There was a lot of focus on the arm strength at the quarterback position in this matchup but, as the rain fell in Orchard Park during pregame warmups, I knew what kind of game was in store. While the wet conditions certainly affected both teams, Kansas City had spent the season getting their rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (who I’m going to refer to as the Hyphen more often) established as a ground threat early and often. With Buffalo struggling to run the football consistently, he allowed the Chiefs to dictate the pace, stay ahead of the chains, and made things much easier for Patrick Mahomes. The game wasn’t completely lopsided but the 26-17 final score might make it seem a little closer than it was, so let’s get into the particulars.
The most eye-catching stat was the 245-rushing yards racked up by the Chiefs, which is concerning since there were a number of offseason moves to improve the D-line, so we need to look a little deeper to understand what really happened.
Heading into this game, the 280-passing yards/game given up by the defense was the bigger concern when taking on Mahomes. Buffalo was only giving up 108-rushing yards per game, which was Top-10 in the NFL. Before the game, two of their best D-lineman were held out of this crucial conference game as healthy scratches. I’m only reading between the lines, that’s not a good sign. Nonetheless, it’s not like you’d expect the run-D to just implode and, upon closer examination, I don’t know that it did.
There’s no question Bills’ defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier watched film on how the Patriots and Raiders caused problems for the Chiefs’ offense and attempted to implement a similar game-plan for his defense. Unfortunately, Buffalo doesn’t have much of a pass rush season either (19th in sacks, 25th in QB pressures) and their net yards/attempt average is poor as well (24th). So, even if the coverage was excellent they couldn’t punish is by getting after the quarterback anyway. What stuck with me most was the lack of adaptation in Frazier’s approach. I don’t remember seeing Buffalo stack the box at any point throughout the game. I get that Mahomes is lethal against the blitz but I didn’t see any disguised coverages, no bluffs, nothing to even show the Chiefs’ offense a different look. As long as the game was technically within reach, Frazier was content to run a 4-man front and force Mahomes to beat heavy coverage. Problem is, Andy Reid is a good coach and he had the foresight and patience to let the Hyphen do most of the work. Looking back, it wasn’t so much the Bills couldn’t stop the run as it was they didn’t really try.
Now this may sound sound crazy but, for the most part, that game-plan worked. Kansas City scored their second fewest points this season and if you had told Frazier and Head Coach Sean McDermott before the game that they’d hold KC to 26, I think they’d like their odds. They were probably…definitely…expecting more out of their offense. So, while the defense has understandably taken fire for this performance, it was the Bills’ offensive inefficiency that ultimately lost the game for them. It’s not all on Josh Allen, but he’s the guy who makes it all go and I didn’t like what I saw from him either.
Let’s wind it back to the end of the first half. The weather had mostly held both teams in check but Bills’ rookie kicker Tyler Bass missed a 52-yard field goal (which I could have sworn was called a 48-yarder on the broadcast) that would have tied the game 13-13 to end the first half. Kansas City got the ball to open the second half but Buffalo forced a punt after five plays and were in position to get back on track. Instead, Allen missed 2-of-4 passes and the Bills punted.
To be fair, he did throw a pair of touchdown passes and the interception came when the game was out of reach, but 52% passing accuracy is unacceptable. Maybe it was the rain, but that’s two weeks in a row where he was simply missing throws he’s made all season. Anyway, the Chiefs scored a touchdown on their next drive to make it a two-possession game and, sadly, it was out of reach at that point. Mahomes made a hell of a play on a 3rd down scramble inside the red zone which set up a Darren Williams 13-yard TD run on a 4th & 1. That 13-play drive ate up almost the remainder of the 3rd quarter and you could feel the screws tightening for the Bills.
They had the ball, with a chance, but failed to convert a 4th &1 and took a penalty on the play that forced them to punt. KC tacked on another field goal to end a 10-play, 75-yard drive that took a big chunk out of the 4th quarter. When Cole Beasley scored a Bills’ TD on the ensuing drive for Buffalo and cut it to 23-17 with a little more than six-minutes remaining, it felt more like a garbage time score than a momentum play. The Bills almost forced a fumble from the Hyphen on the ensuing Chiefs’ drive but it was overturned by instant replay. They still managed to get KC to 3rd & 12 but allowed a 37-yard completion to Byron Pringle. Great players make big plays when then game is on the line and that’s exactly what Mahomes did, but it was that kind of moments where the issues with the defense all stood out. They capped off that 75-yard drive in 12-plays to add another FG and officially put it out of reach at 26-17 inside the two-minute warning.
With the game all but over, the Bills took the field and needed to score within 60-seconds of game clock to even warrant an onside kick attempt. After a short scramble by Allen on 1st down, the clock was moving and he was hurrying to the line to get the next snap off. Stefon Diggs didn’t seem to feel the urgency and his lackadaisical trot back to the line of scrimmage turned into an illegal shift penalty. Allen threw an awful pick on the next play. While I get Diggs’ disappointment and frustration, that’s not what you want to see from a guy who was brought to Buffalo to be a leader. His body language clearly spelled defeat, but I’d think the guy who was primarily responsible for the Minnesota Miracle would understand the value of playing until the very end. He’s simply too good a player and too fierce a competitor to let the rest of the team see that. These players have to hold each other accountable and I fully expect for him to make amends.
Speaking of accountability, I was glad to hear Allen take responsibility and acknowledge that he has to play better. It’s not all his fault but, if he’s going to be the franchise QB, the buck stops with him. He has to do a better job recognizing what the defense is giving him and take it; the accuracy will follow. I understand that he had to evolve as a passer in order for this team to get to the next level and he’s done that, but he also has to recognize that what makes him dynamic is the threat of him running the ball. In the first month of season, defenses still respected that threat and you saw the numbers he was putting up. Both the Titans and Chiefs dared him to throw and his accuracy failed him, but he was only sacked once total in those eight quarters. There are a number of drop backs where there were running lanes open for him almost immediately and if teams are going to present a soft front, he has to recognize it sooner and take advantage. A few QB runs here and there help to stay ahead of the chains and it keeps defenses honest, especially since the Bills’ running backs haven’t been able to do that so far. It will force extra defenders into the box and open up things for those receivers on the outside. Then those passing numbers will start to trend in the right direction again.
While I was obviously hoping the Bills would win, the expectation was that the Chiefs weren’t going to lose back-to-back games after their disappointing loss to the Raiders in Week 5. Unfortunately, I was right but you learn more from a loss than you do from a win and there is much to learn from this loss. I still believe in this team but they have a lot of work to do, in all three facets of the game, in order to get to the next level.
Performance Grade: C
The Bills have a get-right game next in the Meadowlands against the 0-6 Jets. Buffalo has to clean up the dropped passes, find a way to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks without compromising their secondary, and establish a better ground game of their own, especially on early downs. This is pretty close to a must-win scenario as the Bills have a tough six-game stretch following the Jets. They need to dominate New York, especially after Miami just shut them out 24-0, and I expect them to do so.