Josh Allen’s midseason growing pains have yielded battle-tested Bills – FOX Sports

Sometimes it helps to lose. It really does. It sounds cliché, but losing can create an urgency — and a sense of controlled panic — that a team needs to make small and necessary changes.

Sometimes it helps for a really good NFL team to receive a reminder that it’s not great — not yet.

The Buffalo Bills (9-3) seemed like the NFL’s best team after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6. The Bills, however, crumbled later with losses to the New York Jets and the Minnesota Vikings. They weren’t lopsided games. Buffalo competed to the very last drive. But the Bills lost and got a good look at what they weren’t doing well.

The offense, which was supposed to be their strength, looked labored. It looked overly reliant upon Josh Allen‘s legs and Stefon Diggs. They carried the offense.

The thing about some teams — however — is they cannot adapt. They can’t go back to the drawing board to fix their mistakes, because they don’t have the ability to fix them. The Bills have a chance to prove they’ve fixed those mistakes. They will see the Jets again this week. They will see the Miami Dolphins, who delivered the Bills’ third loss, in Week 15. For good measure, Buffalo will play at Cincinnati in Week 17 and at New England in Week 18. 

A slip-up could cost the Bills the division. 

And while this might be the toughest stretch of the Bills’ schedule, they are more prepared to hold their lead in the AFC East — because of their losses.

There have been a few players stepping up to help Allen. 

“Josh is a guy that could and does carry this team,” running back Devin Singletary told FOX Sports. “We definitely let him know, like, ‘Bro, you’re not here alone. We’ve got you. We want to win as bad as you. So let us help you in any way we can, just take some of this pressure off you, so you don’t have to play hero ball.'”

In the running back room, Singletary has lifted the load. But not by himself. He has recently gotten help. Rookie running back James Cook has lifted the load, with a few impressive performances over the past two weeks.

“He did a great job catching balls out of the backfield … He’s running hard. He’s got great vision,” offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey said of Cook during a virtual press conference on Monday. “He’s been able to do a lot of things for us that complete backs need to do in this league, and he’s really continued to evolve.”

Add in midseason trade acquisition Nyheim Hines and the Bills have more running backs than they know what to do with. In fact, they started putting two backs on the field during their Week 12 matchup against the Patriots.

“I really feel like we’ve got a bunch of guys in that room that you feel great about — that can come in and play for you at any time,” Dorsey said. “I think the balance with which they’ve played helps those guys be fresh and gives us different dimensions.”

If there is any graphic that showed the Bills needed improvement in the run game, it’s the one above. In September, Buffalo was off the charts throwing the ball. But the Bills were simultaneously one of the least efficient teams running the ball. They are now 17th in rushing DVOA, an advanced metric used to measure overall efficiency, per Football Outsiders. And over the past three weeks, their rushing DVOA has been 10th. They’re on the upswing.

“You can’t win without running the ball,” receiver Isaiah McKenzie told FOX Sports. “These last few weeks are working for us very well. So we’ll keep that up. And then, you know, with the pass game, the sky’s the limit for us.”

Even the passing game looked a bit singular in the team’s more turbulent weeks. Allen looked fixated upon getting the ball to Diggs. McKenzie, Cook, tight end Dawson Knox and receiver Gabe Davis saw their production decline. But Allen and Dorsey seem to have emphasized distributing the ball to all their skill players over the past few weeks. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Bills are learning to rely upon more of their offensive skill players.

“We can take some pressure off him,” McKenzie said, “with the run game and him just throwing us the ball. So he could just relax.”

That’s the ideal, right? A relaxed Allen. There was that three-week span when Allen seemed to be pressing. He was running like crazy (and taking hits that should have made Buffalo nervous). He also threw six interceptions in three weeks, including one per game in the red zone. One of them cost the Bills a win, with Allen throwing an interception in overtime against Minnesota. The singularity of the offense was dragging down what had been, briefly, the best passing unit in the NFL.

