now we have to call out Hamlin, even though he is also filling in admirably for Micah Hyde. It’s an unenviable position to be in, but the young safety was one of the clear weak spots on Thursday.
His most egregious mistake was when he took a terrible route when coming up in support on Marcus Jones’ touchdown catch. He missed another tackle during the game and has been stringing together missed tackles in recent weeks in a way that is becoming concerning. He’s young and still learning, but the Bills traded for Dean Marlowe at the deadline because he’s played in this system with these guys before. Perhaps it’s time to give Marlowe a few more snaps.
Sorry, Tommy, but the hold here was unnecessary and wiped out a beautiful 41-yard touchdown pass. On a day with few duds, this has to count as one.
didn’t count but another highlight reel play from Josh Allen pic.twitter.com/myvs1epafB
— alex (@highlghtheaven) December 2, 2022
Now for the good news.
Diggs has found himself in this section perhaps more than any other player on the Bills this year, and it’s fully earned. Even if his stats this week weren’t eye-popping, he was on another level all game long.
Every time Buffalo needed a big play, they went to Diggs. A 19-yard gain for a first down. The first touchdown of the game. A key first down in the third quarter. It was all Diggs. He simply had his way with Jonathan Jones, and the route he ran on the touchdown was a thing of beauty.
He finished with seven catches for 92 yards and a touchdown and continues to put this Buffalo offense on his back.
James Cook has slowly been earning more work over the last couple of weeks, but I’m not sure many saw this type of workload coming. Cook was on the field early and often and actually led Buffalo in snaps with 33 snaps to Devin Singletary’s 32. That’s also after Singletary was used to help drain the clock on the final drive.
Cook was, at worst, the 1B to Singletary’s 1A, and it seems like this could be the new reality in the Buffalo backfield. That shouldn’t be a total surprise since Cook is a second-round pick and has an explosive quality to his game that Singletary doesn’t. He’s also a natural pass-catcher and can burn up yard quickly when he hits a crease, as he did on this run.
14 carries for 64 yards may not seem tremendous, even when you add in his six catches for 41 yards, but this was Cook’s best game of the year, and him coming into his own is huge for the Bills down the stretch.
The Defensive Line
I want to shout out the whole group here because there were a lot of questions about how Buffalo would respond without Von Miller and, for one week at least, the defensive line answered them.
Greg Rousseau and Shaq Lawson seemed to occupy the two starting spots, and even though I questioned Lawson’s effectiveness up until this point, he was great against the Patriots, holding up against the run and also putting pressure on Mac Jones. On the day, he had three pressures and a 20% pass rush win rate. If he keeps doing that, Buffalo is going to be okay for the three weeks until they can welcome Miller back.