Monday Morning Breakdown

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Eric Wood | 5 observations on the Bills as they prepare for a playoff run

Tre'Davious White 3rd quarter interception. Buffalo Bills vs Pittsburgh Steelers, December 15, 2019 at Heinz Field. Photo by Bill Wippert
Tre'Davious White 3rd quarter interception. Buffalo Bills vs Pittsburgh Steelers, December 15, 2019 at Heinz Field. Photo by Bill Wippert

1. Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane have officially changed the culture at One Bills Drive

There isn't enough you can say about the job that Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane have done. They are building this team and constructing it the right way. The two built through the draft rather than choosing short-term success and overpaying free agents or going out and making silly trades. The Bills have been diligent about their plan and they have stuck to it. They are being rewarded now by clinching a playoff berth in Week 15. Buffalo is sitting pretty as they look ahead to the upcoming draft and have $90 million in cap money to spend this offseason.

The attitude of the team and how they expect to win every game is another part of this culture. Last night's environment could have been too much for them and it wasn't. They haven't played in a Sunday Night Football game since 2007, the Steelers have played 30 times on that stage. The Bills hadn't won at Heinz Field ever and haven't won in Pittsburgh since 1975 and you would never know it based upon being down on the field during warmups. The team was ready to go and the moment wasn't too big for them. They stuck to executing their 1/11th.

I'm not shy about how much I appreciate Sean McDermott and his consistency on a day-to-day basis. After the first year, the offseason was full of moves that you want to pan out in a way that it helps the Bills build for success. They move on from Tyrod Taylor and get a new quarterback, so you have to hope that pick works out. Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby are traded, you want that to work out. Then there's my injury and Richie Incognito's retirement at the time. There was just so much going on and you knew year two would be tough but would come with growth as well. I am not surprised to see the growth of this organization in three years. Sean is the best leader I've ever been around. After the game, one of the first things McDermott says is there's still work to be done. That's why I love this group so much, they are not satisfied with making the playoffs, they want to win in the postseason.

2. Defense suffocates the Steelers

The defensive effort once again was unbelievable. They come off of a week where they hold the best offense in the NFL who was averaging 420 total yards per game to just 257 total yards. Buffalo follows it up with shutting down a team who was very hot, winning the last seven of eight games before suffering a loss to the Bills. The defense completely strangled the Steelers offense besides a few big pass plays and a couple runs. Where the Bills won the game was the turnover battle, they forced five including four interceptions. 

All season long the Bills defense has been near the top from a statistical standpoint, but in the last four or five weeks what they've been able to do from a sack perspective and now last night from a turnover perspective, that just takes it to a whole new level. Last night they had two red zone turnovers and were wiping out points left and right. Josh Allen has a pass intercepted that's intended for Cole Beasley and the defense takes it right back. It's plays like that, that win you December football games on the road on Sunday Night Football.

3. Offense opportunistic with key play calls

Starting at the very beginning of the game, the first two play calls are through the air and Josh Allen connects on both. I was thinking here comes Allen in a prime time situation, he's going to look a lot like he did on Thanksgiving against the Cowboys. He faced an excellent Steelers defense who is the fifth best in the NFL and leads the league in sacks and takeaways.

The offense wanted to be conservative from a playcalling standpoint and I could tell because they knew they didn't need to score 30 points last night to win. The offense truly just needed to outscore the Steelers, 11 points would have got it done. They stayed conservative and I think that's a smart move in a game like that where Buffalo's defense had such an advantage against the Steelers offense.

What I loved most about the offense last night was it seems like in the biggest moments they make the biggest plays, especially at the quarterback position. In the fourth quarter, in a tie game, Renegade by Styx is pounding through Heinz Field and here comes the Buffalo Bills. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll calls up a shot play-action play and Josh throws maybe his best go route ball of the season to John Brown. The very next play I like that they go right back to him because they were leaving him one-on-one. John Brown then makes an incredible play to defend the ball from the defensive back Steven Nelson. It's little plays like that which give Allen confidence to go back to Brown and throw a 50/50 ball knowing that an interception won't be the result. Josh's best throw of the night, maybe his most clutch all season, the Tyler Kroft touchdown on 3rd-and-9 to take the lead.

4. Looking ahead: Can the Bills make a run at the division title in New England?

The way both teams are playing right now, I think this will be a very competitive game in Foxboro. Buffalo can still make a run at the title. They need to win out and the Patriots need to lose the next two. There is definitely the most at stake for any game in Foxboro that I can remember for both sides. It's going to be a hard fought game, one with a great atmosphere on Saturday afternoon. All eyes again will be on the Buffalo Bills. Yes, the Bills are playing with some house money this time too. Their fate is sealed in that they are going to the playoffs. Now with the division on the line, it adds an interesting element. 

Can the Bills go to Foxboro and get a win? This is something that's extremely tough to do in December, but this seems to be the most vulnerable the Patriots have been. The Bills have to beat the Jets at home in Week 17. New England would have to lose their final game of the season against the Dolphins. Who knows, that could be the last game of Ryan Fitzpatrick's career. Maybe we will see a little magic come out one last time to help his former team possibly win the division. Nothing would make me happier this moment than a Week 18 game in Orchard Park.

5. Around the NFL: Bills are virtually locked into the fifth seed

The Bills have the fifth seed in the AFC Wild Card locked up at this point, that could change based on the next two weeks. Buffalo could possibly face the Texans or Titans. I was selfishly rooting for a Titans victory yesterday. I think the Bills match up a little better against Tennessee. I don't see the Titans offense having the same fire power as the Texans, even with how well Ryan Tannehill has been playing. Houston has a talented wide receiver corps and a great quarterback. Louisville to Nashville is also a better commute for me, just saying. 

It's looking like the Bills will head to Houston at this point and let me tell you that dome on a Sunday at 1:00 p.m. in a regular season game is already loud, I can't imagine what the atmosphere will be for a home playoff game. The Bills are playing January football regardless and it's fun to talk scenarios with two weeks left in the regular season.

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