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AFC East Enemy Recon: The 2023 Buffalo Bills

Things didn't end the way that the Buffalo Bills or BillsMafia would have probably liked it to last year, but the signs that they weren't long for the postseason were there for quite some time. Even before the injury bug hit Josh Allen and Von Miller, something felt off about this team very early on. There was not just one thing per se, just several different things that popped up individually. The biggest was their inability to be a consistent run defense or run offense. In addition to receivers dropping passes left and right and giving up badly timed explosive plays. On top of some other things, the signs were always there.

The Bengals Playoff loss in the snow was ultimately not a surprise. A heartbreaking result for Buffalo, given everything that the city and team had been through since last spring for sure, but not shocking. In light of that loss, Leslie Fraizer, who had done some great work in Buffalo since becoming defensive coordinator in 2017, decided to walk away from the game, which puts Sean McDermott back into play-calling duties for the first time since the final two defensive series against Kansas City in the 2021 Playoffs. Yeah...that game.

Fraizer was not the only notable loss the Bills suffered this offseason, as they saw linebacker Tremaine Edmunds bolt for a big-money offer with the Chicago Bears. The yin-yang of himself alongside Matt Milano at the second level was a huge factor in the Bills' defense being as good as it was, and he will be a tough guy to replace. Buffalo did, however, bring in some enticing veterans on both sides of the ball to help out. Names like Leonard Floyd, Taylor Rapp, and old friend Damien Harris. Now, after they were all but crowned Super Bowl Champions to begin last season by many (ESPN, Peter King, etc.), what can you expect from the 2023 Buffalo Bills?

The 2023 Buffalo Bills

Coaching Staff and Front Office Personnel -

- Head Coach: Sean McDermott (Seventh Year as Bills Head Coach) - Offensive Coordinator: Ken Dorsey (Second Year as Bills OC) - Defensive Coordinator: N/A (McDermott is Slated to Call Plays with Leslie Frazier Stepping Away) - Special Teams Coordinator: Matthew Smiley (Second Year as Bills STC) - Notable Assistant Coaches: Joe Brady (Quarterbacks Coach), Kyle Shurmur (Offensive Quality Control),

Mike Shula (Senior Offensive Assistant), Al Holcomb (Senior Defensive Assistant), Eric Washington (Assistant HC/Defensive Line Coach) - General Manager: Brandon Beane (Seventh Year as Bills GM)

Notable Additions

- Free Agency: Connor McGovern (IOL, Cowboys), Leonard Floyd (EDGE, Rams), Taylor Rapp (SAF, Rams), Damien Harris (RB, Patriots), Deontay Hardy (WR, Saints) - Draft: Dalton Kincaid (TE, Utah), O’Cyrus Torrence (IOL, Florida) - Trades: N/A

Notable Subtractions - Free Agency: Tremaine Edmunds (LB, Bears), Devin Singletary (RB, Texans), Rodger Saffold (IOL, N/A) - Trades: N/A

2022 Offensive Team Ranks - 28.4 Points Per Game (2nd)

- 397.6 Yards Per Game (2nd) - 258.1 Pass Yards and 139.5 Rush Yards Per Game (7th and 7th) - 50.3% Conversion Rate on Third Down (1st) - 60.3% Red Zone Conversion Rate (9th) - 27 Turnovers (3rd) 2022 Defensive Team Ranks

- 17.9 Points Allowed Per Game (2nd) - 319.1 Yards Allowed Per Game (6th) - 214.6 Pass Yards and 104.6 Rush Yards Allowed Per Game (15th and 5th) - 37.5% Conversion Rate Allowed on Third Down (7th) - 44.9% Red Zone Conversion Rate Allowed (2nd) - 27 Takeaways (t-4th)

Ball Security is Job Security

Although Josh Allen is coming off what was the second-best season of his career, his ability to take care of the ball had never been more in question than in 2022. Only Dak Prescott and Davis Mills threw more interceptions, and Trevor Lawrence only lost more fumbles. Now the great thing is Allen can dig himself out of these holes, as we all know, but playing with fire for too long generally doesn't work out. Granted, Buffalo went 3-2 in five multi-interception games Allen had. On the other hand, three of those games were against a Rams team that turned into a bottom-five team, something no one would fathom in real-time, a Packers team that packed it in almost immediately, and the Bears.

