As the Bills prepare for their road game against the Cincinnati Bengals next Sunday, we have reached the unofficial halfway point of the 2023 NFL season.
The Bills are 5-3 and second in the AFC East to the Miami Dolphins, who Buffalo beat handily in Week 4. However the team that defeated the Dolphins and the team that will travel to Ohio look a bit different. Losing linebacker Matt Milano, cornerback Tre'Davious White and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones has forced the Bills to adapt on the defensive side of the ball.
Multiple defenders have stepped up to fill the holes left behind by the injured veterans.
On offense, quarterback Josh Allen continues to show that he is one of the league's best at the position. No player has more total touchdowns than Allen, whose 71.7 completion percentage would be the best of his career were the season over today.
With a few new weapons, the Bills offense looks significantly different than it did last year. The selection of rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid has allowed the Bills to increase their usage of two tight end packages. Running back James Cook has become an integral part of both the Bills passing and rushing attack.
While there have been many new faces that have made their names known throughout Western New York in the first eight weeks of the season, seasoned veterans like Stefon Diggs, who is in his fourth season in Buffalo, are having career years.
Here's a non-exhaustive look into some of the Bills offensive skill position players and defenders who have made the biggest impact so far this season.
Terrel Bernard, middle linebacker
Terrel Bernard only played 110 snaps in his rookie season, racking up 23 tackles between the regular season and postseason. After the departure of linebacker Tremaine Edmunds – who signed with the Chicago Bears in free agency – the Bills entered training camp in 2023 in search of a starting middle linebacker.
Tyrel Dodson and Bernard emerged as the top two candidates for the starting spot, with Bernard eventually earning the job.
"I love his instincts, his command of our defense continues to grow," McDermott said about Bernard during training camp. "He gets better every day. He makes mistakes, we all make mistakes, but he just loves to learn and grow and you can see that in his approach on a daily basis."
Individually, Bernard has had a standout performance in his first eight games, racking up two sacks, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries. No other player in football has multiple sacks, interceptions and fumble recoveries.
His performance has led to him playing a significant leadership role on one of the top defenses in football.
"Having the trust of your teammates and the coaches and really just everyone around you, that's what makes the game so special and has made it so much more fun just being around, being in the mix and being able to make plays and doing what I can to help the team win," Bernard said on Inside the Charge.
After Milano's injury, Bernard now has the most NFL starts under his belt as Dodson and rookie linebacker Dorian Williams work their way into the starting lineup.
"He's a young player himself, so he's going to have the added challenge now building that rapport that he was starting to build with Matt, and now he'll need to build it with the other two guys here in quick fashion," McDermott said after the Jaguars game. "I'm very confident in him and his ability to do that, as well as their ability to work alongside (Bernard)."
Leonard Floyd, defensive end
Keeping with the defense, one of the best free agent signings the Bills made in the offseason was the addition of defensive end/edge rusher Leonard Floyd.
Floyd, an eight-year veteran who spent time with the Bears and won a Super Bowl with the Rams, is on pace to set a new career-high in sacks in a single season. He leads the team with 6.5 so far this season, and almost had another one on Thursday before Tampa Bay quarterback Baker Mayfield slipped out of his grasp.
"Leonard's been a good addition. He plays with good energy and he's relentless in his efforts in terms of trying to get to the quarterback," McDermott said after Thursday's win.
With three-time first-team All-Pro Von Miller recovering from a torn ACL suffered in November 2022, Floyd's excellent first half of the season made up for the former Super Bowl MVP's absence.
Miller is working his way back into the fold on defense, seeing his snap share increase to 40 percent Thursday night, the highest it has been all season.
Floyd, like Miller, has consistently put together strong seasons as a pass rusher. He has already had two games with at least one sack and is a key reason behind the Bills' 28 sacks this season, trailing only the Baltimore Ravens.
"He's just a really edgy guy, doesn't think he should ever be blocked," said defensive line and assistant head coach Eric Washington. "I mean, he gets pissed off if he's blocked, he doesn't think he should ever be blocked or stalled as a pass rusher. I absolutely love that, he's got a lot of pride in how he performs."
With Miller returning to form and DE Greg Rousseau coming off of a career year in 2022, the Bills pass rush is in good hands with the addition of Floyd.
Stefon Diggs, wide receiver
In the early years of his career, Stefon Diggs showed that he could produce at an elite level. Since reaching 1,021 receiving yards in the 2018 season, Diggs has been nothing short of one of the best receivers in the NFL.
This season, he's primed to have his best year yet.
With nine regular season games remaining, Diggs has 748 receiving yards off 64 receptions, adding six touchdowns.
Pending Sunday's results, Diggs leads the league in receptions, has the second-most receiving touchdowns, is fourth in yards and has the most targets out of any receivers.
