For Bills, McDermott is the key man

May 01, 2019 - 10:44 am
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It's May 1, the draft is over and the Buffalo Bills' roster is pretty much set. The next four months are the waiting room. We'll talk to bide the time.

I'm impressed in large part with how and what the Bills have done this off-season. Many of us assumed that the game's A-listers are out of reach for Buffalo, and the Antonio Brown saga (at least in his case) confirmed those assumptions. The Bills were already shopping for good players, if unable to acquire great ones. They did a lot of this shopping, which everyone is OK with.

Then there was the draft where the Bills again hauled in their crop of prospects. (Thank goodness they didn't trade up to No. 3.)

We can be impressed with their efforts, but we can't be sure of what it all amounts to. Until September, it's a team that won six games last year and has a 2019 over/under betting line of 6.5.

Is it the same as it ever was, or will things be different?

The obvious point is to focus on second-year quarterback Josh Allen's play and development, and it's not an incorrect one. Every fan knows how vital quarterback play is to team success. It goes without saying that if Allen struggles the Bills will too. If he's bad, they'll probably also be bad.

But what if he's good?

What if Allen brings the completion percentage up a tick or two? What if he offsets relatively poor accuracy with enough big plays -- passing and running -- to lead the Bills to the top half of the league in points? What if the pieces brought in on offense -- there might be nine new starters -- add up to an offense that's tough to stop?

Yes, if Allen is bad then the Bills probably will be bad. If Allen is good though, he'll need one other man to elevate the Bills from good to great. That man is Sean McDermott.

Let's say Allen and the offense do the things mentioned two paragraphs up. If McDermott reins in offensive output in the name of things like field position and establishing the run, this won't be the team that it could or should be.

The game has evolved to a more pass-happy one than ever for reasons that have been well-documented here and elsewhere before. Smart coaches have maximized their teams' capabilities by turning to a diverse, pass-first approach. The run has its place, but -- just like what became of defense -- it serves the winningest teams more as a complement.

We've heard McDermott (and Brandon Beane) over and over play up Buffalo's cold climate, mention how Allen is built to throw it in late-season winter winds. Well, most Bills games are played in decent (or nice) weather, and they really don't play any more cold-weather games than Kansas City does, and the best Bills teams ever threw the ball great, and it gets cold in Foxboro, etc., etc., etc. 

If these guys want to shelter Allen, lean on its defense and running backs, play to win close games the way the undermanned 2018 Bills did ... I think they'd be holding themselves back. 

One area where this will come to light is second-and-long. The great analyst Warren Sharp has helped expose how teams run the ball too often after an incomplete pass on first down. If you run it on 2nd-and-10 what are you hoping for, 3rd-and-5?

If you throw the ball on three straight downs a few times a game of course there will be fans ready to blame you for "abandoning the run". I have McDermott's answer to that ready for him if he needs it: "We're not abandoning anything. We're using information available to us (and you) to optimize decisions and strategy."

As I've said on the air a few times lately, despite McDermott the last two years representing what I'd call certain old-school ways I choose to be open-minded about his potential to adapt. He's young, bright and driven. He has the respect of those around him. Someone close to McDermott told me recently that I wouldn't believe how much time he spends with numbers. (Yes, this person works for the Bills, but still.) 

Then let's not shoot for 21 points, a number McDermott brought up earlier this off-season to represent offensive success. Let's not challenge any more plays in the name of giving his team a rest, or a chance to regroup, as he told us after a loss last season in Miami that he sometimes does. (He's 1-for-10 on challenges.) And let's not run very often on 2nd-and-10. Heck, let's not run very often at all.

If Allen is bad then the Bills are probably bad and that's that.

If Allen is good, with the right mind on top maybe then they could be great.

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