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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It was considered the skippable game on the schedule. The second of an easy three-game stretch for the Buffalo Bills following their bye. Another road stadium filled with Bills fans set to enjoy an easy win on a pleasant Florida afternoon.
Not so fast.
Instead, the Bills' offense struggled mightily in a 9-6 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. A week prior, Buffalo rebounded from a bad first two quarters against the Miami Dolphins and put together a strong finish for a win. This time around, the Bills did not score a point in the second half.
"[I] just gotta be smart with the football and end every drive in a kick," quarterback Josh Allen said. "Understanding how our defense is playing, not giving them a short field and again, I gotta be better. You know, I played like s--- today."
A Bills offense that scored 30 or more points in five of the first six games and came into Week 9 leading the league in scoring offense put up just six points against a one-win Jaguars team that ranks 26th in scoring defense even after Sunday's game.
The Bills scored field goals on the first two drives and then punted on three possessions, had three turnovers, and had their final possession end on a loss of downs. No drive was longer than 48 yards.
What went wrong, and what does it mean going forward?
Statistically, Allen won't look back fondly on this game. He threw two interceptions, lost a fumble and was sacked four times. He completed 31 of 47 passes for 264 yards. Allen had some bad moments, especially throwing the second interception of the third quarter as he fell to the ground.
The Jaguars approached defending Allen the same way teams have played against Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Allen faced two-high safety coverages on 65% of his dropbacks -- by far the highest rate of his career -- which limited his options downfield. His average air yards per attempt was 6.1, his second lowest this season.
The Bills have lost the three games Allen has faced the most two-high safety coverage in his career: the Week 1 loss to the Steelers (58%), last season’s regular-season loss to the Chiefs (55%), and Sunday. Allen's longest completion on Sunday was a 28-yarder to wide receiver Stefon Diggs in the fourth quarter.
"Two-high shells forcing us to throw underneath," Allen said when asked about a lack of early targets to Diggs. "I can do things different to get our guys going early on. We didn't do a good enough job of that today."
Diggs finished the game with six catches for 85 yards, with four of those catches coming in the second half. Receiver Cole Beasley was targeted often in the first half but had only one reception in the final two quarters. It's unclear whether the injury to his ribs that left him questionable coming into the game played a part.
Why did the Jaguars feel confident running that style of defense? Partly because they knew the Bills couldn’t run the ball.
"[Linebacker] Myles Jack told me yesterday, 'This is going to be the best game [they would play]. This game is meant for us to win,'" Jaguars defensive end Josh Allen said. "'They're talking about this team can throw the ball. They really don't run the ball that much. OK, they're working into our hands.'"
The running game, outside of Allen's five carries for 50 yards, was ineffective and not a part of the game plan. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll called a pass on 84.6% of plays, the highest percentage in any game that neither team scored 10 points (since play designs were first tracked in 2006). That has to change.
Even a pass-first offense like Buffalo's has to incorporate the run game to be effective. The inability to get the running backs involved has been a problem throughout the season.
"That's a huge issue right now for us. Gotta be able to run the football when it's handed off," coach Sean McDermott said. "... That's not good enough."
Buffalo was one of two teams not to gain a rushing first down by a running back in Week 9. A breakout rusher isn't walking in the door tomorrow. If this offense is going to take a step forward, Daboll will have to get creative with how the backs are used.
The offensive line can't be blamed for all the rushing issues, but its play contributed. The two backs averaged a league-low for the week of 0.2 yards per carry before contact.
If you looked at the Bills' performance only from a statistical standpoint, it appeared the offensive line had an OK day. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Allen had 3.12 seconds to throw, his second-highest window of the season, and he threw 64% of his passes to open receivers, a season high.
What those numbers can't tell you is whatever success the Bills had was because of Allen. Anyone who watched the Bills and Jaguars play could see that Buffalo's line, especially the interior, is an issue.
Without starting rookie right tackle Spencer Brown and guard Jon Feliciano because of injuries, the Bills played right guard Daryl Williams at right tackle yet again. They also called two backup guards -- Ike Boettger and Cody Ford -- into action. Ford had an especially rough day, and a Jaguars team that entered the game with 11 sacks in seven games had four on Sunday. The Jaguars were credited with eight QB hits.
"Coming in, you'd like to say [we were prepared], but I guess we weren't," center Mitch Morse said. "So, for us, it'll be finding ways to maybe change up your routine because [Sunday] unfortunately, was not it. So, we'll have to reevaluate and go from there."
The recent play of Ford specifically has been a disappointing development for the second-round pick.
Fingers will be pointing in a variety of directions this week, including the referees (12 penalties for 118 yards) and the coaching staff. The Bills, however, did not lose the game because of any one issue. That would be easier to fix. Still, solutions are possible with an offense that boasts one of the best receiving groups in the NFL and a dynamic quarterback. Daboll is a creative coordinator who should be able to find ways to switch things up. But the Bills must make changes to get where they want to go.
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