Buffalo Bills

Four Downs with David: Change is Good?

Welcome back to “Four Downs with David.” In this week’s article, we are going to assess areas within the Buffalo Bills organization (front office, coaching staff, and personnel) that are in need of change. We will focus on two immediate changes and two long term changes the team should make.

1st Down: Immediate Change – Ty Nsekhe at Right Tackle

Another week goes by, and another rotation transpires at right tackle between Cody Ford and Ty Nsekhe. Sean McDermott was clear leading up to the Browns game that this rotation would continue. This take is another in a long line of what feels like Groundhog Day at One Bills Drive. The coaching staff has continuously preached process and accountability with their players, yet I am not seeing it reflected in their own decision making.

Ty Nsekhe is the best right tackle on the team, and if the Bills are serious about making a run towards the playoffs, Cody Ford should not be a piece of the starting unit…yet. I am by no means calling Cody Ford a bust, and I am not even saying that one day he can’t play right tackle for this team.

A rotation on the offensive line is not like rotating a different running back or tight end on to the field based on your package. The starting offensive line should essentially be the same group that takes you through the entire game start to finish, barring injury.

Experts will always tell you how important it is for an offensive line to “gel” and work as one unit. By continuously rotating Nsekhe and Ford at right tackle, there is no chance for either to get into a true rhythm with the rest of the group.

Even though I have been disappointed with this rotation, I will give the players and offensive line coach Bobby Johnson credit for how the group has performed overall this year…specifically when it comes to run blocking. Although they have dropped out of the top ten, the Bills are still ranked 12th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (124.3) and are averaging 4.5 yards per carry as a team.

2nd Down: Long Term Change – Defensive Line Overhaul

I am tired of hearing justifications for the likes of Star Lotulelei, Jerry Hughes, and Trent Murphy. I’ll be the first to admit that I had relatively high hopes for the Bills front four heading into this season. Drafting Ed Oliver in the first round appeared to solidify a defensive front that was poised for a strong year.

The Bills were able to overcome deficiencies in their pass rush early in the season thanks in large part to facing below-average offensive units. The defense was getting off the field on third down and not allowing the opposing team to sustain drives.

Since the bye week, the Bills run defense has been totally inept. In the five games before the bye, the Bills were only allowing 87.8 rushing yards per game. Since the bye week, the Bills have allowed just over 150 yards per game on the ground.

With the run defense not getting the job done, the entire unit has been on the field more for more plays. The already suspect pass rush has essentially evaporated with opposing offenses dominating the Bills on the ground. All of these deficiencies start up front with the defensive line.

It is my opinion that Star has not been worth his salary this year. There will be arguments made to the contrary, but I would question how anyone can justifiably be okay with how he is playing? You will hear the argument that statistics don’t necessarily dictate the level of play for interior defensive lineman….the same argument is being made for Ed Oliver.

The main difference here is that Ed Oliver is a rookie and still learning the nuances and techniques that will make him successful in the pro game. Star is a veteran, and his primary purpose as the starting one-technique defensive tackle is to eat two blockers (center and guard). If done successfully, he should create one-on-one matchups for the rest of the front, and the run defense should be having more success.

Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy have been unable to generate consistent pressure from the edges, and against one of the worst offensive lines in football (Browns), neither were able to collect a sack on Baker Mayfield. Obviously, I am isolating one specific game, but these performances have become all too common throughout the season.

Jordan Phillips, a defensive tackle, is leading the Bills in sacks with 6. Jerry Hughes is second on the team with 2.5 sacks…Is this what Bills fans were expecting halfway through the season? A bulk of this unit needs a makeover heading into 2020.

3rd Down: Immediate Change – Usage of Devin Singletary

There is a connection between my 3rd and 4th down takes, but the utilization of Devin Singletary in the Bills offense is something that can be rectified immediately. Both I and my @TheBillsGuys co-host Steve Mathes have been banging the drum for more Devin Singletary in this stagnant Bills offense.

My take on Singletary is not an unpopular opinion, but I’m finding hard to believe that someone, or multiple people, on the coaching staff, can justify that Singletary only rushed the ball eight times against the Browns, three times against the Eagles, and seven times against the Dolphins.

Fans were excited when Singletary toted the rock 20 times against the Redskins, but that total is looking more and more like an anomaly than what we should expect on a weekly basis. Singletary is clearly one of the best playmakers on the team, and in his limited work has proven to be extremely productive.

Singletary is averaging a more than respectable 6.4 yards per carry (on 48 carries) and has also chipped in with 15 receptions out of the backfield. Many media outlets and analysts on social media will be quick to point out that Singletary has played over two-thirds of the team’s offensive snaps over the past two games. While these snap counts are encouraging, they are not yet translating into consistent touches.

Usage would not necessarily be a question mark if this team still had LeSean McCoy, and touches had to be split three ways instead of two. The trading of LeSean McCoy a week before the season started should have provided indications the team would feature Singletary as a double-digit touch per game player. The Redskins game aside, Singletary has only averaged eight touches per game in the other five games he’s played.

4th Down: Long Term Change – Offensive Coordinator

I have been vocal, as have many others, in my disappointment with Brian Daboll throughout the course of the team’s first nine games. There have been some very good opinions on social media surrounding the entirety of the Bills offense.

One opinion that I find myself agreeing with is the fact that the woes on offense ultimately don’t sit with a single individual coach or player. Re-watching several of the games myself, in conjunction with consuming a fair amount of film analysis online, it certainly appears that the criticism should not be so narrowly focused.

Fair or not, most of the blame centers on the offensive coordinator and the quarterback when offenses are struggling in the NFL. To some extent, offensive line problems, and below-average skill position talent also factor into what results in a subpar offense. There is a faction of people on social media who are all in on firing Brian Daboll, and there is another faction who is steadfastly coming to his defense.

While I admit that there have been well-documented execution and decision making errors from the likes of Josh Allen, etc., the fact remains that Daboll has not been able to find any kind of rhythm or identify for the 2019 Bills offense. Bright offensive minds implement varied game plans depending on the opponent.

Daboll seems to vary his game plan each week, but in my mind, it feels like there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to it. Facing an opponent ranked in the bottom five in rush defense (Browns), I have to question why the Bills threw the ball twice as many times as they rushed.

I documented a few weeks back how Daboll has coordinated below-average offenses in the NFL throughout his career. With the Browns, Daboll’s offenses ranked 32nd and 29th overall in 2009 and 2010 respectively. He coordinated the 20th ranked offense in the NFL during 2011 with the Dolphins. With the Chiefs in 2012, Daboll’s offense scored the fewest points in the NFL. I am willing to see what he can do the rest of this season…maybe he can turn things around, but I’m not optimistic.

Singling out Daboll for the team’s offensive problems is not necessarily the fair thing to do, but there has to be someone (or someone{s}) held accountable. There is no doubt that personnel, including Josh Allen, has played a large part in the struggles of this offense. It will be much easier to replace an offensive coordinator with a below-average track record than it will be to replace a still-developing quarterback who could still end up being the face of the franchise.

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