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, we look back at the season and our beloved Buffalo Bills. Every week is a story, and we bring this to you through the lens of key plays that defined the game. Your Week 1 match-up:Buffalo Bills at Baltimore RavensIt was finally here! The NFL regular season. With the quarterback of the future acquired in the draft and exciting new faces in the building, things were looking up for the Buffalo Bills. Sean McDermott’s rookie year as head coach had led the Bills to their first playoff berth in nearly two decades. Looking to build off this success, the season opened with a sense of wonder. First up; the Baltimore Ravens. The team Buffalo narrowly edged out for the final playoff slot the year before was a poetic beginning to a new year. Until the game actually started. The Ravens put a beat-down on the Bills to the tune of 47-3. Along the way, the Bills stirred up a quarterback argument that still rages on today. Fans were reminded that pain is part of the process in spectacularly brutal fashion. Opening kickoff (Q1, 15:00) This is the play of the game for the Buffalo Bills. I wish I didn’t have a solid argument for that statement. Stephen Hauschka’s kick to start the game was brought out of the end zone by Janarion Grant who was marked down at the 20. This “five yards better than if he had downed it” scenario is one of few objectively positive outcomes of the game. This also represents literally the entire time the Bills were arguably in control of the game. The Ravens marched down the field and scored a touchdown with 8:49 left in the first quarter. It was the winning score. Nathan Peterman’s first pass of the day (Q1, 8:16)When you’re defining a game like this one, unfortunately the narrative steers away from highlights. This incomplete pass is all too emblematic of the day. The Bills finished the game with 98 passing yards despite throwing the ball 33 times. A 33% completion rate and just under three yards per attempt are statistics that are painful to calculate. Any incompletion would have sufficed, but Nathan Peterman’s first throw of the game was selected to juxtapose with a play we’ll look at in a moment. Tremaine Edmunds’s first NFL sack (Q2, 11:58)There’s no way to go a full 60 minutes of game time without at least a few things going right. While this game was nearly irredeemable, let’s take the time to celebrate one notable milestone. Tremaine Edmunds stays disciplined and takes down a scrambling Flacco. It’s right on the fence between sack and tackle, but we go with the official NFL log and give the rookie his credit. Nathan Peterman’s second interception (Q3, 11:39)It’s not my intent to pile on Nathan Peterman, but there’s no way of avoiding how this shaped the story of the game. Before this throw, Peterman was 5-for-17 for 24 yards and one interception. In comparison, Lamar Jackson ended the game with four pass attempts and matched Peterman’s yardage output. Back to this throw, Kelvin Benjamin arguably should have bailed his quarterback out. Regardless, this was the death knell for the Peterman era. While it was a slower death than many hoped for (including starting again), this was the final straw. With his performance against Baltimore, Peterman earned a 0.0 passer rating. The Josh Allen Era begins! (Q3, 10:54)Josh Allen throws his first regular-season NFL pass! Here’s our juxtaposition mentioned above. Both Allen’s and Peterman’s first passes fell incomplete, but they seem like night and day. Allen’s pass found the same zip code as his intended receiver and may have even been caught if it weren’t for some contact by the defender. This was an incompletion that had promise! It was sooner than anticipated, but the Allen era was on in Western New York.Josh Allen’s final pass of the game (Q4, 0:11)This is perhaps my favorite play from the game. The execution is lacking. And ultimately it had zero bearing on the outcome of the game. What stands out is that with 11 seconds to go and down by 44 points, the Bills let Allen throw it downfield. For a team that had repeatedly played incredibly conservative football on offense in 2017, the decision to allow Allen to practice more aggressive calls was refreshing. The Buffalo Bills featured a pair of running backs on the wrong side of 30 in 2018, and it’s fair to wonder if either will return for the 2019 campaign. Below, we look at Chris Ivory’s season and see what he brought to the table for the Buffalo Bills. At 3.3 yards per carry and a definitively “not eye-popping” 385 yards for the season, it’s already not looking good for the veteran. Play 1When most people discuss Chris Ivory’s benefit to the offense, they’re talking about this. No bells Youth Jim Kelly Jerseys
