As the Buffalo Bills resume their search for a long-awaited Super Bowl, Sky Sports NFL’s Phoebe Schecter explores some of the key talking points for her former team heading into the 2023 campaign.
The Bills, led by quarterback Josh Allen, have been banging on the Championship door without quite managing to break through, winning three straight AFC East titles only to suffer defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2020 AFC Championship Game followed by successive Divisional Round exits.
In a conference loaded with quarterback talent, their job has only increased in difficult. But could this be their time?
The Bills begin their season on the road against the New York Jets in Monday Night Football, live on Sky Sports NFL from 1.15am in the early hours of Tuesday.
‘This is a big year for Josh Allen’
It’s huge. He feels it too, him and the whole team, they’re all at that level where they’re ‘right, this is it for us’.
I think Josh is still continuing to develop with his decision-making. There have been some issues with protecting the football, so he knows he has a lot of learning and development still to do.
This year is really key, because in order for the Bills to get to the Super Bowl he has to be on point on every level and facet of the game.
I think we’ll see a more creative offense. When Daboll was there he was really good about having those conversations with Josh like ‘what’s your favourite play? what do you like?’. And that’s not to say Ken Dorsey doesn’t do that now, but in the past Josh would have gone ‘this is my favourite play, let’s make this thing happen here’.
Daboll uses a lot of fast NASCAR style plays to play with the tempo of the game so you’d probably like to see a bit more of that with Ken Dorsey.
They’re still building that relationship. Even though Dorsey was with Josh as Quarterbacks Coach previously, it’s a totally different viewpoint when now you have to look at the whole offense and be able to game-plan and learn your other coaches. It’s much easier being a positional coach than when you start wearing more hats.
Daboll worked really hard with Josh, but he also had Shea Tierney, who has been with him for so many years. They have a long history together and Shea spent so much time with the quarterbacks.
He’s a brilliant coach, a brilliant teacher and really did a lot of that ground work. You almost have two people where now it’s just Ken Dorsey and make you’re missing a bit of that.
September 12, 2023, 1:00am
Keys to the Bills’ season
A lot of the keys to success this year are what they were lacking last year. A lot of it was injury, that initial injury to Von Miller which was so key, their defense was depleted at one point.
Especially Micah Hyde, he is the leader of that defense, he knows it inside out and is a really great support system for Jordan Poyer. When you have that connection you’re both able to play at that ultimate level.
You lose that pass rush with Von Miller, which puts my stress on the defensive backs and there’s that unfortunate combination of events.
I think the run game, that’s something that has been talked about for the last couple of years, finding that explosive running back especially when that’s something coach Sean McDermott lives by so much in that you live and die by your run game.
Ultimately, Josh Allen can’t be the guy that has to do it all, you can’t be relying on him to put the team on his shoulders every drive. But he is the leader, so when things get tough he will step up, but protecting him a little bit more is key.
Can James Cook be the answer at RB?
It alleviates so much stress. When you look at it from Josh’s point of view as well, it gives him a little bit of a breather, it gives the lineman a bit of a breather. Being in pass protection is exhausting so being able to change that up.
James Cook can be so explosive, and we’ve seen at times him having great breakout plays. It’s a shame that at the beginning of the season Nyheim Hines had that injury, and you think about how they had just brought him in at the end of last year and thought he would be a big guy whether it’s from a return point of view or running back.
But you lose him and think ‘right, that pressure is back on James Cook and Devin Singletary to carry the rock’. Now if those are the only two running backs you’re really using it’s much easier for a defense to try and defend that because they’re not too different in terms of style of play.
The addition of rookie TE Dalton Kincaid
I can’t wait. He’s a safe pair of hands and a safe body for Josh to get into. I also think it’s also great for Dawson Knox, all the pressure isn’t just on him whereas before now there hasn’t really been another top tier tight end for the Bills.
You look at Lee Smith who was more your wide-blocking body, and Dawson was more your F-style in terms of running routes.
When you’ve got two of those you’ve got extra rest time for one of them, if they can pretty much replace one another seamlessly that would be such an advantage.
Imagine if you had two Travis Kelces on the field, that would be insane.
Buffalo Bills: 2022 Tale of the Tape
Who needs to step up?
