This week, Between the Hashmarks looks at how the Buffalo Bills have gone from September Super Bowl hopefuls to a crossroads, the underrated players insiders are watching, plus the Jason Garrett era ending in New York, and more.
September was a storybook for the Buffalo Bills, who looked like the most complete team in the league less than two months ago but have since devolved into the NFL’s biggest Jekyll and Hyde tale.
Former MVP frontrunner, Bills quarterback Josh Allen has thrown five interceptions over the past three weeks, seemingly regressing to his 2019 form after tossing only three picks in the Bills’ five prior games.
Since walking out of Arrowhead 4-1 following a 38-20 victory over the Chiefs that seemingly signaled a changing of the guard in the AFC, as the Bills conquered their 10,000-pound silverback ape after falling in the same venue in January’s AFC Championship Game, the wheels came off Buffalo’s wagons.
“The Titans’ defense gave a blueprint now two years in a row to stopping Josh Allen,” an AFC South scout tells FanSided, on the condition of anonymity to speak freely.
In hindsight, the Bills’ 34-31 last-second heartbreak when Allen stumbled on a quarterback sneak from the one-yard line that would have delivered Buffalo a fifth consecutive win feels more like a harbinger of what was to come rather than an outlier for a true Super Bowl contender.
Buffalo has since lost in embarrassing fashion in Jacksonville to the lowly Jaguars, failing to score an offensive touchdown, and Sunday decided against showing up against the division rival Indianapolis Colts, who gashed the Bills’ front to the tune of a career-high 185 rushing yards and five total touchdowns from running back Jonathan Taylor.
“If you keep Allen in the pocket and get outside penetration forcing him backwards in the pocket,” the scout says of Allen. “It’ll force him to throw falling backwards, off his back foot, and takes away his arm strength and forces him into bad throws.”
Unfortunately for Buffalo, the Bills’ issues run far deeper than Allen’s inconsistency in recent weeks.
Buffalo’s issues have compounded through each of the Bills’ losses over the past month.
“If you have one different individual each play and collectively not doing what they need to do, it adds up to not scoring touchdowns or enough points,” former Bills DE Lorenzo Alexander told me, during a recent appearance on FanSided’s The Matt Lombardo Show podcast. “When you have one different offensive lineman miss a block every single play of a drive, that drive isn’t going to be successful. Even if the rest of the guys are executing at a high level.
“This is the ultimate team sport, but in those games they’ve lost; whether it’s a blocked punt that comes down to one guy not doing his job, or not being able to run the ball, or maybe not working together collectively, they got steamrolled. You can’t rely on throwing the ball 350-400 yards every game. Teams are making them play left-handed right now, and they have to figure out a way to get better.”
To win playing in Buffalo in December and January, when the winds are swirling and the lake-effect snow is accumulating, the Bills need to dominate in the trenches, need to run the football, and control the game at scrimmage.
Right now, the Bills are doing anything but.
Buffalo’s offensive tackles, Dion Dawkins and Daryl Williams are Pro Football Focus’ No. 37 and No. 41 ranked players at their positions. Dawkins and Williams have allowed a combined five sacks and 16 pressures.
The Bills’ defense is allowing over 102 rushing yards per game and has played a supporting role in Buffalo losing two of three.
“They can fix it,” the scout says. “But, they will have to alter some of their offensive philosophy, significantly. “More screens to the running back and tight end. They need to loosen up the defense by spreading the field horizontal and not just vertical to move the pocket for the QB.”
Between The Hashmarks’ NFL All-Underrated Team
Thanksgiving is viewed by those inside the league as the benchmark for when contenders separate from the pretenders, when the games get more meaningful, and when the game’s stars shine the brightest.
Just this past weekend, Justin Herbert cemented his place in the MVP race after his fifth fourth-quarter comeback this season, as the Chargers outlasted the Steelers in a pivotal game that will shape the AFC sprint to the finish.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Taylor had one of the more impressive performances by a running back in recent memory, and defensively Darius Slay and Micah Parsons are charging towards legitimate Defensive Player of The Year and Defensive Rookie of The Year honors amid a torrid stretch of impact plays for their teams.
But, while those superstars dominate the landscape on Sundays and the conversation the rest of the week, who are the players flying just under the radar? FanSided surveyed numerous current players, scouts, executives and coaches for the players who would headline a hypothetical “All-Underrated” team.
Here’s who made the cut for our All-Underrated Team:
San Francisco 49ers OG Laken Tomlinson (NFC West offensive player)
“Tomlinson is playing as well as anyone in the league right now, and he’s barely talked about.”
Indianapolis Colts WR Michael Pittman (AFC South Scout)
“This dude is a strong physical red-zone and chain moving receiver with outstanding instincts for the position.”
Jonathan Allen, DL Washington Football Team (NFC North personnel executive)
“He’s one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL, he has 34 tackles and six sacks this season, but somehow he’s never even been selected to the Pro Bowl. That doesn’t make sense.”
