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The Buffalo Bills are putting the finishing touches on the season that was. In doing so, there’s one thing that separates players and front office members alike from locker cleanout day and freedom from football for a few months in the offseason: A trip to the podium.
On the latter, Bills head coach Sean McDermott concluded his 2020 season on Tuesday by chatting via video conference for about 45 minutes. He reviewed the season that was and previewed some of what the future might hold.
In an effort to pull out some of the more interesting or important things mentioned, here are nine takeaways from McDermott’s end of season presser:
The ‘measuring stick’
Even before the AFC Championship game, McDermott and the entire Bills locker room knew that the game was going to be a measuring stick. So how did they fare? Well they lost 38-24 to the Kansas City Chiefs and it wasn’t even that close.
Upon reflecting, McDermottt said he knows there’s “still a gap” between his team and his mentor’s team in Andy Reid. However, McDermott did make an interesting point in his own defense… of sorts. Reid’s been around Kansas City for double the amount of time McDermott as been in Orchard Park… Rome wasn’t built in a day, right?
“They’re in Year 8 and we’re in Year 4,” McDermott said.
And by comparison, McDermott’s been to the playoffs three times in his first fours seasons, the same as Reid had. In that time frame, McDermott has two postseason wins… Reid only had one. Reid also did not win an AFC West division title until that fourth year… sound familiar?
In a sense, McDermott’s ahead of schedule.
Little further context on 4th down
Buffalo’s coach seems even-keeled but he’s a competitor. Having said that, being second guessed against the Chiefs in terms of his decision to settle for field goals? Don’t you worry, he was going to get his little jab in about it.
“When you got the result we got the other night, there’s usually a lot of second guessing. Funny how that works, right? I understand, that’s part of the job,” McDermott said.
But the coach did actually mention one interesting nugget. Immediately following the game, McDermott admitted he made a mistake not going for it in the second half. On Tuesday, McDermott still defended kicking the first half field goal, but on the second, he gave one more yard’s worth of context.
Literally that: one yard made the difference. McDermott said had it been 4th and 1 or 4th and 2? The Bills go for it. 4th and 3, which is what the scenario was? Out of the question.
“That’s still the one that, to be very open with you, that maybe I should have gone for it there,” McDermott said.
“I know for sure we would have went for it,” he added on the three feet.
On that 2nd down, the Bills ran it with running back Devin Singletary, perhaps approaching it like it was four-down territory. On that rush, Singletary only picked up one yard, setting up 3rd and 3, and Allen tossed an incomplete pass to Stefon Diggs on that ensuing play.
Maybe reading between the lines too much here, but just a thought. Will there be an effort to improve the running game in 2021 because of this situation? Just a thought.
Ed Oliver assessment
Buffalo’s defensive line was a group that was hot and cold throughout 2020. The same can be said for Ed Oliver. His sack total dropped from five to three this season, while he did add one tackle for loss from a year ago (6). His overall total tackles dropped from 43 to 33. In both seasons in his pro career, Oliver has played in 54 percent of snaps on defense.
The biggest thing here for Oliver is context and as a former top-overall pick, the Bills should want more from him. When asked about Oliver, McDermott took the statesman-like approach, as one might expect.
“I think Ed has made improvements in his second season. Do I think there’s more work to be done? Absolutely,” McDermott said.
Pro Football Focus ranked Oliver pretty poorly this season for what it’s worth. He slotted in as their 119th best defensive tackle out of 130. On the flip side, PFF did recently peg Oliver as the Bills’ candidate to have a “breakout” next season.
Josh Allen comments
No way in hell McDermott wasn’t going to be asked about quarterback Josh Allen, and he was a couple of times on Wednesday. He’s a quick rundown.
In terms of Allen’s contract situation or his comment earlier this week on “proving” the Bills were right to draft him, McDermott had little to say. The contact situation will likely be a bigger talking point on Wednesday when Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane has his end of the season press conference.
However, McDermott did certainly praise the way Allen’s developed.