By getting more players involved, the offense has suffered growing pains. But now that they’re figuring out how to use different players, the Bills are finding different ways to win. And that includes the defense, which has been consistently one of the top five units in the NFL. Buffalo’s defense is currently ranked No. 4 in DVOA.

Take a look at two Bills linebackers: Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. They’re both in the top 25 among linebackers, per Pro Football Focus. Edmunds is seventh and Milano is 23rd.

“They are not at the peak of their performance. They are still improving. So it’s great to see,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “I think Matt and Tremaine — no matter what position they’re in — they would be successful at the linebacker position. … They really help our system be what it is because of their athletic ability and intangibles they bring to the position.”

If the Bills linebackers continued to get better, it would be an embarrassment of riches, given their front-seven is stacked so thoroughly that players like A.J. Epenesa and Gregory Rousseau — both first-round picks who have delivered upon their pre-draft hype — are rotational players.

Like the passing offense improving, the front-seven could see more upside around their young core — especially in the absence of Von Miller, who’s out for the season after ACL surgery on Tuesday. Without him, those youngsters should get more playing time. They’ll develop at a faster clip.

But what about the Bills’ weakness on defense? That’s probably at cornerback, where they had an answer all along. The team’s No. 1 option, Tre’Davious White, just returned from an ACL injury. He increased his snap count from 16 plays in his return in Week 12 to 33 in his second game in Week 13. And his PFF grade increased in that span from 66.1 to 69.8.

“His cover ability, his tackling — everything about what he did only raised our confidence level while watching him play, so we’re excited about his growth and the things that he was able to accomplish in that ballgame on Thursday night,” Frazier said. “We look forward to more.”

The Bills have focused not only upon winning games but also upon building a deeper and more diverse set of ways to win. That runs in contrast with a team like the Dolphins, who seem to have a set recipe for winning that seems to either work — or break. Or the Patriots, who have yet to find a recipe for winning. 

The Bills have many. And while they have lost a few games in the process of figuring out what works and what doesn’t, they’re better for it.

Top stories from FOX Sports:

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.


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Josh Allen’s midseason growing pains have yielded battle-tested Bills – FOX Sports

Sometimes it helps to lose. It really does. It sounds cliché, but losing can create an urgency — and a sense of controlled panic — that a team needs to make small and necessary changes.

Sometimes it helps for a really good NFL team to receive a reminder that it’s not great — not yet.

The Buffalo Bills (9-3) seemed like the NFL’s best team after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6. The Bills, however, crumbled later with losses to the New York Jets and the Minnesota Vikings. They weren’t lopsided games. Buffalo competed to the very last drive. But the Bills lost and got a good look at what they weren’t doing well.

The offense, which was supposed to be their strength, looked labored. It looked overly reliant upon Josh Allen‘s legs and Stefon Diggs. They carried the offense.

The thing about some teams — however — is they cannot adapt. They can’t go back to the drawing board to fix their mistakes, because they don’t have the ability to fix them. The Bills have a chance to prove they’ve fixed those mistakes. They will see the Jets again this week. They will see the Miami Dolphins, who delivered the Bills’ third loss, in Week 15. For good measure, Buffalo will play at Cincinnati in Week 17 and at New England in Week 18. 

A slip-up could cost the Bills the division. 

And while this might be the toughest stretch of the Bills’ schedule, they are more prepared to hold their lead in the AFC East — because of their losses.

There have been a few players stepping up to help Allen. 

“Josh is a guy that could and does carry this team,” running back Devin Singletary told FOX Sports. “We definitely let him know, like, ‘Bro, you’re not here alone. We’ve got you. We want to win as bad as you. So let us help you in any way we can, just take some of this pressure off you, so you don’t have to play hero ball.'”

In the running back room, Singletary has lifted the load. But not by himself. He has recently gotten help. Rookie running back James Cook has lifted the load, with a few impressive performances over the past two weeks.

“He did a great job catching balls out of the backfield … He’s running hard. He’s got great vision,” offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey said of Cook during a virtual press conference on Monday. “He’s been able to do a lot of things for us that complete backs need to do in this league, and he’s really continued to evolve.”