Gabe Davis definitely needs to step up. Not last year but the year before he ended on such a high with unbelievable catches and I think people put such an emphasis on that and thought ‘he’s going to come back this year and make such an impact’. And he probably didn’t make consistently as much of an impact as he’d have hoped to.
When you’ve got that one-two punch, if you’ve got Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis you’re able to alleviate some of the attention on each other when they’re running routes. You need more from the receiving core to step up and take some of the attention off Stefon.
Alternatively on the defense, Gregory Rouseeau has been developing. He was a great rookie, he’s probably one of the biggest-limbed humans I’ve seen and you just want to see him put it all together and get after it.
Imagine him on one side and a healthy Von Miller on the other side, that’s what they need to do, they need to effect the timing of these quarterbacks. You need a healthy vivacious d-line to make that happen.
The eventual return of Von Miller
He’s going to be huge, because not only is he incredible on the field but as a leader he’s terrific and has a great relationship with all the players.
Bringing Von in was kind of a replacement for Lorenzo Alexander and Kyle Williams before that, they need that experience of ‘I’ve been there, done that, I know what it takes to be at the Super Bowl’. You need somebody with that level of experience to know the level you’re trying to build for.
As coaches you can only say so much as to what to expect, but it always means more coming from the players. When you look at on the field, Von Miller affects almost every play he’s involved in in some way shape or form.
When he changes the time that the offense has to release the football, you go back to the DBs and some of the problems they’ve had, Von Miller hides some of that because he forces that quarterback to throw the football way faster that he would normally.
He’s such a smart and physical player he’s able to completely get after those tackles or an insane matchup if you have a tight end trying to block him. Those games he’s able to play, it changes the way that even the linebackers are able to play.
The d-line are always the heartbeat of the defense, because depending on how you come off the ball, how physical you can be, it sets the tone and the speed.
The loss of Tremaine Edmunds in free agency
The Bills are really lucky they have Matt Milano in the middle and he’s such a smart guy, so in terms of being able to understand the playbook and make some of those calls you’ve got Matt there.
Tremaine is 6’6″ and when he puts his hands up there aren’t many middle linebackers that literally can block a viewpoint of a quarterback. Quarterbacks think they can throw over him but they can’t when he’s so big and lengthy.
He had a really great year so it’s a shame to see him go, but I think there are so many people around that understand that playbook and they’re being coached by Bobby Babich and Bobby’s dad was their coach before so there’s this big lineage of understanding the playbook.
I think almost more than that, Coach (Sean) McDermott is going to be calling the defense, so how does he utilise linebackers? There are all these different questions, because him and Leslie Frazier had this excellent relationship but very different styles of leadership.
Leslie is such a chilled person, very calm, and to be fair coach McDermott is too but knows when to turn it on at the right time so I’m keen to see what that interaction is like.
Leslie Frazier is gone – how different will Sean McDermott’s defense look?
I think you’ll see similar because they’re collaborative in terms of how they put together their playbook. Coach McDermott was in pretty much every defensive meeting anyway before he was now calling defensive plays, they worked together so well, they would break down the games and they both come with ideas.
That’s what made their defense so powerful and always in the top five because you’re allowing for creativity and allowing people to feel empowered.
They’re really good at giving their players a short menu to pick from, so they’re not overwhelming anybody on the day.
You’re able to say ‘this is all we’re doing so you can go and play fast’, they don’t want you to have to think on the day, they want you to go out there and play fast.
That mentality and culture will be carried through.
‘Bills will relish being written off’
It’s getting harder and harder each year to win the Super Bowl. There was definitely a window over the past couple of years where they had a really great shot.
You look at the quarterbacks in that division alone and you put Aaron Rodgers in it just for fun, the AFC is wild. I still think they have a great shot of winning the division and reaching the playoffs.
I think it’s tough playing Aaron Rodgers twice a year, the Jets have been pumped with life, so they will test the Bills defense for sure.
Everybody thinks Buffalo won’t do well this year because of Mahomes, Burrow, these guys, however that is where Buffalo thrives the most. They thrive being the underdog and having the storyline that nobody believes in them.
That will be really important. They’ll have that key underline message. I feel like they could be playing the Bengals or the Chiefs to win out of the AFC.
Watch the Buffalo Bills at the New York Jets in the first Monday Night Football of the season, live on Sky Sports NFL from 1.15am in the early hours of Tuesday morning.