Bills’ leaky run defense could use help at trade deadline
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — The Buffalo Bills’ run defense has suddenly sprung a leak, prompting questions as to whether general manager Brandon Beane might have to patch it up before the NFL’s trade deadline on Tuesday.
Coach Sean McDermott and coordinator Leslie Frazier spent Monday insisting they believe in their players and expressing faith in the issues being correctable.
That doesn’t take away concerns the two raised over how the Bills (5-2) were over-run by the Philadelphia Eagles in a 31-13 loss Sunday.
McDermott questioned his defense — featuring nine returning starters — for lacking an aggressive identity in being pushed around.
“I thought at times I saw that and at other times I didn’t see enough of it quite honestly,” McDermott said.
Added Frazier: “We gave up 218 yards rushing. That’s a long day defensively.”
The 218 yards and three touchdowns rushing were both season worsts. In fact, the 156 yards rushing allowed in the second half alone were more than the Bills gave up in any one full game this season.
What’s troubling is how the Eagles extended a worrying trend for Buffalo. After allowing a combined 338 yards rushing and three touchdowns in their first four games, the Bills have given up 429 yards and six touchdowns in their past three.
The drop-off coincides with second-year defensive tackle Harrison Phillips sustaining a season-ending knee injury in Week 3. The injury occurred just as Phillips was earning praise from coaches and gaining more playing time alongside starter Star Lotulelei.
The injury led to Jordan Phillips gaining more playing time, with Kyle Peko serving in a backup role after being promoted off the practice squad.
Though McDermott and Frazier backed Peko’s performance, that doesn’t mean the Bills couldn’t use an upgrade.
Beane has been methodical in overhauling nearly the entire roster since taking over in May 2017 and is not averse to making trades at the deadline. Two years ago, he sought to improve a mostly unproven group of receivers by trading a third-round pick to acquire Kelvin Benjamin from Carolina.
He made the trade in part to instill confidence in a team off to a 5-2 start and went on to make the playoffs and end Buffalo’s 17-year postseason drought.
These Bills could use a similar boost, having needs at defensive tackle, offensive line and receiver.
Trade or not, Frazier expects Buffalo’s upcoming opponents to continue testing the defense to see if the problems have been corrected.
“It’s something we’ll definitely have to answer the bell for sure,” said Frazier, with the Bills preparing to host Washington (1-7) on Sunday. “People are going to look at the tape and say, ‘OK, that’s the formula right there.’ So we’ve got to stand up. We’ve got to get it fixed.”
In a game the Bills posted season worsts in numerous categories on offense and defense, and nearly had Devin Singletary’s 28-yard TD catch negated by a challenge flag thrown seconds after the ball was snapped, they won the coin toss.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is being second-guessed for a pass-heavy game plan on a wet and windy day, with gusts approaching 40 mph. Frank Gore was the lone running back to carry the ball in the first half, with seven carries for 20 yards. Gore and backup Singletary combined for just five carries for 33 yards in the second half.
In the meantime, Josh Allen went a combined 3 of 13 for 9 yards passing over Buffalo’s final six possessions.
Tight end Tyler Kroft finished with two catches for 32 yards in his second game after missing the entire offseason and first five games with ankle and foot injuries. Increased his snap count from 24 the previous week against Miami to 36, eight more than rookie Dawson Knox.
Allen whose fumble on third-and-2 at the Buffalo 24 with 1:53 left in the second quarter led to the Eagles scoring the go-ahead touchdown.
Starting right tackle Cody Ford did not return after hurting his elbow and cornerback Levi Wallace hurt his shoulder. McDermott listed both as being day to day.
18: Points Bills have scored off seven defensive takeaways, not including four occurring at the end of half/game.
Bills catch another soft spot in their schedule with their next four opponents having a combined 5-24 record, including Miami, which plays at Pittsburgh on Monday night.