“There’s very few parts of his game that aren’t developed after his third season,” “McDermott said. He knows what it takes to win and win at a high level and I think he answered quite a few of the questions out there about him.”
He’s not wrong.
McDermott made no mention of the backup QB situation. Matt Barkley is a pending free agent.
This important Carolina season
Prior to joining the Bills, McDermott was the Panthers defensive coordinator. In that role, he did coach in a Super Bowl, but lost. The ensuing season, Carolina was 6-10. A big drop off.
While the Bills didn’t make it to the upcoming Super Bowl in two weeks, McDermott won’t want to take a step backward. He compared the two scenarios. It appears McDermott learned that 2021 going to be a whole new ballgame.
“You also have to start over. You’ve got to put it together again. Every year is a new year. Every year is a new team,” McDermott said.
One interesting note on those Panthers teams were the losses of personnel. On defense, pass rusher Jared Allen, cornerback Peanut Tillman, and defensive back Roman Harper left. Linebacker Luke Kuechly also missed six game due to injury. That caused the Panthers’ turnover differential to drop from +20 to -2.
Quarterback Cam Newton went from 35 passing touchdowns to 19 as well.
Any concern on keeping this roster together?
The Bills might have a tough road ahead in free agency. As McDermott’s fourth year at the helm ends, that means some guys that he drafted in 2017, such as linebacker Matt Milano, will now look for a pay bump. Non-rookies like offensive linemen Daryl Williams and Jon Feliciano also improved since joining the Bills and might want that same compensation.
With the COVID-19 pandemic putting the salary cap into question… general manager Brandon Beane is going to have to earn his own pay this offseason if he’s going to keep some pieces around. McDermott himself touched on the topic and admitted it might be hard to keep everyone around, but that’s the hope he still has.
“It is tough to stay there,” McDermott said. “There’s always challenges every year and they’re different every year.”
“It starts with the mentality of trying to keep as much of the piece of our team together as possible. I know Brandon is going to do a great job, and his staff, with that,” McDermott added.
A potential defensive coordinator replacement?
McDermott was not asked about potentially having to replace Leslie Frazier, who’s having a second interview with the Texans in regard to their head coaching vacancy. But McDermott did mention one defensive assistant by name in his press conference: Defensive line coach Eric Washington.
When asked to evaluate the D-line, McDermott credited coaching.
“I thought that they did some really good thing and they really grew during the season. That’s a credit to the players and their mindset,” McDermott said. “Also credit to Eric Washington and Jacques Cesaire, our two defensive line coaches, as well as Leslie. That’s the impact of coaching, and what you could see was that they were playing really good football.”
“More than anything, what I think coach Washington was able to do was to lay a foundation of techniques and understanding and that’s the growth through the season,” he added.
Maybe keep Washington’s name in mind…
What does Edmunds need to do?
From the sounds of it, McDermott saw a lot of the same things in linebacker Tremaine Edmunds that observers of the team saw in 2020. Some good with the bad and some promise with some ugly.
Edmunds is still young even though he’s three years into his career (22), however, he lacks consistency in his game. McDermott seem to allude to that when asked about the quarterback of his defense.
“His intensity. And that’s… you want to be a really good player, you’ve got to play at a really intense level all the time, from the very beginning to the end. Tremaine worked through a couple of challenges early in the season with an injury or two. I thought that would be a good learning experience for him as well,” McDermott said.
The 2020 rookie class got the thumbs up from McDermott, and he kept it simple (Maybe because the came at the end of his presser and he was tired of talking, but nonetheless…)
“Good first years,” McDermott said.
Specifically, the coach mentioned how wide receiver Gabriel Davis got off to a hot start, which he enjoyed. On kicker Tyler Bass and defensive end AJ Epenesa, McDermott liked how they worked through adversity.
Naturally as a coach, he raised the bar before ending his thoughts.
“The biggest challenge is, Year 1 to Year 2, what are you going to do with it?” McDermott said.
No mention of running back Zack Moss was made. That’s likely the only just and overthought, though. No reason to look into that.
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