JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2018 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
Bills insider and Bills.com lead reporter Chris Brown on the Bills' matchup with the Jaguars at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York, Sunday.
Question: The Bills, after a 9-7 AFC Wild Card season last season, enter Sunday's game with a 3-7 record. How do they feel about this season to date? Disappointed?
Answer: I think they knew that this year had the potential to be a year when they took a step back from what they were able to accomplish in their first season under Head Coach Sean McDermott; I don't think they envisioned the struggle to be this difficult. The offensive side of the ball has been where most of the problems have been. Producing points has proven to be a monumental task most weeks, though it wasn't in their last game prior to the bye week (a 41-10 victory over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey). They're trying to bring [rookie first-round quarterback] Josh Allen along now. His playing time was accelerated after the failures of Nate Peterman in Week 1. Once they made their bed, they are now lying in it. All signs are pointing to Josh returning to the lineup this week as he is practicing fully.
Q: Allen has missed the last four games with an elbow injury. He threw two touchdowns with five interceptions in five starts before that. Where is he in his development and what do you expect the rest of the season?
A: It's elite arm talent. I don't think there's any question about that. I just don't think he has been able to pair that with elite accuracy just yet. Against a Jacksonville defense that is expert at tight coverage, the windows will be very small. I don't know that he has: a) the confidence to trust what he sees; and b) the belief he can fit passes into windows that tight – at least not yet. What he does bring that none of the other quarterbacks on Buffalo's roster brings is athleticism. He gives offensive coordinator Brian Daboll the opportunity to make use of a read-option run game with him being a legitimate threat to run. Those are things he does bring to the table. It's going to be very interesting. He has not played since Week 6. He admits he got a different and healthy perspective of the NFL game with Derek Anderson and Matt Barkley playing [quarterback in his absence]. But you have to believe there will be a little bit of rust in terms of being ready for the speed of the game, especially facing a defense of this caliber.
Q: Aside from quarterback, any other reasons the Bills' offense is struggling?
A: The wide-receiving corps was an issue; players did not get consistent separation at all. In the last two weeks, the team has made a concerted effort to add speed to the receiving corps. They claimed [receiver/return specialist] Isaiah McKenzie off waivers from Denver, and he is being used in Buffalo's offense in short order; he made a nice early impact. They called up [undrafted rookie] Robert Foster from the practice squad; he has 4.35 speed and can get behind defenses. They added Deonte Thompson, who is in his third stint with the Bills; he's 29, but he still runs in the 4.3s. There was a pointed effort to help the quarterback. The offensive line has been a problem all season long. Losing [guard] Richie Incognito [to retirement] and [center] Eric Wood [to a career-ending neck injury] put a hole in the offensive line they could not fill. Running the ball was a monumental task and pass protection was a problem at times. It looks like they're doing a little better job of that now, but again: against a defensive front the caliber of Jacksonville … we'll see if they can make it two straight weeks doing that.
Q: The defense appears to be a team strength. Has it been as good as it looks?
A: I would say yes. The big difference in what the defense looks like this year compared to last year was they relied very heavily on takeaways last year. While they have had some takeaways this year, they haven't had as many. They have been extremely sound in their pass defense. Their pass rush is helping their cover group a lot more this season. [Pass rusher/defensive end] Jerry Hughes is having a great year. You don't necessarily see it in sacks, but he's up around the top five in the league in quarterback pressures and hits. Shaq Lawson has emerged in his third season; he's doing a great job setting the edge at his left defensive end position – and he has been kicking inside and showing to be a good pass rusher from there. [Veteran linebacker] Lorenzo Alexander has found the Fountain of Youth; he has had a phenomenal year whether they rush him inside or from the edge position he is a menace and a really smart player who is making plays all over the field. Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano are two very good cover linebackers.
Q: What does success look like for the Bills the rest of the season?
A: For fans, the priority has shifted to "Let's see Josh Allen make progress each week." The shame of it is he was just starting to show some progress in a Week 6 game against Houston [in which he was injured]. The Bills were in the game when he left with the injury. You think about Houston winning seven straight and you say, "Wow" – and you wonder where it could have gone had he been able to stay healthy and in the lineup. It's like the pause button was pressed. Now, you take the pause button off and hit play. You hope that he can pick up where he left off. But the history of the league has shown that proves to be difficult for rookies. He has six games to get some valuable experience so – hopefully – he can hit the ground running in 2019.