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Friday, January 27, 2023

What went wrong for the Buffalo Bills, and how can they fix it?

The offense has a longer way to go but more obvious fixes at hand. Buffalo’s flaws in the middle of the offensive line were on full display vs. the Bengals.

Rodger Saffold, shown above getting beaten like a dirty rug, is a free agent. As are Greg Van Roten and David Quessenberry, two fill-in linemen who played at least 33 percent of the team’s snaps this season to middling effect. Upgrading the two spots alongside Pro Bowl center Mitch Morse will be a priority, especially given the late season rise of rookie tailback James Cook (six yards per carry between Weeks 11 and 18) and his subsequent flop in the postseason as the Bills’ blocking broke down (3.1 YPC in two playoff games).

That would benefit Allen significantly. An even bigger boon would be finding a true WR2 to complement Stefon Diggs and take double-teams off his plate. The Bengals bracketed him in Sunday’s game and used their pressure to ensure Allen couldn’t hit him in stride even when open. Gabriel Davis, the team’s second-most targeted player in 2022, torched Miami for 113 yards in the Wild Card round but had only two catches for 34 yards vs. Cincy. This tracks; he had 40 receiving yards or fewer in more than half his games this fall.

Isaiah McKenzie is more of a short-range complementary piece, Khalil Shakir remains a lottery ticket and veteran options like Jamison Crowder, John Brown and Cole Beasley failed to add lasting value. This is how the Bills wound up tied to Odell Beckham Jr. free agency rumors throughout the regular season. They’ll likely wind up in the mix as the former All-Pro continues his path back from the torn ACL he suffered in Super Bowl 56.

Again, however, Buffalo’s lack of cap space and needs elsewhere could hamstring the team. Beckham will be an expensive acquisition even with injury concerns thanks to a weak crop of veteran wideouts. The Bills draft spot at No. 28 pushes them out of range for any of 2023’s top prospects without a pricy trade up. Maybe someone like Jaxon Smith-Njigba slides their way, but that opens up a whole other host of questions about how much a rookie would be able to contribute and if they’d have a bigger impact than the uneven Davis.

Buffalo’s window of contention remains open, even if 2022 proved Allen isn’t Patrick Mahomes. His relative lack of support and instinct to put each play on his shoulders ultimately proved fatal in the Divisional Round as another playoff run fell frustratingly short. Finding contributors who can serve as plug-and-play replacements won’t be easy given the team’s age, recent success and limited spending money.

But the Bills have a winning culture and a handful of stars who can not only lure big names to western New York but help get the most out of them. Allen is only 26 years old and hasn’t yet reached the potential of his powers. That defense played well even as starter after starter hit the injured list.

This is all to say the floor for the 2023 Buffalo Bills is very high. We’re just not sure where the ceiling is yet.

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