Add in midseason trade acquisition Nyheim Hines and the Bills have more running backs than they know what to do with. In fact, they started putting two backs on the field during their Week 12 matchup against the Patriots.

“I really feel like we’ve got a bunch of guys in that room that you feel great about — that can come in and play for you at any time,” Dorsey said. “I think the balance with which they’ve played helps those guys be fresh and gives us different dimensions.”

If there is any graphic that showed the Bills needed improvement in the run game, it’s the one above. In September, Buffalo was off the charts throwing the ball. But the Bills were simultaneously one of the least efficient teams running the ball. They are now 17th in rushing DVOA, an advanced metric used to measure overall efficiency, per Football Outsiders. And over the past three weeks, their rushing DVOA has been 10th. They’re on the upswing.

“You can’t win without running the ball,” receiver Isaiah McKenzie told FOX Sports. “These last few weeks are working for us very well. So we’ll keep that up. And then, you know, with the pass game, the sky’s the limit for us.”

Even the passing game looked a bit singular in the team’s more turbulent weeks. Allen looked fixated upon getting the ball to Diggs. McKenzie, Cook, tight end Dawson Knox and receiver Gabe Davis saw their production decline. But Allen and Dorsey seem to have emphasized distributing the ball to all their skill players over the past few weeks. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Bills are learning to rely upon more of their offensive skill players.

“We can take some pressure off him,” McKenzie said, “with the run game and him just throwing us the ball. So he could just relax.”

That’s the ideal, right? A relaxed Allen. There was that three-week span when Allen seemed to be pressing. He was running like crazy (and taking hits that should have made Buffalo nervous). He also threw six interceptions in three weeks, including one per game in the red zone. One of them cost the Bills a win, with Allen throwing an interception in overtime against Minnesota. The singularity of the offense was dragging down what had been, briefly, the best passing unit in the NFL.

By getting more players involved, the offense has suffered growing pains. But now that they’re figuring out how to use different players, the Bills are finding different ways to win. And that includes the defense, which has been consistently one of the top five units in the NFL. Buffalo’s defense is currently ranked No. 4 in DVOA.

Take a look at two Bills linebackers: Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. They’re both in the top 25 among linebackers, per Pro Football Focus. Edmunds is seventh and Milano is 23rd.

“They are not at the peak of their performance. They are still improving. So it’s great to see,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “I think Matt and Tremaine — no matter what position they’re in — they would be successful at the linebacker position. … They really help our system be what it is because of their athletic ability and intangibles they bring to the position.”

If the Bills linebackers continued to get better, it would be an embarrassment of riches, given their front-seven is stacked so thoroughly that players like A.J. Epenesa and Gregory Rousseau — both first-round picks who have delivered upon their pre-draft hype — are rotational players.

Like the passing offense improving, the front-seven could see more upside around their young core — especially in the absence of Von Miller, who’s out for the season after ACL surgery on Tuesday. Without him, those youngsters should get more playing time. They’ll develop at a faster clip.

But what about the Bills’ weakness on defense? That’s probably at cornerback, where they had an answer all along. The team’s No. 1 option, Tre’Davious White, just returned from an ACL injury. He increased his snap count from 16 plays in his return in Week 12 to 33 in his second game in Week 13. And his PFF grade increased in that span from 66.1 to 69.8.

“His cover ability, his tackling — everything about what he did only raised our confidence level while watching him play, so we’re excited about his growth and the things that he was able to accomplish in that ballgame on Thursday night,” Frazier said. “We look forward to more.”

The Bills have focused not only upon winning games but also upon building a deeper and more diverse set of ways to win. That runs in contrast with a team like the Dolphins, who seem to have a set recipe for winning that seems to either work — or break. Or the Patriots, who have yet to find a recipe for winning. 

The Bills have many. And while they have lost a few games in the process of figuring out what works and what doesn’t, they’re better for it.

Top stories from FOX Sports:

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.


Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more


in this topic