The one game where INTs burned Allen and the Bills, and in a big way, was against the Minnesota Vikings. For whatever reason, McDermott wants to go for it on 4th&2 when a field goal would have put them up 13, and Allen does this.

A couple of things to note here. 1) This was played perfectly by Khyrs Tonga (No. 95) and Erik Kendricks (No. 54), containing Allen outside of the pocket. Kendricks broke off Diggs at the perfect moment and got himself a hockey assist. 2) This was a brutal call by Ken Dorsey, and the Vikings read this play like a book the whole way. Additionally, Allen has to eat the sack here. It's a turnover no matter what, but Kirk Cousins would be starting at the seven-yard line instead of out near the 40. Then, of course, the Vikings come back, then Allen throws a backbreaking interception to close this one out. PatPete reads this Gabe Davis post route like a book, and the double clutch didn't help out (also a recurring theme on most of his INTs last year).

Now onto Allen's fumble woes. He had 16 between the regular and postseason, but only six went in the books as turnovers. In fairness to Allen, and all other quarterbacks, for that matter, dropped snaps count, which inflates things, but Allen most certainly had his issues. Most, but not all, shared a very similar theme. Either Allen was holding onto the ball too long, not sensing backside/blindside pressure scrambling, and/or just being lackadaisical with the ball. Patriots fans may remember Josh Uche's strip-sack on Allen, which fits this bill, but this was another where Dolphins edge rusher Jaelen Phillips hunts him down from behind.

Now, once again, these turnovers didn't send the Bills into disarray last season, but Allen has to dial back his aggressiveness in pushing the ball downfield/fix his ball security issues as a runner and in the pocket. That pendulum will swing the other way at some point and will hit like an Amtrak train when it does. This is easily the most important thing to look out for with this team in 2023.

New Cook in the Kitchen

Now that Devin Singletary is no longer in Buffalo, the team desperately needs to find some real life in the run game that wasn't named Josh Allen. This is a group that has gone with first-down runs at least 29% of the time in the last three seasons, but when you take away Singletary and Allen, only one runner has gone over 500 yards in a season, James Cook just last year. Perfect that he gets brought up because not only should he be the new head honcho in the Bills backfield for my money, the Bills appear to be allowing him to do just that. The second-year back out of Georgia has been repeatedly spotted taking starting reps at running back, coming off a season where he averaged 5.7 per on 89 carries.

When you have a guy like Cook, who already has a great feel for the position and affords the big boys in front of him the time to do what they need, on top of his speed and elusiveness, you are in a great spot as a team. Quiet as it is kept, Cook is sneaky tough as nails too. Easy to see why Bills' offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey is saying he has three-down potential. It also helps that Cook is a legitimate option as a pass catcher. Dorsey did a ton to try and get him involved a season ago. That included splitting him out wide on the rare occasion, which Georgia did with him with some great results in some big spots.

You will most likely see Damien Harris compete in just about the same role he played in New England, but the Bills should feel comfortable going to the well with Cook early and often. Going back to the > 29% first down run rate stat, a team that essentially finished on level with the Bills last year was the Eagles, and they were a few plays away from winning the Super Bowl, so they're on the right track. Buffalo has to just not force the issue with designed Josh Allen runs if they can help it.

Trench Warfare

Mentioned this at the top, but trench play felt like an issue all year for the Bills. No game encapsulated that better than their playoff loss to the Bengals. Couldn't capitalize on the rare pressure they got on Joe Burrow, allowed Joe Mixon to gash them in the run game, gave up badly timed pressure on the other side of the ball, and got nothing going on the ground. With that in mind, a couple of plays jumped out.

Some context here; this was right after the Bengals steamrolled down the field for an opening drive score. This is a really good play design, with Dawson Knox being used as a pick to help free up Diggs on the outside 1v1. The problem is that Rodger Saffold loses outside leverage immediately to Germaine Pratt and messes up everything. Had Allen not had to worry about the inside pressure here, there's a non-zero chance Diggs goes the distance, would have completely changed this game too.

