During school an in-semester break is never without a few homework assignments. The NFL season is no different when teams hit their bye week.
With the Buffalo Bills entering their latest bye week in the Sean McDermott era in Week 13, interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady and defensive line and assistant head coach Eric Washington spoke to the media about their takeaways from the first 12 weeks of the season and what they will working on during the break in preparation for the closing stretch of the 2023 regular season.
Offensive takeaway: Small mistakes have major ramifications
Quarterback Josh Allen played perhaps his best game of the season against Philadelphia, taking off to pick up first downs when necessary and making miraculous throws in key moments. But when it came down to the offense's final play, a miscommunication between Allen and receiver Gabe Davis lead to an incomplete pass in overtime and a field goal instead of a game-winning touchdown.
"Gabe's not at fault, Josh isn't at fault. As offensive coordinator I gotta put the blame on myself," Brady said on the play. "What can I do to put them in a better position to have success next time that when we get that opportunity that we can have a walk off in there."
Brady was also asked about running back James Cook, who dropped what might have been a touchdown in the first quarter. Cook did not see the field until two possessions later, when he played a key role in Buffalo's first touchdown drive.
Cook's absence led many fans and reporters to believe that it was a result of his early mistake, but Brady clarified that the drop wasn't the reason behind Latavius Murray and Ty Johnson seeing an increased role on the following drives.
"James not going in the next drive had nothing to do with the drop," Brady said. "That was just a product of the rotation I wanted. Me personally, I wanted to get the guys going, get Latavius going, get Ty, get Jimbo going early in the game. … I don't think it's right for a running back to go in there in the second half and get their first couple of touches.
I have the upmost confidence in Jimbo and he knows that, that's why we're featuring him on pass. I expect that if we call it again, he'll make that play."
Offensive homework assignment: Do enough to win games
Between his first two weeks as interim offensive coordinator, Joe Brady and the Bills offense have put up 66 points and nearly 900 total yards. However, what's important to Brady is that the Bills have gone 1-1 in that stretch instead of winning both games.
"We didn't win a football game," Brady said. "Our job is not to outgain the opposing team, our job is to outscore them. And whatever that means, on a week-to-week thing, whether we have to score 15 points, whether we have to score 50 points, whatever that is, it's going to be different. There's a way to win it. It's not about the success that we might have had, it's that we didn't win the football game and so whenever you lose that, and you got to look at yourself in the mirror and say, 'Hey, what could I have done better?' And, you know, that's what I think the rest of our offense is doing, me in particular."
The Bills will face some of the league's best defenses in the upcoming weeks with Kansas City, Dallas, New England and Miami in the top 10 in defensive yards allowed on average this season.
"I have to do a good job, we have to do a good job of figuring out how have the two games been played from a self-scout standpoint, you know, the Jets game and the Eagles game, but also just as a whole as an offense. I've been here [for the entire season] so it's unique from that standpoint. … We have to improve. Anytime you lose a football game, you have to figure out what we can do better."
Defensive takeaway: Von Miller is steadily progressing
Von Miller's impact in 2023 hasn't been overly apparent in the box score. Since returning in Week 5, Miller has logged two total tackles and a quarterback hit in his eight games back from a November 2022 ACL tear.
Washington emphasized the determination he has seen from Miller, a 34-year-old who already ranks among the best edge rushers of all time.
"I see a determined veteran who's working every day under circumstances that none of us can identify with in terms of coming off of that type of an injury, pushing himself probably earlier than most would prescribe as far as going back out into live NFL play. I see a veteran that has shown a lot of toughness, mental toughness, a lot of heart and a lot of leadership. And really a lot of sacrifice," Washington told reporters Tuesday morning.
While Miller has yet to record a sack, Washington gave an example of how the subtleties of Miller's game have made an impact on the pass rush.
"A couple of weeks ago, Von had a really sharp inside spin move – the same move that he used a year ago against Kansas City to get the quarterback down," Washington said. "That move came back for him. It was quick. It was sharp. He's in the quarterback's face and unfortunately the quarterback was able to get rid of the football … Those things won't show up in the scorer's column, they won't show up on the highlight reels but from a person that's evaluating every step that we take with every individual, those things are extremely positive and I'm encouraged by that."
Defensive homework assignment: Reduce the impact of a game's final play
Washington was asked about the Bills' trend of letting the last play of the game define the outcome. The Bills defense has been on the field in game-defining situations for the final plays of their games against the Giants (who failed to score despite reaching the Buffalo 1-yard line), Patriots (who scored a go-ahead touchdown with 12 seconds remaining), Buccaneers (who failed to connect on a Hail Mary), Bengals (who ran out the clock by running for a first down on their final series), Broncos (who ran the two-minute offense effectively to kick a walk-off field goal) and Eagles (who won in overtime thanks to a QB draw from Jalen Hurts).
For Washington, he will be spending the bye week looking at all four quarters of the game and how the defense can better set up opportunities for the offense to create separation on the scoreboard so that the final plays of games don't carry as much weight.
"I'm going to focus on the game in totality," Washington said. "To me there are circumstances that should not come down to the last play. If we're making plays, if we're doing things to prevent scores, to prevent explosive plays throughout the course of the ballgame, maybe we're in a different situation in the fourth quarter. Maybe we've got a two-score lead or three-score lead as opposed to the game coming down to the final play."
The Bills will resume their season when they take on the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium on December 10 at 4:25 p.m.