Diggs and Allen have been one of the best quarterback-receiver duos since Diggs got to Buffalo. Per Next Gen Stats, Diggs 562 targets and 393 completions from Allen are the most in the NFL since Diggs' first season in blue and red. His 4,867 yards and 35 receiving touchdowns are the second-most in that timespan.
"Just him taking onus on the offense that, he is the quarterback, I can see the focus, I can see the grind," Diggs said before the season. "So as a receiver, all you want to do is follow suit right behind him."
In the Bills' biggest game of the season against a 3-0 Dolphins team fresh off of a 70-point performance the week before, Diggs had a career game, scoring three touchdowns off of just six receptions.
"Big-time players have big-time games in these type of settings, right?" McDermott said after the Bills 48-20 win. "Complementary football is important, like it's a team win, but your star players have to play at star levels in these games. And that's a weekly thing, and [Allen and Diggs] played at that level this afternoon."
In addition to his on-field contributions, Diggs is a key leader on the Bills sideline. Voted captain in each of the last three seasons, the 29-year-old receiver motivates his teammates to get as juiced up for a Wednesday practice as well as a primetime game.
"He's a lot of our juice on the sideline, making sure the offense is staying up and as energized as possible and we feed off off that," Allen said before the Bills took on the Giants earlier this month. "He's a captain for a reason."
James Cook, running back
After sharing the backfield with running back Devin Singletary last season, James Cook has emerged as the lead back in the Bills offense. The quiet 5-foot-11 running back has a booming presence on the field.
Cook has gone for over 100 all-purpose yards three times this season, becoming an important part of the Bills passing attack in addition to his work in the backfield. Cook's ability to drive his feet through contact and make quick cuts to gain extra yards has led to him being on the field for roughly 56 percent of Buffalo's offensive plays.
The running back is focused on contributing to the team in any way possible and won't boast of his individual accomplishments.
"It was good to just make plays, just making plays for my team and we got the win," Cook said after the Bills beat the Raiders in Week 2.
While Cook might not verbalize his importance to the offense, McDermott is well aware of the impact the 24-year-old has when he's on the field.
"When he first came here, he was very quiet – and he still is rather quiet," McDermott said earlier in the season. "But inside of that quiet personality is a phenomenal young man that I've been pleased and honored to be around watching him grow on and off the field. And now what we're seeing on the field is when he puts his mind to it, he can really run the ball."
As Cook continues to develop, McDermott said that is time on the field will increase.
"It's clear that James wants to carry even more of the load, and that'll come over the course of time with continued high level of play, like he's shown at times this year."
Diggs, who Cook has said is one of his closer friends on the team, said that Cook was an "introvert" who is focused on improving his game.
"He's kind of hard on himself," Diggs said. "He's a baller."
With 4.8 yards per attempt, Cook is tied with Christian McCaffrey as the ninth-most efficient running back in the league. Cook is efficient in the pass game, averaging 10.7 yards per catch and serving as a viable checkdown option for Allen.
Dalton Kincaid, tight end
With the 25th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills selected tight end Dalton Kincaid out of the University of Utah.
Prior to the season, the Bills raved about his ability to run after the catch and catch anything thrown his way. The 24-year-old averaged 13.2 yards per catch while at Utah, but started his college career at the University of San Diego. Amazingly, the first-team All-Pac-12 tight end didn’t start playing football until his senior year of high school.
Kincaid's introduction to the Bills roster meant Buffalo suddenly had a wealth at the tight end position. With Dawson Knox, who scored six touchdowns last season, and a reliable back-up in Quintin Morris, the Bills offense has been able to employ 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends) at one of the highest rates in the league.
Already, the young tight end has 30 receptions for 258 yards, 99 of which were after the catch. On Thursday, Kincaid scored the first touchdown of his short career to put the Bills ahead permanently over the Bucs.
Since training camp, Kincaid has meshed well with all members of the Buffalo Bills.
"He's super lit, bro. He's a good kid," said left tackle Dion Dawkins. "The more and more that I'm around him, the more and more his personality comes out. I appreciate him that he will actually sit and have a conversation with you. … The day before pads, he mentioned, like, 'Man, I can't wait to have this down block," and I was like, 'Have you ever even hit an NFL defensive linemen with pads on yet?' He was like, 'Now that I think about it, no.'"
Now, Kincaid has hit his fair share of NFL defenders, and with Knox out for at least three more games, he will continue to be just as valuable in the run game as he has been in the passing attack.
"He's an extremely instinctual player," said offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey the day after the Bills' win over the Bucs. "He's got a great feel for the game … yes, those catches and everything are huge, but when you look at him in the run game, as a blocker, he's been battling, doing a lot of good things for us in the run game as well as a blocker. So when you look at him as a complete tight end, he's doing a lot of things in that fashion."