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Bills studs and duds after their surprising Week 9 loss to the Jets

Buffalo Bills vs. New York Jets
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) throws a pass to Dawson Knox during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Last week I mentioned that the Bills’ performance against the Green Bay Packers was their least inspiring one of the season. Well, instead of coming out and correcting the issues that led to that poor performance, they double-down on their sloppy effort and were upset by the New York Jets 20-17 on Sunday. 

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, 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. 

Josh Allen

It’s been two weeks in a row that Allen has appeared as a dud and six quarters in a row that he has played really poor football. Yes, Allen has two rushing touchdowns over that span, and he was able to gain 86 yards on nine carries against the Jets, but he’s the quarterback and he has four interceptions and no touchdowns over his last six quarters. That isn’t going to work. 

It isn’t just that Allen has thrown four interceptions over that span, it’s about how bad those interceptions have been. His two picks against the Jets were legitimately right at New York defenders.

Perhaps he’s frustrated that teams are going back to playing a high Cover-2 against him and he’s trying to do too much, but this is the old, impatient Josh Allen we’re seeing. He’s not taking what the defense is giving him underneath, and he seems uncomfortable in the pocket, almost if he doesn’t trust his offensive line (more on that later). 

To top it all off, Allen appeared to hurt his elbow while being sacked on the final drive, and while he said he was in “slight pain” there is some concern that he suffered a UCL injury similar to the one he endured in 2018. His recovery will certainly be something to watch this week. 

The quarterback was accountable for his performance after the game, saying he played “like sh-t,” and his teammates all remain fully behind him. We’ve seen Allen rebound from poor stretches before, but it’s going to have to happen quickly with the 7-1 Vikings on deck. 

 

Wide receivers besides Stefon Diggs

When Buffalo lost Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley in the offseason it wasn’t supposed to be a big deal because Gabe Davis was a breakout star, they had re-signed Isaiah McKenzie, and signed slot receiver Jameson Crowder away from the Jets. 

Well, nine weeks into the season, none of that is as reassuring as Bills fans thought over the summer. 

Crowder is out indefinitely with a broken ankle, and McKenzie has simply not stepped up in his sted. The former gadget player has just 20 catches on 30 targets for 182 yards and three touchdowns. He has just a 66.7% catch rate and seems to make a few key mistakes a game. 

Davis has had a few huge games this year but has all but vanished in others. On the season he has just 18 catches. Yes, that has gone for 451 yards and four touchdowns, but Davis has just a 47.4% catch rate since he seems to be primarily huge as a home run threat. The Bills need him to get open more consistently on his intermediate routes, but he has so far proven unable to do so. Early in the year, it was easy to blame his ankle injury, but now his lack of consistent production is becoming concerning. 

Now that Nyheim Hines will have a full week of practice with his new team, it wouldn’t be a surprise for Buffalo to split him out wide often as a slot receiver to give Josh Allen more options underneath. 

 

Ken Dorsey

But that would require some creativity from first-year offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, who I’ve been critical of a lot this year.

While Buffalo’s offense was humming early in the year, it was easy to overlook some of his concerning tendencies to abandon the running game entirely or try to get overly tricky when it wasn’t necessary. In particular, Dorsey has struggled with playcalling in the red zone, where Josh Allen continues to bail him out with his scrambling ability. 

On the season, the Bills have touchdowns on just 53.6% of red zone trips, which is 19th in the NFL. Last year, they were tops in the league with a 66.3% success rate. Dorsey is going to need to figure out a different strategy to counteract the team’s inability to score touchdowns in close. 

He also needs to not continue to ride Allen’s arm too much. It was clear Josh Allen was in the midst of a poor game on Sunday, but Dorsey still called just four rushing plays in the second half. That was with the Bills tied or down by as much as three points. Dorsey needs to find creative ways to utilize his backs because Devin Singletary, James Cook, and Nyheim Hines are all capable of making plays. 

 

Run Defense

For the second week in a row, I’m going to be critical of the run defense. After being gashed for 208 yards against the Packers, I predicted that the Jets would employ a similar strategy. They did, and it worked, as the Jets ran for 174 yards on 5.1 yards per carry. 

On their game-winning drive, they ran the ball eight straight times, and Buffalo still couldn’t stop it, even though they knew what was coming. It was eerily similar to the blizzard game against New England last year, but it’s clear that all the money invested in this defensive line this offseason is not just going to fix itself. This is an issue that needs immediate attention. 

 

Terrel Bernard 

Part of that issue was also that stud linebacker Matt Milano was out, and the Bills had to start third-round rookie Terrel Bernard, who was overmatched for much of the game. He was often blocked out of plays or unable to knife through the line to make plays. He clearly doesn’t have the instincts that Milano does, but the Bills need to get better depth performance behind their stars because Bernard and Jaquan Johnson, who was filling in for Jordan Poyer, were both liabilities at times on Sunday. 

 

Studs

Now for the good news. 

Von Miller

Von Miller has been worth every penny for the Bills. With Greg Rousseau ruled out with an ankle injury early against the Jets, Miller had to play 77% of the snaps in the second half, which is not how the Bills like to run their defensive line rotations. Still, Miller came up with a huge sack and fumble recovery against Zach Wilson in the third quarter. It’s just a shame that Buffalo gave the ball right back. 

However, with Miller’s leadership on defense, it’s easy to remain confident in this unit. After the game, he claimed that Buffalo will fix its run defense issues, and after all he’s done in his career, I think Miller has earned enough trust to assume he can help get that done. 

 

Stefon Diggs

Diggs had another great game on Sunday with 93 yards on five catches. He also had a great toe-tapping grab on the final drive that was overturned by a questionable holding call on Dion Dawkins.

Diggs looked great, burning stud rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner early in the game, but when the Jets switched to their Cover-2 zone, his targets all but dried up. That’s just not acceptable, and Josh Allen said as much after the game. Diggs has proven that he can beat any defensive look, and the Bills need to trust him to do so, but they also need to get him some help, as I alluded to above.

Maybe that comes in the form of one Odell Beckham Jr.? After Sunday’s game, Buffalo would be wise to make a very enticing offer. 

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Michael Carter and the Jets ran all over the Bills
New York Jets running back James Robinson (23) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)