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Sunday, June 20, 2021

BUFFALO BILLS…. Super Bowl Bound?

There was a time in the very recent past when this question was more of a punchline than a reality but a lot can change in a season or two. In Buffalo that change has come in the form of 3rd year player Josh Allen, who has fast tracked his development becoming a surefire franchise quarterback and legitimate MVP candidate seemingly overnight. It may feel like a lifetime ago, but it was just two short seasons when he arrived, as raw and unrefined as any prospect in memory. He had all the tools… the size, the athleticism, and the howitzer arm coaches and GM’s covet but what he clearly had in measurables he lacked in production coming out of the University of Wyoming. The big red flag regarding his play was not only his reckless gun slinger mentality but was the wild inaccuracy that accompanied it and his lack of accuracy was evident in his rookie year when he completed a meager 52.8% of his passes while tossing more interceptions than touchdowns. Now while some saw the raw talent waiting to be extracted others saw another bust in the long line of Buffalo Bills quarterbacks dating back to the days of Rob Johnson and if we are being honest, I was highly skeptical of him myself. Do not get me wrong I loved his toughness, his blue-collar grit, his big play ability but I had my doubts that Josh Allen would ever be a legitimate NFL quarterback. It’s no secret that Buffalo has not exactly been the place for young signal callers to develop and with the lack of weaponry at his disposal it seemed his failure was all but inevitable, but what no combine test could measure, what no scout could evaluate was Josh Allen’s determination to be great. He put in the hours, he attached himself to Offensive Coordinator Brian Dabol’s hip, he immersed himself in film study and instead of spending the off-season on a sunny beach somewhere drinking margaritas he was with Jordan Palmer and company fine tuning his skills, fixing his footwork, correcting his throwing motion and despite what all the talking heads had to say he established his accuracy. Now while Josh Allen was doing his part, Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott were doing theirs to equip their young gun slinger with some targets, signing John Brown and Cole Beasley, drafting Devin Singletary and Dawson Knox in 2019 which led to the breakout season of Josh Allen where he threw for 3000+ yards, 20 TDs, 500+ rushing yards and 9 more scores proving many of his doubters wrong, including yours truly as he led the team to 10 wins and a playoff-birth. 

Creator: Adrian Kraus| Credit: AP

Now while he had clearly arrived in 2019 gaining respect around the league there was still the question if he could take the next step and move out from the middle of the pack and into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks. Well, I believe that question was answered beyond any doubt this year as he exploded on the NFL breaking nearly every Buffalo Bills passing record in route to a 13-win regular season, an AFC EAST Championship, a Pro-Bowl nod and serious consideration for league MVP as we witnessed the best duo since Kelly and Reed take form between Allen and blockbuster off-season acquisition Stephon Diggs as they hooked up for 127 catches, 1535 yards and 8 TDs bringing the swagger to Buffalo’s offense for the first time in a generation.  So, if there are any doubters left amongst the critics at this point, they should have their credentials stripped immediately, because there is no debating that Josh Allen is the real deal and a quarterback capable of taking this team to the promise land.  

Creator: Justin Berl | Credit: Getty Images

So, does having a super star quarterback, with a crew of talented weapons at his disposal make the Buffalo Bills a legitimate Super Bowl contender? Well, that is the million-dollar question isn’t it? They certainly have the ability to light up the scoreboard as they averaged a whopping 31.3 points a game, proving they have the firepower to go punch for punch with any of the top teams in the league but as the old saying goes “defense wins championships” and if that’s still the case in this high-flying, air it out era of football than the Bills are… how should I say it? They are up Niagara Falls without a paddle because their defense is a far cry from being championship caliber. If you are more than a casual observer of this team you might have noticed by now that this defense has some serious, serious issues. What jumps off the screen when you watch them is their lack play makers, sure Tre White is a formidable corner capable of locking up opponents best pass catchers, and the tandem of Hyde and Poyer is one of the best in the league and a few others have flashes here and there but beyond them there is a lot left to be desired. The cap consuming defensive line on paper should be a scary unit bolstering three former 1st round picks (Hughes, Butler, Oliver) and a second rounder in rookie AJ Epenesa who many thought at one point was a top ten pick coming out of Iowa, add in off season signing of veteran pass rusher Mario Addison and this should have been a strong year for them, but this unit has underwhelmed all season.  I attribute much of their short comings to Covid Opt out NT Star Lotulelei, who was the force in the middle late last season whose massive presence helped both Oliver and LB Tremaine Edmunds flourish down the stretch. Without Star, Vernon Butler has been tasked with filling his role despite not being that brand of player in the trenches and with Butler’s lack of block-eating and disruption throughout the season Oliver has faced more double teams than he is built to withstand, which has led to a traffic jam of bodies in the middle of this defense that Tremaine Edmunds has struggled to navigate effectively. Aside from the lack of disruption along this line is their glaring lack of pass rushers from both the front four and the linebacking corps. The return of a healthy Milano was supposed to boost this pass rush but in fact it weakened it. With Milano back, LB AJ Klein who is tied for most sacks (5) has seen a major decrease in reps and with that a decrease in QB pressures as well. Through 16 regular season games and 1 playoff, this team has struggled mightily to create pressure on opposing QBs taking them down an abysmal 38 times, this inability to arrive in the opponents backfield has led to QBs having more time to throw, more time to go through progressions, more time to extend plays and more time for receivers to find separation and soft spots. This was the thorn in their side in both the Kansas City and Tennessee losses and could have prevented the “Hail-Murray” from ever happening and was almost their demise in the Wild Card game vs. the Colts where they failed to even sniff 39-year-old Phillip Rivers as he dropped back nearly fifty times on Saturday. 

Indianapolis Colts’ Jonathan Taylor (28) is tackled during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff game against the Buffalo Bills on Saturday in Orchard Park. AP photo

So, if defense wins championships and the Bills clearly don’t have a championship defense to rely on can they still reach the Super Bowl and win it? If you think my answer is no, then you haven’t been paying attention to me. I believe Josh Allen and his gang of hired hands are good enough to put their mediocre defense on their backs and carry them into Tampa and win it all. Sure, this is easier said than done, sure it would be epically different if the Bills possessed a solid defense and at the least a complimentary run game to their pass attack, but they don’t and that’s all right. As history has shown us not every Super Bowl Champion road into the record books with a Steel Curtain of their own, in fact just four teams in the last twelve years have won the Super Bowl with a top 5 Defense to boast, which gives this 2020 Bills team hope as they rank 16th overall, but much like last years Kansas City Chiefs who had a middle pf the pack D themselves the Bills could win it all not on the strength of their defense but on the fire power of their offense. Norms are a fragile thing in the NFL and as history had shown us the norms don’t stay the norms forever and if the object to win is to score more points than your opponent then having an offense who regularly and often effortlessly puts 30 plus points up on the board is a good thing and maybe, just maybe more important than having a top five defense.  

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