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Top 10 things we've learned about the Bills at midseason

Posted Nov 5, 2017

The Bills are eight games into their first season under head coach Sean McDermott and there’s a lot more that we know about this team than we did back in early September. Below we take a look at what we’ve learned about the 2017 version of the Bills.

1 - Results at home and on the road still in stark contrast
The Thursday night stinker aside, the Bills haven’t played poorly on the road. Their play has just been uneven. The Carolina game in Week 2 was an offensive struggle, while the Week 4 win at Atlanta was a total team victory.

Meanwhile their play at home has been noticeably better on the whole. Eleven of their 17 takeaways have come in home games and their point production in home games is close to double what it is on the road. In four road games Buffalo averages 15.2 points per game. At home they average 27.7.

These factors largely explain why the Bills are a perfect 4-0 at home and 1-3 in road games. The home field dominance is fine, their play just has to be more consistent in away venues.

2 - Defense continues to evolve
If one wants to put a label on Buffalo’s new look defense this season it would be opportunistic. The Bills still lead the league heading into today’s slate of NFL games with 17 takeaways. Their turnover margin has been a major factor in their 5-3 record, but this is clearly a defense that is still evolving.

Their pass rush got off to a fast start, but has since leveled off. With some premier quarterbacks on the horizon, who don’t take many sacks, a spike in production might not be coming in the near future.

Their run defense has been solid, ranked in the top 10 the first half of the season until Thursday night’s 194 rushing yards against compromised that.

Their pass defense had been strong at the start, but gave up a stretch of three straight 300-yard passing games in Weeks 6-8.

There’s budding talent on that side of the ball and all the new pieces are jelling, but it’s still too early to know what the true identity of this defense will be going forward.

3 - Charles Clay can be a primary weapon
Before he was sidelined with a knee injury that required surgery after Week 5, Charles Clay proved he could be a top option in Buffalo’s passing attack. He was leading the team in receiving yards before the injury and only LeSean McCoy had more receptions.

With a good chance to return to the lineup in Week 10 against New Orleans, Clay is a weapon that Tyrod Taylor trusts implicitly and can be a difference maker going forward.

4 – Wide receiver a position to watch
What was seen as a position in transition at the outset of the season, wide receiver could now be the most dynamic on the roster. The recent addition of Deonte Thompson has provided a speed threat, and the trade for Kelvin Benjamin provides a number one receiving target that did not previously exist.

Benjamin’s presence in the lineup should have a trickle-down effect, giving Jordan Matthews the comfort of working almost solely out of the slot and Zay Jones more favorable matchups against opponents’ number three corner, not one of their top two.  

Buffalo’s passing game may not be a juggernaut, but there are now playmaking options out wide if and when the Bills have to lean on their passing game a bit more based on time and score in games.

5 – Run game still looking for consistency
Coming out of the bye week, the Bills run game looked to be back on track, but they ran into a buzz saw against the Jets on Thursday night. The offensive unit has made strides with the coaching staff by incorporating a mix of their traditionally successful inside zone runs with their outside zone stretch scheme.

But settling into a consistent plan with the ground game and dictating to opponents what they’ll run, like they did the past two seasons, rather than adjusting to their opponents might serve them best going forward.

LeSean McCoy is still a dangerous threat every time he touches the ball, but more consistency from the men up front has to happen to put McCoy in the best position to succeed.

6 – Taylor advancing his game under Dennison
Tyrod Taylor’s relationship with offensive coordinator Rick Dennison is the strongest we’ve seen at the quarterback position since perhaps Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chan Gailey. Taylor and Dennison have a healthy give and take for what works for their offense and they aren’t afraid to adjust on the fly.

Taylor’s completion percentage is just over 65 percent, which would be a career high for a season if he can sustain it. The Bills QB is making plays more consistently from the pocket, which has been aided by an offensive system predicated on higher percentage throws.

Through the first half of the season we’ve witnessed some of Taylor’s most consistent decision making as evidenced by his 5:1 touchdown to interception ratio, which would also be a single-season career best if the second half of the season proves as efficient as the first. He’s also number one in the league in passer rating facing blitz situations with a mark of 132.8.

7 – Rookies making an impact
Buffalo’s 2017 draft class has shown that the pro game is not too big for them. Yes, there have been some ups and downs, but the rookies, to a man, have had the right mindset to push through setbacks.

Tre’Davious White has had a short-term memory when matched up with some of the best receivers in the league and has been among the league leaders in pass breakups.

Zay Jones hopefully doesn’t have a serious leg injury and can continue to make progress as he has nine receptions in his last two games and has the same amount of receiving yards in his last two games as he had in his first six.

Dion Dawkins held down the blind side at left tackle when Cordy Glenn was recovering from foot and ankle injuries and has even spelled Richie Incognito at left guard.

Matt Milano made big plays when he replaced Ramon Humber in the starting lineup at linebacker with a pair of takeaways in two starts, including a fumble return for a touchdown.

Tanner Vallejo has been a constant on special teams and Nate Peterman is entrusted with the backup quarterback role.

8 – Slow starts need fixing
If there has been one constant that need fixing in games for the Bills it’s slow starts. Buffalo has just six points scored in the first quarter in their eight games so far this season. That ranks last in the league.

The Bills have managed just a field goal on their eight opening possessions in games this year. They’ve often put their defense in a position where they must hold the opponent off the scoreboard or to field goals until the offense can find its groove.

The situation hasn’t been much better coming out of the locker room after halftime. Buffalo has just seven points to show for their first offensive possessions of the second half in their eight games. That ranks 25th in the NFL.

The offense and the coaching staff must come up with more effective ways to set the tone at the start of games and coming out of the locker room after halftime. An approach or plan that leads to more consistent execution and points on the board. This will make them less reliant on takeaways for extra possessions to put up points.

9 – End zone celebrations can be fun
Whether it’s LeSean McCoy letting his offensive linemen do the spiking after touchdowns, Jordan Matthews fixing his imaginary gaming system or Zay Jones using the force to win a light saber battle with Andre Holmes, the league’s relaxed end zone celebration rules have led to some entertaining creativity.

10 – The process is working
Head coach Sean McDermott has been resolute in his commitment to a process that he believes caters to consistent winning. It’s clearly not for everybody. That’s why the front office had no hesitation in trading away some of the roster’s most talented players in exchange for players that fit the characteristics McDermott and his coaching staff need.

The locker room might be the strongest it has been in terms of unity and mental toughness since the AFC title years.

The trades and transactions pulled off by GM Brandon Beane reinforce that the club is committed not only to winning in the future, but winning now as well.