Funny as it sounds, the Bills' only sack of this game came by initially sending three, with Matt Milano coming in to finish the job. They had tried making it work with four for the healthy majority of this game with little to no success. What you see here is one of the few backbreaking third downs Buffalo gave up, putting six in the box and rushing five. If you can't get home with four and are getting beaten like a drum all game, you have to try something different, simply have to. From that standpoint, this wasn't a bad play call. The problem here is they fail to get home fast enough, and Hayden Hurst is left alone with Taron Johnson coming off the edge. A huge chance to swing momentum wasted.

Now did losing Von Miller unequivocally hurt Buffalo? Yes, however, this was a Bengals offensive line that was held up with duct tape and some bandaids by Divisional Round weekend. Additionally, Buffalo only lost about a half-sack per game worth of production after they lost Miller (postseason included). This was a spot where McDermott and Co. could have used someone like Gregory Rousseau off the edge or Ed Oliver up the middle to step up, and neither did. I think the addition of Leonard Floyd should help, given where Miller is post-injury. However, you should keep track of Rousseau and Oliver in the opening few weeks of the regular season.

Offensively, the name to watch for is Connor McGovern (not the one on the Jets with the same name but zero relation), who should be the Bills' starting left guard. He's coming off a solid season with the Cowboys but only has one full season of starting experience. Also, McGovern has missed some time with injury in the past. Very disciplined player though, with only four career penalties.

Internal Affairs

That still image told an entire novel for Bills fans all offseason. Five months later, Stefon Diggs would leave in the middle of the first day of Mandatory Mini-camp, which had Sean McDermott, "Very concerned." 24 hours after this incident, McDermott did a complete 180, and then just some days ago, both parties said this issue is in the past. A rumor was that this issue was Diggs wanting a say in offensive play calling, which he directly responded to by saying, "That's insane."

“For me to just want more say in the offense, it’s crazy because I play receiver. I don’t care what play is called, I can’t get up there and say, ‘Call this.’ It’s a lot of outlandish, obvious things where people [are] throwing [things] out there or people were saying [things] as far as my role. I’ve been a captain on this team for three years — there’s no question about my role and who I am as a player, how hard I work. Those things never had question marks. And you can’t say the same thing for a lot of people in the league." - Stefon Diggs on July 26

So if you take Diggs at face value here, is this now resolved issue with Allen? Allen did admit he could have been a better teammate in mid-June when it came to the 2022 season. He specifically mentioned that he and the team could get their star wideout involved/incorporated better.

"I think we're just, as an organization, maybe not communicating the right way with everything," Allen said. "So again, just trying to talk and listen at the same time and hear him out. And like I said, just try to move this forward as quickly and as respectfully as possible."

Now while everyone involved in this story has said something to the extent of water under the bridge when it comes to this, there's a non-zero chance the tides could wash over again down the line. Remember that similar, although not the same, issues ultimately led to his split with the Minnesota Vikings. This also doesn't mean Diggs is on his way out, either. His contract is unmovable for at least these next couple of years, and releasing him would make zero sense. However, I would not be surprised if the frustration from the Diggs' camp creeps back into the foreground at some point. Not that Diggs is a bad apple per se. I think his heart is ultimately in the right place, and Diggs just wants to win.

The Gabe Davis Conundrum

Saying 2023 will be the most important football of Gabe Davis' life so far is an understatement. Second contract time is right around the corner, and the Central Florida product is coming off a very Jekyl&Hyde-esque campaign. One week it was three catches for 171 yards and two scores against Pittsburgh, but one catch for 13 yards on three targets before that. No one was able to be a consistent enough complement to Diggs last year on a week-to-week basis, something that should be expected out of Davis this year.

With Davis' size and speed combo, Buffalo naturally tried to send him vertical a ton, and more often than not, it worked out in 2022. Six of his seven scores last season came on some variation of a go route, and five of those six came from at least 25 yards out, and then two from 60-plus out against Pittsburgh. Davis ripping this pass away from Minkah Fitzpatrick was utterly spectacular.

When you have a guy who is this big and fast to stretch the field, Davis also naturally opens up everything else (in theory). He is tough to cover 1-on-1, but would you rather give extra attention to him or Diggs? That's what every defensive coordinator in the league has been asking these last couple of seasons. With this said, Davis lacks a super diverse route tree and he isn't a natural separator, but this isn't to say Davis is a bad route runner. Just watch what he did here in that famed Kansas City Playoff game.

