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The Lofty Weight of Expectations

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© George Walker IV / USA TODAY Sports

 

The 2022 Buffalo BILLS are the consensus favorites to win the AFC East and represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.  Most of the talking heads expect the team to raise its first Lombardi.  On paper, this is the deepest, most talented team not only in the NFL but likely in team history.

 

In each of the last two seasons, the Tennessee Titans have used the same formula to beat the BILLS:  Run the football, run it some more, suck in the linebackers and force the safeties to stay inside the numbers, then use play action to throw into the soft spots that have been created.

 

Defensively the Titans aren't exotic, they're throwbacks.  From their base 34, they use zone blitz concepts and physicality to dictate how opposing offenses play.  Teams have to earn every yard because Tennessee rarely gives up big plays.

 

Last night, the BILLS were heavy favorites based on both their offseason additions and the serious roster losses suffered by the Titans.  Tennessee was coming off an extremely disappointing home opener upset loss to the New Jersey Giants, blowing a 13-point lead.  Buffalo would be missing some very key pieces:  WR1A Gabriel Davis and interior DLinemen Ed Oliver and Tim Settle.  The latter players would surely be missed against Titans' superstar running back Derek Henry, right?

 

Could the BILLS new look defensive line hold up to the challenge?  Could new BILLS' OC Ken Dorsey scheme well enough to get Stefon Diggs touches?  Would the BILLS interior OLine hold up against Jeffery Simmons, the AFC version of Aaron Donald?  Would Sean McDermott continue his aggressive offensive decisions despite the heartbreaking loss last season in Nashville?

 

The answers to all of these questions were emphatically YES!

 

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© Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

 

Derek Henry as held to 25 yards on 13 carries and the Titans only score.  How impressive is that?  It was Henry's worst statistical game since 2019, a span of 50 games.

 

Despite clearly being the focus of Tennessee's coverage, Stefon Diggs ran every route in the tree and beat every coverage thrown at him.  How good has Diggs been on MNF?  His career stats going into the game: 70 catches, 801 yards, 9 TDs.  Last night he was even better.  12 catches, 148 yards, 3TDs. 

 

It was Diggs' 35th game in Buffalo.  He broke and Wes Welker's NFL record (249) for receptions in their first 35 games with a new team.  His final was his 250th since coming over in the trade with Minnesota.  SD14 AVERAGES over 7 catches a game with the charging bison on his helmet.

 

The BILLS' offense once again dictated how the game would be played.  Ken Dorsey had his second consecutive outstanding game, overcoming the loss of Davis using multiple formations and personnel packages to confuse the inexperienced Titans' secondary.  While the rest of the skill players were overshadowed by Diggs' incredible performance, each was used at various stages as a weapon. 

 

·         Reggie Gilliam caught his first TD pass, showing both his athleticism and physicality

 

·         TEs Dawson Knox and Quinton Morris both made big catches and were physical in the run game

 

·         While the stats don't look impressive, Jake Kumerow, Isaiah McKenzie, and Jamison Crowder all made splash plays on scoring drives

 

The Titans' DLine played well early in the game, putting pressure on Allen and closing down running lanes efficiently.  It still wasn’t enough to stop the juggernaut wearing head-to-toe blue for the second consecutive week.  The BILLS had 4 first half drives, scoring 2 TDs, a FG, and turning the ball over on downs deep in enemy territory.  It only got worse for the visitors in the 2nd half as the opposing players got worn down by the BILLS’ constant pressure and physicality.

 

Defensively the Titans’ first drive ended in with a Henry TD ( a 4th down play their Oline clearly false-started on), the only highlight on that side of the football.  From there the BILLS clamped down and started punishing the visitors.  The Titans had 11 drives in the game, with 7 lasting less than 2:10 of game time.  Their longest drive of the game was 9 plays and 6:24 seconds but only gained ELEVEN yards.  Tennessee finished with 182 yards of TOTAL offense and 107 yards passing, despite rookie CBs Christian Benford (91% of the defensive snaps) and Elam (66%) playing the majority of the game.  They also turned the ball over 4 times, including the dagger TD interception return by Matt Milano, ending both Tannyhill’s and Allen’s night in the process.

 

Special teams also contributed with a mostly flawless performance (sans a couple of punt return penalties).  Sam Martin gets a game ball for his first punt ever as a BILL, a purposeful end-over-end rocket that ended in a muff that was recovered by Tyrell Dotson.  The ensuing drive ended with a T.Bass FG (and another perfect hold by Martin) to extend the lead to 27-7.

 

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© JAMIE GERMANO / USA TODAY NETWORK

 

The evolution of Sean McDermott’s game management has been as remarkable as Allen’s development.  While the challenge process clearly needs work (the BILLS lost another last night, making McD an abysmal 6 for 25 in his career), he is decisive and his confidence in the offense has clearly had a huge affect on the entire FB team.  Dude is going for 4th downs near midfield!

 

The only downsides of this game were short yardage offense and injuries.  Short yardage has been an achilles heal for awhile now and could prove costly in close games against higher quality opposition.

 

Obviously, there were injuries to Dane Jackson and Micah Hyde.  Jackson was taken by ambulance to ECMC for tests but was released this morning and was walking without assistance.  Initial reports state he avoided serious neck/spine injuries.  Hyde was hurt making a tackle when his head contacted the ball carrier’s hip.  Additionally, Jordan Phillips went down awkwardly on Milano’s TD and did not return.  Spencer Brown was down on the field for a bit but didn’t miss a snap until he was taken out later.

 

The BILLS could easily have had a letdown this week after their emotional NFL season-opening destruction of the defending champs and the Titans’ recent success against them.  To say it didn’t happen underscores the absolute annihilation that happened between the lines for 60 minutes, regardless of the adversity the team faced.

 

There may be weight to the expectations…but through 2 games this team hasn't been phased. 

 

We’re onto Miami.  Fasten your seat belts.

 

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