LONDON – Senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2023 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
Ryan O'Halloran of the Buffalo News on the Buffalo Bills as they enter Sunday's 2023 Week 5 game against the Jaguars at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London.
Question: The Bills beat the Dolphins, 48-20, in Miami Sunday, reestablishing themselves as the team to beat in the AFC East. Assess the Bills overall through four games. How does this team feel about itself?
Answer: With each passing week, the Bills' 22-16 Week 1 loss to the New York Jets seems like more of an outlier. Since then, the Bills have won by 28, 34 and 28 points and enter Sunday's game against Jacksonville with a plus-84 point differential. The things that jump out to me through four games: The defense minus pass rusher Von Miller still has 16 sacks and 11 takeaways – new play-caller and head coach Sean McDermott has this group playing fast, physical and opportunistic. Offensively, the running game has a pulse – quarterback Josh Allen doesn't have to be their best short-yardage, tough-stuff running back anymore. The Bills prioritized that during the offseason – signing tailbacks Latavius Murray and Damien Harris to join James Cook, signing left guard Connor McGovern and drafting second-round right guard O'Cyrus Torrence. The Bills are averaging 138 yards rushing per game.
Q: Josh Allen is one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks. What's his storyline this season? Has he stepped his game up in anyway and does he seem ready to take the Bills to the AFC Championship Game and beyond?
A: Allen's storyline is much like the Bills as a whole – erase the past playoff disappointments and make a Super Bowl appearance like contemporaries Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes (2-1 in Super Bowl), Cincinnati's Joe Burrow (0-1) and now Philadelphia's Jalen Hurts (0-1). From April to August, Allen stressed the importance of limiting his turnovers –and then he had four (three interceptions, one fumble) in the Week 1 loss. But Allen has bounced back (eight touchdown passes and one interception in the last three games) and accepted that defenses are going to try and take away the downfield plays, so he is effectively checking it down and protecting himself when he scrambles. There is no doubt he is ready for a long postseason run.
Q: Beyond Allen, assess the Bills offensively. What does this offense need to do be successful? What makes it hard to defend?
A: The Bills' offense goes through Allen and receiver Stefon Diggs (31-399-4 in four games), but what will make this team successful in the playoffs and currently hard to defend is the options for Allen and play-caller Ken Dorsey. Through two minutes of Sunday's second quarter against Miami, six Bills had already caught a pass. Eight players have at least four catches this year and three tailbacks have at least 17 carries. Want to double Diggs? Allen will throw to receiver Gabe Davis (three touchdowns) or tight ends Dalton Kincaid and Dawson Knox (combined 23 catches). Want to play two-high safety? Cook (5.3-yard average), Murray (4.5) and Harris (4.2) will take advantage of the lighter boxes. A bonus to the run game is that Allen is working more under center and using play action.
Q: The Bills have been one of the NFL's best defensive teams under McDermott. Where does this unit stand through four weeks? What does it do well?
A: McDermott, who called the plays in Philadelphia and Carolina as a coordinator, named himself the Bills' play-caller in March a month after former defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier moved on under still-mysterious circumstances. The Bills right now have the best kind of a pass rush – they can create pressure with four players – and they're getting takeaways (NFL-leading 11). Defensive end Leonard Floyd, who wasn't signed until early June, has 3 1/2 sacks, but five players have at least two sacks. New middle linebacker Terrel Bernard has excelled in replacing Tremaine Edmunds (signed with Chicago). One thing they have to clean up – allowing long rushes. They have already allowed carries of 83, 55, 34, 26 and 23 yards. Also of note – injuries. Top cornerback Tre'Davious White was carted off the field Sunday (Achilles), safety Jordan Poyer (didn't) didn't play against Miami and defensive end Von Miller (ACL) hasn't played this year.
Q: The Bills are established as an annual contender. Is this year Super Bowl or bust? What makes this a successful season?
A: During the McDermott Era, the Bills have made the playoffs five times but advanced to only one AFC Championship Game. In the last three years, they lost conference title game on the road, second-round game on the road and second-round game at home. The Super Bowl window will always be open so long as Allen is healthy and productive, but for this core of players, it is a Super Bowl-appearance-or-bust season (anything less is disappointing) because the Bills will have to reset their salary cap after the season. The AFC has opened up a bit for them during the first four weeks. The Bengals are 1-3 and quarterback Joe Burrow is gimpy. The Jaguars are 2-2 and I haven't been overly impressed by the offense. And while the Chiefs are 3-1, they are having to grind out wins.