On top of not being super consistent, drops were a notable issue for Davis last year, with nine in total. Additionally, so was working back to the quarterback when he needed to. Can't say teams will be lining up to pay him big money this offseason should those issues continue.

As far as what his new deal could look like, Sportstrac has given him the likes of Christian Kirk, Hunter Renfrow, Russell Gage, and Michael Gallup as benchmarks based on age and production. Kirk got the most out of that group at 18 million per season, but his projected market value is nearly six million dollars less. It would ultimately not be shocking if someone does pay above market value for Davis, but how rich will Davis be for Brandon Beane's blood next March, you may be wondering? Only time will tell.

How Do the Patriots Matchup?

Given that the Bills have added the extra wrinkle of rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid to their menagerie of weapons, you should see them run 12 personnel (2 TE, 2 WR, 1 RB) sets for most of the way. That's the best way Buffalo could maximize their offense from an overall standpoint, getting Kincaid, Knox, Diggs, and Davis out all at once. Given how the Patriots are set up defensively from a personnel standpoint, they, in theory, match up very well with the Buffalo offense in the big nickel. Here's how that matchup could look defensively.

Patriots Big Nickel vs Bills 12 Personnel

Funny enough, this is based on a look the Patriots used against the Bills the first go around in 2022. The idea behind the big nickel is to maximize your athleticism without sacrificing physicality, and vice versa, against the pass and run. With the quality and quantity of guys, they could throw out on these looks, they could probably do some damage against an objectively good Bills offense. Could also go with a four-man front, bring Tavai or someone else back off the line if you want to run some form of Cover-2/Tampa-2 look, for example.

The great thing about having Christian Gonzalez in the building now is the Patriots have a guy who can match up with these bigger wideouts and do so at a high level. That said, the Patriots did a great job on Gabe Davis last year, primarily using Jack and Jonathan Jones in coverage. Belichick could move Gonzalez around at will on the boundary, but getting him on Diggs may be the play.

Now onto the other side of the ball, we've already talked about the Bills' struggles defending the run. What if I told you Rhamondre Stevenson averaged 6.5 a carry against them last year? Then what if I told you Matt Patricia only called 16 runs for him between the two games? Bill O'Brien would be wise not to leave meat on the bone in the run game. The tackle situation for the Patriots is a bit shakey for the time being, but their interior guys can make it happen in the run game. That and the run defense for Buffalo may have gotten a bit worse.

Back in January, we saw Mac Jones try to push it a bit more than usual against Buffalo, and while the results were mixed, the thought process there made a lot of sense. Over the last two years, Buffalo has been flagged 29 times for defensive holding (NFL high) and 13 times for pass interference. Tre'Davious White, just by himself, has been called for either of those infractions ten times in the last two seasons + the 2022 postseason. He's still a great corner, but his aggressiveness should be used against him if given the opportunity.

The Bottom Line

Even with the issues this Bills team has, they have a ton of high-end talent on both sides of the ball to make up for it. But as constructed, can this team win a Super Bowl? That remains to be seen, but they are being sent into the meat grinder to end the regular season, which should be a great test. The Bills' final seven games are as follows. Jets, @Eagles, @Chiefs, Cowboys, @Chargers, Patriots, @Dolphins. If they can survive that gauntlet and secure the AFC No. 1 or 2 seed, they have a good enough shot, but Cincinnati and Kansas City should be considered better teams. Buffalo should reign victorious in the AFC East for the fourth year in a row, but the Patriots could take at least one game against them.

Defined Bills Strengths and Weaknesses


- Josh Allen

- High Upside Offensive Skill Grouping

- At Least One All-Pro Caliber Player at Each Level on Defense

- Talent + Depth at Safety


- Turnover Prone Offense

- Highly Inconsistent Run Defending Team That Got Worse, Not Better This Offseason

- Penalty Suspect Defense

- Currently Lacking a Consistent Complement to Stefon Diggs

Bills Seasonal Outlook

Record Ceiling: 14-3

Record Floor: 11-6

AFC East Finishing Position Prediction: 1st

Team MVP: Stefon Diggs

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