RECAP: Buffalo Bills survive Turkey Day scare vs. DET

Maybe the Buffalo Bills need to play in Detroit more often!

The Bills escaped the jaws of defeat with a dramatic 28-25 victory over the Detroit Lions in their Week 12 clash. A dramatic, crazy, heart-attack-inducing game was not what Bills fans wanted on the menu for an early Thanksgiving, but the Bills managed to find a way to win, and to the victor go the spoils. Allen’s up-and-down performance ended with what will undoubtedly be one of the throws of the year, throwing a Death Star-type laser beam to Stefon Diggs and ultimately destroying whatever hopes the Lions had for a victory.

As usual, we will take a look at the two players who gave the most inspired performance, inquire about a part of the offense (again), explore a unit that requires a better performance, and inspect the most irksome performance of the day.

Inspire – Ed Oliver and Matt Milano:

Probably the easiest and most obvious statement today is that the Bills aren’t in this game without Ed Oliver and Matt Milano. That defensive duo made play after play for this Bills’ defense and kept a very good Lions’ offense mostly at bay. Oliver had several plays in the backfield, not the least of which was a safety on QB Jared Goff on a third-and-long situation. Milano played at his usual All-Pro level, making strong tackles and breaking up critical passes. Both Oliver and Milano had to step up in the absence of not only Von Miller (who left with a leg injury early in the game) but also Greg Rousseau and Tremaine Edmunds (whose absence is being felt more and more each week). Oliver and Milano have been playing phenomenal football all year defensively, and while it does not go unrecognized by Bills fans, it deserves national attention. Milano should be a first-team All-Pro with the season he’s had, and Oliver should be looking at a potential Pro Bowl nod, as well. Both have been stellar and will continue to be as the Bills get healthier down the stretch. 

Inquire – Run Game:

After finding great success against a very bad Browns’ run defense, the Bills seemed very insistent on throwing against a bad Lions defense. The Lions have a very bad defense overall, giving up plays on the ground and through the air, and with up-and-coming CB Jeff Okudah out with an injury, it made sense to attack the Lions through the air. That being said, the passing offense largely struggled and felt very inconsistent through most of the game. Some very late-game heroics by Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs certainly help make up for most of the offensive ineptitude, but it feels like the Bills are generally pretty successful running the ball when they want to. The problem has been that they don’t always seem like they want to, or commit to it when it’s working. This might not be a complaint if the passing offense were playing with more consistency, but at this point, it’s not, and when one punch isn’t landing, you have to be able to switch your moves and develop a counter. Right now that counter doesn’t feel like it’s coming with any sort of consistency. 

Require – Offensive Line:

Coming into the 2022 season, the Bills’ OL was expected to receive a boost in performance largely because of the addition of OL guru Aaron Kromer to the coaching staff. While some things have certainly gone their way, many things have not. The lack of development for Spencer Brown at RT is particularly concerning, as he was routinely beaten during this game by the Lions’ pass rush. The Bills were short-handed coming into this game with an injury to Mitch Morse forcing Ryan Bates into the starting position at center (with Greg Van Roten replacing Bates at RG). The challenge became even greater when Dion Dawkins left the game with an injury of his own and had to be replaced by David Quessenberry. While Quessenberry is not a bad player (and probably should be looked at to replace Spencer Brown for the foreseeable future) it still left the Bills in a tough spot.

Now all of that is a nice excuse for a below-average performance, in fact, most OL can’t play well without one or two starters in the lineup. But the Lions also faced a similar predicament with two of their starting OL being ruled out before the game started. The Lions still found a way to give Jared Goff time and a clean pocket to throw from more often than not. The Bills certainly had their plays on defense (as we already discussed the performance that Ed Oliver had today), but overall, the Bills should be more than capable of handling these sorts of injuries more effectively. In this game, they weren’t able to do that. In previous games, the starting OL has only felt above average at their peak, which might be good enough when your QB is playing well, but when he’s not, the chinks in the armor become exposed for a kill shot.

Irk – Ken Dorsey and Josh Allen:

Another week of Bills football, and another week of wondering what’s going on with the Bills’ offense. They are not bad, per se, as they are more than capable of putting up points and moving the ball effectively. It’s easy for people to try and pigeonhole it as either a Ken Dorsey problem or a Josh Allen problem (or if you’re feeling particularly contrarian, someone else’s fault) but the reality is that it’s a team problem. And when it’s a team problem, you start at the top, and that’s Allen and Dorsey.

For Dorsey, the sequencing of plays is strange, and it doesn’t always feel like plays are working in tandem with the next. In the red zone, Josh Allen’s interception could be partially credited to a very predictable RPO call that has become more than just a “staple” of their offense in the red zone; it’s become one of only a few answers Dorsey and the offense have in that area of the field.

As far as Allen goes, there are times throughout the season when he slumps as he has in the previous two seasons. To Allen’s credit, he has always emerged from that slump, played hot down the stretch, and been a big reason why the team has found success in the postseason. But things get a little dicey when you have a first-year play caller and a QB dealing with a UCL sprain. That being said, Allen’s struggles started before the UCL injury and have continued since. He seems to be pressing, panicking under pressure, and feeling ghosts when there aren’t. His physical gifts allow him to play a bit more chaotically because he can make plays that less gifted players cannot in those situations. In any case, Allen needs to do a better job of playing within the offense, and Dorsey needs to do a better job of keeping the offensive play calls in a better rhythm and taking some of the burden off Allen’s shoulders by running the ball more.

Some praise should be given to both as Dorsey made some excellent calls down the stretch, and Allen delivered a breath-taking throw to Diggs to set up the game-winning field goal, but that does not absolve either of their mistakes, and both need to start figuring out how they can help each other out moving forward.

The Bills get a much-needed week off before playing yet another Thursday game. The Bills will be playing the New England Patriots Thursday, December 1st, at 8:15 PM. While most teams get the benefit of having 10 days off after a Thursday game, the Bills get to do it on back-to-back weeks and then they’ll receive their 10-day respite. There is hope that the Bills’ injury report will be shrinking with guys like Rousseau and Edmunds hopefully returning to the lineup, and hopefully Tre’Davious White will see his snap count increase as he played today for only two series. Overall the Bills will face a tough challenge against a well-coached Patriots team, but the Patriots are certainly flawed, and the Bills will need to simply find a way to notch their first divisional win of the 2022 season. 

Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks for reading as always.