, whistles or anything like that. Just straight ahead, take-what-the-defense-gives-you runs—and Ivory certainly does do that. Note at the end of the run he lowers his head to get the last little bit available. Play 2With the inevitable comparisons to LeSean McCoy’s game, we may as well get started. McCoy simply can’t churn like this. Despite a small difference in weight (about 13 pounds according to Pro Football Reference) there’s a major difference in ability to push a pile. Play 3Here we have the same idea but on a quick toss to the outside. Ivory manages to keep his legs going and the end result is a first down. Also note that Ivory isn’t too shabby speed-wise getting outside. Play 4This isn’t McCoy’s level or even particularly close, but for a player who hit 30, this isn’t a bad ability to cut and dance around. Ivory isn’t a one-dimensional back and does have a little wiggle to supplement his power game. In addition to the change of direction, he remains balanced after contact. Play 5Here’s another thing I trust Ivory to do well more than McCoy. Ivory is an aggressive blocker who consistently buys a little extra time for his quarterback. This represents Ivory’s usual blocking style, preferring to get a quick “pop” to drive his man back at the point of contact. Play 6This is actually a one-yard loss but still an excellent play to discuss several things. Regarding Ivory, that’s good balance to spin out of the first tackle and get this to a loss of one rather than several. There’s not enough lead blockers to stop the Minnesota Vikings from turning this into a stop, which brings us to negative plays (no gain or loss).The perception this year was that Chris Ivory had far fewer negative runs than LeSean McCoy. While true, Ivory also had far fewer carries. When discussing rates, they’re shockingly similar. McCoy ran for no gain 11.2% of the time. Ivory? 11.3% of the time. McCoy lost yards 14.9% of his runs. Ivory lost yards 12.2% of his rushes. McCoy’s average loss was 2.3 yards. Ivory’s was 2.1 yards. We’ll circle back to this, but essentially both backs lost yards at nearly identical frequencies and amounts. Play 7Due to the length of this clip, we start mid-play. Ivory has leaked out of the backfield and sees Josh Allen being chased. Ivory wisely moves in the same direction and looks for the ball. Allen sees the open back and they connect for 55 yards. The only statistical measure where Ivory performed significantly better than McCoy was yards-per-catch. This reception is a good chunk of why. That’s not to sell Ivory short. He earned this and every catch, and showed he’s a threat in the passing game as well. Play 8There’s not much to discuss here, just enjoy. That’s a nice cut to break the tackle and more than adequate speed to get to the edge. Play 9Here’s Ivory’s best attributes all in one play. As he cuts through the line, he jumps to avoid being tripped and still gets to his position quickly. He makes the catch, quickly turns and starts running. He attempts to cut but is corralled. The first contact doesn’t drop him and the churning legs get just a bit more. SummarySimply due to age, the Bills would be taking a major gamble by relying on the tandem of LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory. It would certainly be understandable if one or both didn’t return for the 2019 season. Despite his advanced NFL years and being the backup to a possible Hall of Fame talent in McCoy, there’s plenty of reason to keep Ivory around. As the clips show, he was quite versatile for the Bills—and not just in physical talent. The veteran was able to diagnose and help out in plays that a younger back might miss as they adjust to the speed of the game. There’s a valid concern about yards-per-carry, with Ivory’s in steady decline since 2015, his last over 4.0 yards per carry. With evidence strongly suggesting a major issue with the line, it’s not unreasonable to think Ivory would have had a respectable 2018 if there had been better blocking in front of him. Improvement on the offensive line should help Ivory, but the natural argument becomes justifying Ivory over McCoy or a promising youngster. Ivory’s presence would likely benefit a young player so there’s not much conflict there. If the Bills only stick with one of Ivory or McCoy, there’s actually an argument for Ivory. While age is the oft-cited problem for the position, there’s an argument that number of carries might be more important. McCoy enters the 2019 season with about 2,600 carries in his career. While Ivory is 112 days older than McCoy, he’s only accumulated about 1,300 carries.