Good news on Bills’ injuries at linebacker
OK, after yesterday’s column focused on the obvious negatives that came out of the Buffalo’s season-opening, 27-17 win over the Jets at Bills Stadium, it’s time for some positive news.
And the most obvious came from coach Sean McDermott on Monday afternoon who revealed that none of the injuries four of the team’s linebackers sustained against New York appears to be long-term and are being viewed as “day-to-day.”
Two of them, had the prognosis been different, would have severely undermined the team’s best unit.
Middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, one of the NFL’s elite, suffered a shoulder injury on a missed tackle as the Jets scored on a 69-yard screen pass from Sam Darnold to Jamison Crowder in the third quarter.
Outside backer Matt Milano, a big-play specialist, as indicated by his first-half interception of Darnold, left the game in the second quarter with a hamstring injury.
In addition, backup Tyrel Dodson, who got his first sack as a pro, went out of the game late with an undisclosed minor injury, and fellow reserve, Del'Shawn Phillips, suffered a quad injury in the first half and didn’t return.
Still, the concentration of lost players at one position became problematic.
The Bills had only six linebackers active for the game and, at the end, that translated to only outside starter, A.J. Klein, the free agent from New Orleans, and former Steeler Tyler Matakevich, a kicking team specialist.
Buffalo’s lone other linebacker is veteran Andre Smith, allowed on the practice squad due to altered rules due to Covid-19.
Monday’s encouraging medical report, especially on Edmunds and Milano, might preclude the Bills approaching Lorenzo Alexander about coming out of retirement. Klein took over his spot when the 37-year-old locker room leader called it a career at the end of last season.
MEANWHILE, with quarterback Josh Allen having his best passing day as a pro — 312 yards, 46 attempts, 33 completions, 17 passing first downs, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 104.6 passer rating — somewhat offset by two lost fumbles, missing a wide-open John Brown in the end zone and an unacceptably high rushing load (career-high 14 carries), did some good things.
The most obvious was, despite the two lost fumbles, Buffalo exercised extraordinary ball control, owning an incredible 41:16-18:44 edge in time of possession. If that’s lost on you, consider that after the 1990 season, the Giants held the ball for 40:33 but needed Scott Norwood’s “wide right” from 47 yards out on the game’s final play to win Super Bowl XXV.
Because Buffalo held the ball for so long — it converted 7-of-14 third downs and its 31 first downs were six better than last season’s best — the Jets, admittedly possessing one of the NFL’s weakest offenses, had only 53 plays for 254 yards and turned the ball over twice.
That ball control was a gift to the defense whose surrendered yardage was 44 under last year’s average and New York’s 52 rushing yards (on a mere 15 carries), 51 fewer than the 2019 norm.
BUT, THERE was a defensive negative.
Start with tackle Ed Oliver, last year’s first-round draft choice, lost his starting job halfway through the 2019 campaign, after being mostly invisible. He did play a stronger final five games, but averaged barely 2.5 tackles per over the season.
Against the Jets, Oliver had the most snaps of any defensive lineman, 38, but mustered only one assisted tackle and seemed to be no factor. By contrast, tackle Justin Zimmer, a free agent fresh off the practice squad, played only 16 snaps but logged four tackles (one primary, three assists).
On the plus side, Buffalo’s ‘D’ accounted for only three of the team’s seven penalties.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)