ORCHARD PARK - We are essentially a quarter of the way through the 2023 season, and perhaps the least surprising development in the league is that all the talk about the Buffalo Bills’ Super Bowl window closing was probably a bit premature.
After stumbling badly in their 22-16 season-opening loss to Zack Wilson and the Jets - still shaking my head over that one - there was suddenly all kinds of room on the Bills’ bandwagon. Everywhere you turned, people were questioning Josh Allen following one of his worst games ever, and the Bills took a tumble in the power rankings.
Well, since that ugly night in the Meadowlands, there was certainly a course correction in the blowout over the Raiders, and now the Bills have two more blowouts on their ledger against the Commanders and previously high-flying Dolphins. They have outscored those three opponents 123-33 and right now, there isn’t a better, more complete, more high-functioning team on the AFC side of the league than 3-1 Buffalo.
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Allen’s performance during Sunday’s 48-20 manhandling of the Dolphins was a work of art as he carved up Miami for five total touchdowns - four passing, one rushing - while throwing for 320 yards which led to a perfect passer rating of 158.3. I don’t know why 158.3 is the perfect score, but Allen’s outing befitted that number.
And on defense, the Bills rank second in the NFL in points allowed per game (13.8), sixth in yards allowed (288.0) and No. 1 in takeaways at 2.8 per game.
Heck, throw in kicker Tyler Bass who hasn’t missed a kick this season (9-for-9 on field goals, 16-for-16 on extra points) and is fourth in the NFL in individual scoring with 43 points.
The Chiefs have looked somewhat mundane despite a 3-1 start, the Ravens are frisky at 3-1, and the 3-1 Dolphins aren’t going away, but Buffalo’s 3-1 just looks much more impressive across the board.
Before the Bills head off to London this week to play Jacksonville, a team that was considered a threat to the hierarchy in the AFC but is off to a blah 2-2 start, Allen was asked whether he had a message for the naysayers. He just smiled and said, “No thank you.”
Here are three questions I have heading into Sunday’s game on the pitch in London:
1. Which Josh Allen will have the better day?
Buffalo’s Allen, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, is coming off a masterpiece performance in the victory over Miami. But Jacksonville’s Allen, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2019 draft, is also coming off a virtuoso performance as he registered three sacks Sunday in the Jaguars’ 23-7 victory over Atlanta, also in London.
“He was in a great head space before the game, this whole week,” Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said of Allen who now has six sacks in the first four games of the season. “Just an outstanding performance. It’s what he’s capable of doing.”
Bills fans surely remember the other Allen from the last time these two teams met in 2021 in Jacksonville. In a game that ranks as one of the worst Bills’ losses in recent memory, Urban Meyer’s team pulled out a 9-6 victory - one of only three his lone Jaguars team would muster that season - with their Allen acting as a wrecking ball.
He had an interception, a sack, a fumble recovery and eight tackles as the Jaguars forced three turnovers and held the Bills’ dynamic offense to 301 yards. It was one of the most unexpected results in the NFL that year.
Allen was asked Sunday how exciting it would be to sack Allen. “I've done it before, but the Buffalo Bills are a really good team behind a good, experienced offensive line,” the linebacker said.
He’s right. This Bills offensive line is better equipped to deal with him than the 2021 group. The additions of guards O’Cyrus Torrence and Connor McGovern have clearly elevated the line’s overall play, and it has already done a stellar job against the likes of Las Vegas’ Maxx Crosby, the entire first-round pick defensive front four of the Commanders, and on Christian Wilkins of the Dolphins.
“Just being able to come out and kind of impose our will and do what we wanted to,” McGovern said specifically of the Miami game, but holistically of the last three games. “That’s what we talked about all week and it’s a great feeling being able to actually do it on Sunday.”
2. Will Von Miller make his season debut?
I think it’s highly unlikely that the 34-year-old edge rusher plays against Jacksonville. He hasn’t gone through a full practice since the week of Thanksgiving 2022. Remember, he sat out all of training camp and when you’re on the physically unable to perform list - which he was until Monday - you aren’t allowed to practice.
While he has rehabbed his torn ACL back into shape, it seems logical that the Bills will give him a chance to ramp himself back up and keep him inactive Sunday. And when you look at things realistically, they can afford to do that because the defensive line has been so outstanding this year; there should be no rush to get Miller back on the field, especially this quickly.
Greg Rousseau is off to a great start as he has 11 pressures and three sacks on 82 pass rush snaps. Leonard Floyd, starting in Miller’s place, has also been impactful with 12 pressures and 3.5 sacks in 74 pass rush snaps. And A.J. Epenesa and Shaq Lawson have held up their duties in the rotation, too.
Sean McDermott confirmed Monday that Miller will begin practicing Wednesday, but as far as whether he will play, McDermott said it would be a day-to-day process.
3. With Tre'Davious injury, how worrisome is the health of the secondary?
The Bills played the Miami game without safety Jordan Poyer due to a knee injury, and then late in the third quarter they lost cornerback Tre’Davious White to an Achilles injury. White, obviously, is done for the season - McDermott confirmed Monday that it is a torn Achilles - and we’ll have to wait for news on whether Poyer can return to action.
McDermott said Poyer would be evaluated daily and would not commit to him returning. If he doesn't, the Bills will go again with Taylor Rapp in his place, and then at cornerback, either Dane Jackson or Kaiir Elam - who hasn’t even dressed for a game this year - will have to step up.
Rapp played all 65 defensive snaps against Miami and made five tackles while also missing one while also allowing two receptions on two targets into his coverage area for 29 yards according to Pro Football Focus. Given the big-play ability of the Dolphins’ offense, Rapp held up pretty well and he should only grow in this defense if he continues to get snaps in Poyer’s place.
At corner, Jackson and Elam both lost out to Christian Benford in the battle to start opposite White. Now one has to start, and the other will be the primary backup at both spots.
Jacksonville isn’t nearly as dangerous as Miami in the passing game, but Trevor Lawrence - who hasn’t really hit his stride yet - is considered to be one of the next great franchise quarterbacks - could erupt at any moment and he has three productive receivers in Calvin Ridley, Christian Kirk and ex-Bill Zay Jones, a pass-catching tight end in Evan Engram, and a dangerous backfield threat in Travis Etienne, to test the Bills’ compromised secondary.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana and on Threads @salmaiorana1. To subscribe to Sal's newsletter, Bills Blast, which will come out every Friday during training camp, please follow this link: https://profile.democratandchronicle.com/newsletters/bills-blast
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Bills injuries, dueling Josh Allens among keys to game vs Jaguars