JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2017 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 in an AFC Wild Card Playoff at EverBank Field Sunday
*Question: The Bills won three of their last four games to qualify for the postseason as the AFC's No. 6 seed. Obviously, they feel good about being in the playoffs, but how do they feel about the way they're playing entering Sunday? *
Answer: They don't believe they've played their best football yet. But their offense has come around. Opening possessions they used to struggle with three and outs and they wouldn't often score until about the second quarter. They've done better at getting off to faster starts on offense. They did it in each of their last two games against the Miami Dolphins in Week 15 and Week 17 with touchdown drives early. Their running game came around in the second half of the season. They're a Top 10 rushing offense again and they've gone more to a power-run game, which worked well for them the last two seasons when they led the league in rushing. Those are the things that are working well for them – and in the last two games, their downfield passing has been a little better.
Q: The perception early in the season when they traded players such as Marcell Dareus (to the Jaguars) was the Bills were tanking the season. That obviously wasn't the case …
A:When the Bills trade [wide receiver] Sammy Watkins [to the Los Angeles Rams], [cornerback] Ronald Darby [to the Philadelphia Eagles], Marcell Dareus – those are the top draft choices in three of their drafts from 2011 to 2015 – people just thought, "It's a fire sale … they're tanking … they're going to try to get a quarterback next year …" [Head Coach] Sean McDermott insisted that was not the case. He was molding the roster into an image he felt was best for now and in the future. He had a certain type of DNA he was looking for in the players. He was looking for guys who were going to do things to the letter every single day, where their work ethic in Week 1 was going to be the same in Week 16, and if he felt he had anybody on his roster who wasn't 100 percent committed to that – no matter what their talent level – they were not going to be on this roster. He said, "I would rather have a team with less talent that plays better together collectively than to have a team of all-stars who are a bunch of individuals."
Q: And is that happening? Is that why they're in the playoffs?
A: It's coming together. He has said himself they're still not where they need to be as a team. This is a team with flaws. There's a reason they're 9-7. They have trouble stopping the run at times. Their pass defense has been the most consistent part of their team; their secondary has been outstanding. They've been one of the leading teams with takeaways all year and the secondary has a major hand in that. Their pass pressure has been an issue of fits and starts and their pass game has languished near the bottom of the league the entire year. [Quarterback] Tyrod Taylor, even though he does some things great at times, is limited as a quarterback. There are most definitely areas of their game that are not top shelf. This team has flaws, but mental toughness is often what gets them through. They will grind against their opponent on every single play no matter the score on the board or the time left in the game. They just grind.
Q: It seems the offense is improving as the postseason approaches …
A: Some things are falling into place. This team has undergone tremendous change and churn over the last eight years. There have been countless coordinators and schemes – and the players have been forced to adapt to that. [Offensive coordinator] Rick Dennison wanted to bring in a one blocking scheme [this season] that was clearly not a fit for the personnel he had up front. Coaches and players got together and convinced one another to go to more of a power-based scheme and that started to turn things around on offense. [Wide receiver] Kelvin Benjamin got more effective blending into the passing game and Tyrod feels more comfortable with him, so things are starting to fall into place where they're executing more consistently. That's why more of their drives are finishing with touchdowns whereas earlier in the year it was more of a field-goal offense.
Q:How good are they defensively coming in?
Q:They're in the bottom third in the league in run defense for a reason. They got run over during a three-game losing streak where they gave up seven or eight rushing touchdowns in three games. There were leaks they had to plug; they eventually shored it up and won three of the last four. This is a defense that largely relies on taking the football away. That's what they do. When they have two or more takeaways, they average about 25 or 26 points a game. When they have one or less, they average about 13 points. They're very much a work in progress in terms of stopping the run and getting off the field on third down.
Q: So, what's the Bills' formula? When this team plays well, what does it do?
A: When they're at their best, they're running the ball effectively and staying in manageable down and distances. Tyrod is making enough plays in the passing game to maybe get two or three big plays for short scoring drives, and their defense is getting two or three extra possessions with takeaways. That's how they score enough points to win football games. They've done that a little more than they haven't this season, and that's why they're two games over .500 and in the postseason.