The Buffalo Bills have had to test their depth on the offensive line out of necessity this season. Cody Ford, Mitch Morse, and Jon Feliciano have all missed time with injuries, prompting starting roles for Ike Boettger and Brian Winters.
The mix-and-match nature of the season has left the coaching staff exploring various groupings. They found one they liked as of late and stuck with it against Arizona on Sunday: Dion Dawkins at left tackle, Boettger at left guard, Feliciano at center, Winters at right guard, and Daryl Williams at right tackle.
That left Morse – who was activated following a one-week absence stemming from a concussion – out of the lineup against the Cardinals. McDermott said Morse was healthy and referred to the absence as a coach's decision.
"We know Mitch is a good player and just felt like for that week, meaning last week, we felt like we had at least some momentum with the group we had had in when Mitch went down," McDermott said. "Wanted to take a look at it one more week there."
Added offensive coordinator Brian Daboll: "They've played a couple of games together, and that's the direction that we decided to go with last game. That doesn't mean anything for next week or the week after that. We just had some continuity going with those guys. They've done a good job in there together. And we'll see where we go from there."
Scroll through to see photos of all the action as the Bills take on the Cardinals at State Farm Stadium, presented by Imagine Staffing.
With Ford having practiced on a limited basis last week after sustaining an ankle injury against Seattle, the Bills could have their full stable of offensive linemen healthy for the first time this season when they come out of the bye week. That would offer a chance to establish continuity up front - though, as Daboll emphasized Monday, it would not take the emphasis away from depth and flexibility.
Feliciano moved to center from left guard during the first quarter of his season debut against New England, a move necessitated by the injury to Morse. Against Seattle, the Bills fielded seven different linemen after temporarily losing Winters and Williams to injuries.
"They've all got to be ready to go, as you've seen in a couple of those games where three guys had to play for certain guys who went down," Daboll said. "The guys we have out there active in a game, they've all got to be ready to go, know their assignments.
"We mix and match them during the week because you never know when you're going to have to use a particular guy at a particular position. Again, the five that we go with, but it's really the eight guys that are out there that really all have to be on pace with what we're doing."
Regarding Morse, McDermott said the lineup will be determined on a week-to-week basis.
"I really appreciate the way the guys have stayed resilient," he said. "It hasn't always been at the level we want it to be, but they've been working together on it and then we expect the same moving forward."
Here are more notes to take us into the bye week.
Focusing on the ground
The run game will be a point of emphasis on both sides of the ball going into the bye week. The offense has yet to find its footing on the ground on a consistent basis, with running backs Devin Singletary and Zack Moss having combined for just 35 yards on 11 carries against Arizona.
The Bills rank 25th in the NFL with an average of four yards per carry this season, an area McDermott and Daboll both said warrants evaluation in the upcoming week.
"We gotta do a deep dive this week and figure that part of our game out," McDermott said. "It certainly hasn't been good enough and for us to move forward as a football team and continue to evolve and grow and try to win the games that we have to win going forward here, we've got to make sure that we get that better."
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, meanwhile, pointed to stopping the run as one of two core tenets of his team's desired identity on defense along with forcing turnovers. The Bills have done the latter as of late, having tallied a combined six takeaways over the last two weeks, but allowed 217 rushing yards against the Cardinals.
"The same things that came up yesterday, it's been repeated for us," Frazier said. "Just being able to have good gap integrity, guys being where they're supposed to be, and then tackling better. We didn't tackle as well as we could have.
"… Tackling better and being gap sound are usually the ingredients for improving your run defense. Coming out of the bye, that's going to be our goal to be better as far as having gap integrity, staying in my gap, doing my job, my one-eleventh, and then making sure we get enough people around the football so we don't get some of the explosive runs that we've been getting of late."
Jackson impresses again
Frazier praised the performance of rookie cornerback Dane Jackson, who was thrust into the starting lineup on short notice for the second time this season. The first happened in Week 7 against the Jets, when Jackson started on the outside in his NFL debut and came away with an interception.
Jackson's role this time around was precipitated by Josh Norman's positive COVID-19 test on Saturday, which also made fellow corner Levi Wallace unavailable as a potential contact.
Jackson once again made standout plays, breaking up a pass to DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone on Arizona's first offensive possession and recovering a fumble in the third quarter.
"He had very few reps during practice because we were getting Josh back and then we were working Levi in and getting our rotation going," Frazier said. And so he got very little practice with the starting defense. All of a sudden, Saturday as we're headed to the airport we find out that Levi's not going to be able to play, Josh is not going to be able to play.
"… For Dane to go out and perform at the level that he did against some very, very good wide receivers, (was) very impressive."
Daboll breaks down Allen to Diggs
Before Hopkins hauled in the game-winning score Sunday, it appeared that Josh Allen's go-ahead touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs would be the top play on highlight reels come Monday morning. The play saw Allen deliver a strike under pressure from the 31-yard line to Diggs, who laid out to make the catch in the end zone.
Daboll revealed that the play had been installed specifically for Sunday's game and had been successful in practice, albeit on the other side of the end zone. He credited Allen and Diggs as well as Cole Beasley, who cut toward the sideline to draw a defender from Diggs underneath.
"We hadn't put it in all year," Daboll said. "We practiced it, threw it over to the right side in practice on Thursday. We hit it in the right corner. Not the exact same coverage, a little bit of a different coverage. But yeah, that's what it takes. It's to go out there and practice it. If it feels good, it looks good, we're going to try to call it."