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Bills studs and duds heading into their Week 13 clash against the Patriots

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Buffalo Bills celebrate their win over the Lions
Teammates react after Buffalo Bills place kicker Tyler Bass (2) kicked a 45-yard game winning field goal in the closing seconds of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

The last month has been a rollercoaster for the Buffalo Bills. After losing leads in losses to the Jets and Vikings, the Bills put together uneven efforts in the two following games against the Browns and Lions but managed to claw their way to victories. With injuries continuing to mount and the offense looking inconsistent, it remains to be seen just how well this team can finish the year. 

Since the Thanksgiving game was a few days ago, we’re going to use today’s edition of Studs and Duds to look at the recent play overall. 

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. 

Duds

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. 

Dane Jackson

It’s tough to single out one person when we’ve been picking on the secondary for a few weeks, but the spotlight has really begun to shine on Jackson for the wrong reasons. Against the Detroit Lions, Jackson allowed a 129.9 passer rating as the nearest defender. That’s, well, not good and continues a rough month stretch for him.

With Tre’Davious White slowly working his way back to full snaps and Kaiir Elam coming back from an ankle injury, it’s time that Jackson find the bench. The Bills also promoted former Pro Bowl cornerback Xavier Rhodes from the practice squad to take the place of injured rookie Christian Benford, so there are plenty of guys who can take snaps away from Jackson. 

It feels bad to pin the blame on Jackson, but it’s also important to note that he’s being asked to do way more than the team had expected of him. He is a former seventh-round pick who wasn’t even a lock to make the roster. At best, he seemed like a potential depth piece who spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad.

Jackson was thrust into action with the injury to Tre’Davious White and has responded well over the last calendar year. However, now may be the time to return him to the depth role that he was drafted to play. He simply hasn’t made enough plays on the ball and has struggled to get his head around in coverage. Perhaps taking a step back and going back to the drawing board can help him regain some confidence. 

 

The Injury Bug

At this point, the injuries in Buffalo would be comical if they weren’t so potentially devasting to the team’s chances of winning a Super Bowl. They had to play the first 11 weeks without Pro Bowl corner Tre’Davious White. They lost Micah Hyde for the season before Week 4. Jordan Poyer, Tremaine Edmunds, Gregory Rousseau, and Kaiir Elam have all missed multiple weeks. Now it seems like Von Miller will too. 

The star defensive end injured his knee on Thursday. The team is going to give him a week or more of rest to let the swelling go down to see if this is an injury he can wear a brace and play through or one that will require surgery. The best-case scenario is that Miller is out for a few weeks, but the worst case is that he will need to miss the rest of the season, which would be a brutal blow when already paired with the loss of Hyde.  

On top of that, left tackle Dion Dawkins injured his ankle and was seen in a boot after the game. Head coach Sean McDermott has referred to the injury as a “one day at a time type of situation,” but him being out would be a gut punch for this Buffalo offense. 

 

Offensive line

We’ve been talking about the offensive line in this column for much of the season. They started the season as one of the worst run-blocking units in the entire league and continued to see Josh Allen’s agility save them from stretches of poor blocking. However, once Dion Dawkins went out last week, the floodgates opened.

David Quessenberry was a liability at left tackle, which only added to the struggles of Ryan Bates at center, and Spencer Brown at right tackle. Josh Allen was running for his life for much of the second half and clearly didn’t trust the line to protect long enough for him to stay in the pocket and go through his reads. 

The fact that this has been an issue all year and the team did nothing about it at the trade deadline is a real problem. Dawkins is listed as “day-to-day” for now, but the Bills desperately need him back. They simply don’t have the offensive line depth to protect against losing him. 

 

Studs

Now for the good news. 

Ed Oliver

Ed Oliver was a menace on Thursday, which was much needed after Von Miller went down. The defensive tackle recorded six total tackles, one sack for a safety, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. He was quite literally doing everything out there and seemed unblockable, especially since Detroit was starting backup guards. 

However, Oliver has been tremendous for the past three weeks, recording six tackles for loss, seven quarterback hits, and 1.5 sacks. The hopeful returns of Gregory Rousseau and AJ Epenesa will give him some help on the defensive line, but this team needs Oliver to take over games with Von Miller on the sideline. He showed on Thursday, once again, that he’s capable. 

 

A.J. Klein

The Bills had depth concerns at linebacker coming into the season. Star Matt Milano had missed weeks in multiple seasons, so Buffalo drafted Terrel Bernard in the third round to provide depth at the outside linebacker spots. Unfortunately, the team was still lacking depth behind starting middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, and it’s been Edmunds that has been banged up more often this year. 

After watching Tyrel Dodson struggle to replace Edmunds, the Bills went out and brought back linebacker A.J. Klein. While Klein didn’t play much in his first game back, he started against the Lions and was making the calls for the defense.  He recorded nine tackles, including one for a loss, and provided some much-needed stability in the middle of the field. 

 

Isaiah McKenzie

For weeks we’ve also mentioned that Gabe Davis and McKenzie needed to step up to give Stefon Diggs help in the wide receiver corps. Much like Dane Jackson, I don’t think McKenzie was ever in the plans to be the full-time slot receiver. The Bills had signed Jameson Crowder in the offseason to likely split time there, but he fractured his ankle early in the season and is on the IR. 

As a result, McKenzie has been tasked with close to a full-time role and hasn’t quite delivered. But he did on Thursday, catching six passes for 96 yards and a touchdown. 

It was a much-needed breakout for Buffalo, who needs to be more diverse on offense to ensure that the team can overcome some issues with the offensive line. We know that McKenzie has always fared better against man coverage, which Detroit runs, so the Bills would love to see him repeat the performance next week against the Patriots, who also run man coverage more than most teams in the NFL

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Buffalo Bills Isaiah McKenzie
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie (6), defended by Detroit Lions safety Will Harris (25) catches a 19-yard pass for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

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