Philadelphia Eagles DE Genard Avery (NFC South offensive player)
“Avery isn’t as well known as he probably should be, and is smaller for the position, but is quick, stout and a really explosive presence off the edge.”
Dallas Cowboys EDGE Dorance Armstrong (AFC Scout)
“Dorance is a versatile and athletic pass rusher with ability to rush from DE and DT position.”
Montez Sweat, EDGE, Washington Football Team (NFC Player)
“This dude is an absolute stud. You don’t know how explosive he is until you have to line up opposite him.”
VIta Vea, DL Tampa Bay Buccaneers (AFC South Scout)
“I’m not sure it’s even fair to call Vita underrated with the kind of year he’s having, but he’d be my guy.”
Tyler Conklin, TE, Minnesota Vikings (NFC Personnel director)
“This is Conklin’s first year starting, after Kyle Rudolph signed with the Giants. Conklin’s really taken on a bigger role as a blocker, and still having an excellent season with 38 catches for 388 yards and three touchdowns. Keep an eye on him.”
“There’s definitely a feeling of ‘Enough is enough — we’ve got to win. We’re in the business of winning and if you don’t win, it doesn’t feel too good. When you do when, it feels pretty good. You want to make sure, win or loss, you come in and you’re always trying to get better and get better at things you’ve got to get better at. But for us, this is a big game, just like they all are. And it’s a big game because it’s the next game. But what an opportunity for us to get back on track on the road in a hostile environment against a really good football team.”
– Las Vegas Raiders QB Derek Carr, during his Monday press conference
It has been quite the 30 days for the Las Vegas Raiders.
Back on Oct. 24, the Carr and the Raiders dispatched the Eagles 33-22, in a game that wasn’t all that competitive, vaulting Vegas to 5-2 and first place in the AFC West. There were even some whispers that Carr, who had already amassed 2,269 passing yards with 12 touchdowns to five interceptions could ultimately become the league MVP.
Then, tragedy struck, and the world changed.
Some things are clearly bigger and more important than football, as Tina Tintor’s life that was cut tragically short, at just 23, was when Henry Ruggs struck her vehicle while allegedly driving drunk at 127 miles per hour in his Corvette in the early-morning hours of Nov. 2.
Ruggs was released Nov. 3, and the Raiders haven’t won since.
Las Vegas has been outscored by the NY Giants, Kansas City Chiefs, and Cincinnati Bengals since their nightmarish bye week, 96-43.
Over that span, the Raiders have scored only five touchdowns.
Few can blame the Raiders for wandering through the fog of a season following a two-month span that saw former head coach Jon Gruden fired after his racist, hateful, misogynistic emails spanning over a decade came to light, Ruggs’ alleged drunken driving accident, and former first-round pick, cornerback Damon Arnette being released in the aftermath of brandishing a gun and threatening to kill a follower of his social media.
But, Thanksgiving in Dallas, the Raiders will be walking into a proverbial buzzsaw on Thanksgiving as an angry Cowboys team aims to bounce back from losing its biggest game of the season to date, to the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday afternoon.
These are dire, desperate times for the Raiders, but it’s hard to fault Las Vegas for folding up the tent around interim head coach Rich Bisaccia after everything this team has been through. It may be even harder to fathom Las Vegas slowing the Cowboys in a hostile Jerry World on Thanksgiving afternoon.
Jason Garrett was fired by the NY Giants on Tuesday, after a 26-game tenure that saw his offense woefully underachieve.
Following Monday night’s disjointed and uninspired 30-10 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it became painfully obvious that changes were necessary in the Big Apple, not the least of which is a new direction on offense.
It remains to be seen just how committed the NY Giants are to Joe Judge as head coach or Daniel Jones as quarterback beyond 2021, but it was glaringly clear that Garrett’s vision was not working.
The Giants are the league’s least-efficient red zone offense, scoring touchdowns on just 44 percent of trips inside the 20-yard line. Daniel Jones has only thrown three touchdown passes to a wide receiver this season. For perspective, left tackle Andrew Thomas hauled in a touchdown pass from Jones on Monday night.
New York, despite boasting a core that includes Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, and Saquon Barkley, in addition to spending $45 million guaranteed in free agency on wide receiver Kenny Golladay and drafting Kadarius Toney in Round 1, rank 23rd in the NFL in total offense (323 yards per game), and 25th in scoring offense (18.9 points per game), which is just 1.4 points more per game than last season.
Not exactly what the NY Giants expected, with Jones entering his third season and with all that investment in the talent around him.
Freddy Kitchens will assume offensive coordinator duties, beginning Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. But, even after firing Garrett, it seems the NY Giants are simply rearranging deck furniture on the Titanic, as far as this season goes, but there’s a whole iceberg of changes looming, potentially, in the next two months for a franchise that has averaged just over six wins per season over the past 10 years.