Missed opportunities and differing philosophies? Bills' offense has work to do

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills can point fingers in every direction following their 14-10 loss to the New England Patriots. The defense could have stopped the Patriots' running attack, the offense should have run the ball more with quarterback Josh Allen, different decisions could have been made here or there. The list could go on and on.

The Bills had their opportunities but missed them.

“You look at it from a stats standpoint, and you say, ‘Hey, do we have opportunities to win the game? You’re darn right we did,’” coach Sean McDermott said. "And so, why not? Right? Why not? Then you go back and try and solve that.”

It's crucial for the Bills to figure it out as they approach the remaining five games of the season that offer little wiggle room for the team in a tight playoff race. The Bills' playoff odds went down to 84.5% after they fell 1.5 games behind the Patriots in the AFC East. The upcoming game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS) will be a significant test, followed by a second meeting against the Patriots on Dec. 26. But some of their problems might be unfixable at this point in the season. Take the running game.

McDermott has been emphasizing the need to be physical and find ways to run the ball and did so again after the game. But similar to last year's team, these Bills are not built to do what the Patriots did last night, when they ran the ball on all but three plays -- something McDermott would have liked his team to be able to stop.

The Bills' running backs ran for 60 yards and averaged 3.2 yards per carry. Their backs now rank 28th in the league with 896 yards rushing this season. Since Allen was drafted in 2018, the Bills’ running backs have rushed for 4,881 yards (24th), 23 rushing touchdowns (32nd) and 254 rushing first downs (24th).

“I think there were some times we had some yards to be had there in the run game and we didn't execute with everyone being on the same page,” McDermott said.

But this is a team set up to have a tough passing attack with Allen while also giving him opportunities to run the football. Coordinator Brian Daboll’s offense had success last year, finishing second in yards (396.4) and points (31.3) per game. McDermott, however, would like the Bills to be a physical team that can run the football, but that’s not the reality of the team that he and GM Brandon Beane have constructed. This offense is built to run around Allen, which leaves Daboll as the offensive playcaller to try to make it all work with the pieces on the roster.

“I think we have a good understanding. We're week-to-week,” Daboll said Monday of he and McDermott having the same offensive philosophy for the team. “We want to be a physical offense and control the line of scrimmage. And the most important thing is scoring points and finishing down there [in the red zone].”

To be sure, the running game wasn't the only problem with the offense against the Patriots.

For a variety of reasons, longer throws were an issue for Allen, who completed 1 of 9 throws of 15 or more air yards downfield, per ESPN Stats & Information. The weather with winds of up to 40 mph was certainly a factor, but Allen had good moments, especially on the last three drives of the game that all got past the New England 20-yard line. From those drives, Buffalo came away with just three points.

There were dropped passes in the end zone and missed third-down catches, including tight end Dawson Knox’s worst receiving performance of the season -- two receptions on six targets for 14 yards. Receiver Stefon Diggs had his first drop of the year on an Allen end zone throw.

In the red zone, the Bills went 1-for-4, including a questionable decision by McDermott to kick a field goal into the wind, down 14-10. Red zone woes were a problem for Buffalo early in the season, and the team has now scored a touchdown on 58.8% of red zone drives (18th).

“I didn’t think we honestly took advantage of our opportunities tonight,” McDermott said. “I honestly didn’t. The ball’s at the 40-yard line and we were 1-for-4 in the red zone. We gotta figure that part of it out.”

So the Bills' offense has plenty of problems to solve with five games to go but fundamentally isn't going to change. The offense likely is what it is at this point in the season, so they need to find a way to avoid mistakes and focus on what they do well.