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NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 2

08 Jan

This is part 2 of our four-part series dissecting the just-completed 2018 Buffalo Bills’ season. In this section, we’ll examine, position by position, the team’s offense, which was a major anchor on any chance of team success. Here’s our assessment:

Quarterbacks

 

From opening day until the season’s completion, the quarterback position underwent a complete overhaul in 2018. Not even counting the trading of Tyrod Taylor before the season, the QB room at season’s end looks nothing like it did at the beginning. A.J. McCarron, signed as a free agent to mentor rookie Josh Allen, failed in that role and also failed to win the starting job he was expected to, so the Bills cut bait on him and traded him to Oakland. Nate Peterman actually won the job in the preseason and the plan was to play him while Allen sat and learned. Peterman totally washed out, was waived and Allen took the reins sooner than expected. He had an up and down year but showed continued progress as the year went on and looks to be ready to take major strides in 2019. More importantly, GM Brandon Beane finally got the quarterback order right, bringing in seasoned veterans Derek Anderson and Matt Barkley in-season to mentor Allen. Both Anderson and Barkley have signed extensions to stay with the team, so, entering 2019, for the first time in years, the Bills’ QB situation appears to be stable.

 

Running Backs

 

The failure of the rushing attack was a major disappointment in 2018, resulting in the firing of running game coordinator/offensive line coach Juan Castillo. LeSean McCoy, really through no fault of his own, had the worst season of his pro career. Also, there was little effort to include McCoy in the passing attack, where he can be a dangerous weapon. Fullback Pat DiMarco is little used as a runner but his blocking ability is still valuable. The Bills insist McCoy is part of their plans for next season, and he can be a force to reckon with if the team can improve it’s offensive line play. The backups here are fairly dependable if not spectacular. Chris Ivory is a good short yardage power back, and Marcus Murphy can contribute, although he had injury issues this season. Keith Ford didn’t show much after being promoted from the practice squad for the last few games, and was even inactive for the finale. Taiwan Jones will return after finishing the year on injured reserve, but he’s almost strictly a special teamer. The Bills almost certainly, whether they keep McCoy or not, will look to upgrade the running back stable in the off-season.

 

Receivers

 

Just like the quarterback position, the wide receiver spot changed dramatically as the season progressed. The Bills parted ways with Kelvin Benjamin, a big target with little appetite for fighting for contested balls or even catching easy ones. They also released Andre Holmes, an aging veteran whose main contribution was on special teams. They infused the receiving corps with some youth and speed by signing Isiah McKenzie from Denver’s practice squad and promoting undrafted free agent Robert Foster from their own practice squad. Both helped Allen put some life in the passing game, especially Foster, who emerged as a major deep threat. McKenzie made most of his noise on jet sweeps in the running attack but also had his moments as a receiver. His production waned a bit at the end of the season but he certainly earned a chance to battle for a 2019 roster spot. Zay Jones progressed nicely as the year went on, developing a good chemistry with Allen and showing he will be a big part of the team’s future plans. He does need to work on being a more consistent performer, so 2019 will be a big year for him. The rest of Buffalo’s receiving corps consists of 30 year old free agent to be Deonte Thompson, a stop-gap fringe player who won’t be back, late round draft pick Ray Ray McCloud, who wasn’t much of a factor, and a group of street free agent signees that includes Victor Bolden, Da’Marri Scott, Cam Phillips and Tanner McEvoy. Is there another hidden gem among this group? McEvoy stands out in that he has some past NFL experience, including on special teams, where these guys will have to earn their way onto the roster. The Bills also recently took a flyer on a player who is the top receiver in the Canadian Football League, signing D’haqille “Duke” Williams for next season. He had a troubled college career at Auburn but apparently cleaned up his act while playing up north for the Edmonton Eskimos. At tight end, the pickings are even more slim. Veteran Charles Clay has been a big disappointment, to the point that he was a healthy inactive at the end of the season. He is an almost certain candidate to follow in Benjamin’s footsteps and be released. The only other players at this position are developing projects – Jason Croom, who shows the most promise, Logan Thomas, a converted quarterback who flashed signs of progress at times but was a penalty liability on special teams, and practice squad members Kyle Carter and Keith Towbridge. This is another position that sorely needs an upgrade if Josh Allen is going to be able to continue on an upward trend in his development.

 

Offensive Line

 

This is an area of the team that is in the most need of improvement of any position group, through positive progression of young players and the addition of better options through the draft or free agency. OL coach Juan Castillo was fired shortly after season’s end so the team clearly sees a need for not only better play on the line but better coaching/teaching also. Looking across the team’s line, there is need for improvement at every position. Left tackle Dion Dawkins, who had a solid rookie season in 2017, regressed this past season. The team has to decide whether he needs better coaching or if he needs to be moved over to right tackle and a better option found to man the left side. Rookie Wyatt Teller displaced Vlad Ducasse at left guard as the season wore on, and he showed enough promise there to be expected to hold down the job, especially if a better line coach is brought in to speed his development. Free agent Russell Bodine, signed to replace Eric Wood after a neck injury forced him to retire, wasn’t anything spectacular and ended up the year on IR. Backup Ryan Groy is a free agent, as are the other starters on the right side, guard John Miller and tackle Jordan Mills. We can easily see the team moving on from all 3 of them to try and upgrade the offensive line play and depth. The line play was so inconsistent in 2018 that the backups got plenty of opportunity to show what they had to offer at various times. Ducasse, for one, likely played his way off the roster. He was a healthy inactive late in the year, a clear signal the team is ready to move on from him. Jeremiah Sirles saw playing time at guard and tackle and also as an extra lineman on running downs. He is also a free agent, and it’ll be interesting to see if the coaches thought enough of the versatility he showed to bring him back. Conor McDermott has been a fringe player as a backup guard/tackle for a couple of seasons now, and will be in a major battle to hold his spot again in training camp. Ike Boettger fought his way into the lineup at the end of the season also, putting himself in position to earn a spot next year. There’s one lineman on the practice squad, Andrew Lauderdale, who also figures in the mix. There really is not one standout player among the offensive linemen on the roster, so the Bills will clearly be adding new faces to this group entering 2019.

 
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