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CAPACCIO: Bills-Patriots: Arrow Up/Arrow Down

The Bills fall to 6-6 after the loss at New Era Field

Sal Capaccio
December 03, 2017 - 11:19 pm

Groundhog Day.

It doesn’t matter what month or year the calendar says. It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is for the Buffalo Bills. As long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are together on the visitors’ sideline, the end result doesn’t change when the New England Patriots visit the Bills. Sure, every game has a different DNA, but in the end, it always just feels the same. Sunday was no different.  Here are the Arrows Down, then Up: 


ARROW DOWN


QB Tyrod Taylor

Last week in this space, I wrote that Taylor was “smart and efficient.” He was neither Sunday. On the opening drive of the game the Bills’ offense gained 66-yards and ate up almost half the quarter. Taylor threw for 35-yards on the drive before floating an easy interception to Patriots’ linebacker Eric Lee. But after those 35-yards on the first series, he threw for 30-yards the rest of the game! (Taylor appeared to be injured on the first series and played most of the rest of the same, leaving just thirty seconds into the fourth quarter with a knee injury). As has been the case too often with Taylor, there were several throws he didn’t make that appeared to be available for good yardage. He finished 9-for-18 for 65 yards with the one interception and no touchdowns.


Third down offense

After going 2-for-2 on the first drive, the Bills went just 3-for-14 the rest of the game on third and fourth downs combined.


Dropped passes

There were far too many passes that should have been caught that weren’t by Bills’ pass catchers. Wide receivers, running backs, tight ends. All were guilty. Tyrod Taylor and Nathan Peterman. Both has players drop passes while they were playing quarterback.


Run defense

Here we go again. After such a terrific game holding the Chiefs in check last week, the run defense went back to getting gashed again. Both of the Patriots’ main running backs, Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead, averaged over six-yards per-carry! As a team, New England ran for 191 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per clip. The two longest plays of the entire game were both Patriots’ runs and both in the second quarter. Lewis got loose for 44-yards, then later Burkhead went for 31-yards.


Inability to cover Rob Gronkowski in the second half

The Bills did a nice job on Gronk in the first half. He had only two catches for 28 yards. But he dominated them in the second half, catching seven balls for 119 yards in the third and fourth quarters alone. Just in the second half, Gronkowski caught passes of 30, 19, 19, 18, 16, and 15 yards.


Goal-to-go offense

The Bills had two goal-to-go situations. They scored on neither of them. One (the first drive of the game) resulted in an interception. The other (in the fourth quarter) resulted in a turnover on downs.

 


ARROW UP


First half defense

The Bills were classic bend-don’t-break on defense in the first two quarters. The Patriots got their yards, 212 of them total, but couldn’t find the end zone. They had eleven first downs, ran for 132 yards, yet still only came away with nine points going into halftime.


Red zone defense

This goes hand-in-hand with what I wrote above. But the defense did their job, at least for as long as they could. They only allowed the Patriots to get into the end zone twice in five trips inside their twenty.  


Safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer

The Bills held Tom Brady to “only” 258 yards passing and no touchdowns. Hyde and Poyer were heavily involved in keeping him from going over the top of them. Plus, they were the team’s two leading tacklers, combining for 22 total tackles. Hyde had ten solo tackles himself and created a big hit that caused a key incompletion.


Overall Running game

The Bills actually ran the ball well in this game. They just weren’t consistent enough in doing so. They finished with 183 yards on 26 carries for an average of 7.0 yards per-attempt. Every player who had a rushing attempt (LeSean McCoy, Tyord Taylor, Joe Webb, Travaris Cadet, Nathan Peterman) all averaged at least 5.5 yards per-carry.


Penalties

The Bills only committed three accepted penalties for 34-yards in this game.


THE BIG PICTURE
 

Well, here we are again. Another December and the Bills being “in the hunt” having to win out to break the longest postseason drought in North American professional sports. Well, most likely having to win out. 9-7 may still do it, but after other NFL results Sunday, it’s possible now that the only chance to make the playoffs is to go 10-6. The Bills are 6-6 right now.

The same issues we’ve seen come up with this team too many times already this season did again. Particularly, the inability to throw the ball, especially when down and needing to. They just don’t have a competent enough passing game to win at any consistent level in the NFL.  

I’m not absolving the defense, they got run on once again. But to hold Tom Brady to under 260 yards and no touchdowns, to sack him three times, and to hold the Patriots to nine measly points at the half is winning some big battles, and you’d think that should lead to winning the war. But they didn’t. For all intents and purposes, the war was lost not long into the second half when New England got to sixteen points. The Bills only had three, and you just had the feeling there was no way they were going to score enough. That’s a tough feeling to have.

This team has to do something about their offensive production, specifically in the passing game. They actually have three games (out of four) remaining where they might be favored to win. Home against the Colts and Dolphins and also at the Dolphins. They also still have to play the Patriots again, on the road.

The only real shot they have is to win those three games. It can be done. But it won’t if they can’t throw the ball like a 2017 NFL team. And now, we may see Nathan Peterman behind center again. Tyrod Taylor is injured and his status for next week is unknown. We could see an even worse passing performance. Or we could see a great turnaround story from that awful day in Los Angeles.

Either way, Tyrod or Nathan, it doesn’t matter. Whoever it is, along with offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, has to figure out how to move the ball through the air and start scoring points. Because as much as we’ve seen glimpses of it here or there this season, all it’s really been is Groundhog Day.

 

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