You can tell from the giddy reaction to Josh Allen’s first win how desperate Bills fans are to find a genuine heir to Jim Kelly. A franchise quarterback is more crucial than ever in the NFL, where passing has become increasingly vital and the rules have made it a borderline felony to hit a quarterback with hint of physical menace.
As of Friday, there were 16 quarterbacks on pace to throw for 4,000 yards this season. Yes, half the league. Five QBs (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Jared Goff and Kirk Cousins) are on pace to break Peyton Manning's single-season record of 5,477 yards.
Fitzpatrick, the first man to throw for 400 yards in each of his first three games of a season, is on pace for 6,560 yards — and he might not hold the job in Tampa for the entire season.
It’s a reminder to Bills fans that their team has been behind the trend for years. There have been 162 4,000-yard passing seasons since the merger in 1970. The Bills have one: Drew Bledsoe threw for 4,359 yards in 2002. Jim Kelly never threw for 4,000 yards. Of course, the Bills threw the ball 50 percent of the time during his prime. Teams now throw on roughly 60 percent of their plays.
Maybe Allen will become a legitimate star and make 4,000 yards seem routine in Buffalo. On to this week’s Mailbag.
Buffalo Ball Buster asks: Is Tre White a top 3 corner?
Sully: Great question. I’m reluctant to anoint White as a top three cornerback in the NFL this early in his second season, especially after watching the defense give up 78 points in the first two weeks. But based on his performance against some top wideouts, he’s on his way to being a shutdown corner.
The Bills got smoked by the Chargers in the first half two weeks ago, but Keenan Allen wasn’t nearly the factor he was in LA a year ago. With White, the nominal left corner, shadowing Allen all over the field, the Chargers’ No. 1 wideout was limited to six catches for 67 yards.
Last week, White was even better in the shocker at Minnesota. He blanketed Stefon Diggs, supposedly the Vikings’ No. 1 wideout, and limited him to four catches for just 17 yards on 10 targets. Kirk Cousins went repeatedly to his other wide receiver, Adam Thielen, who had 14 catches on 19 targets for 105 yards, much in garbage time.
It will be interesting to see what happens Sunday in Green Bay. Davante Adams is Aaron Rodgers’ top target with 20 catches for 204 yards and three TDs. If White can shut Adams down, it will allow the Bills to shade coverage toward the other side. Phillip Gaines is expected to play this week after missing the Vikings game. Ryan Lewis acquitted himself admirably in Minnesota after coming in off the practice squad.
White looks like he could be a Pro Bowler very soon. But playing cornerback can be a fragile existence in the NFL. The kid will have his weaker moments, as he did last year. But the signs are certainly positive after his terrific rookie season and his stellar play in the first three weeks.
Spyderman1954 asks: How many left tackles have started since we let Jason Peters walk?
Sully: You piqued my curiosity, Spidey. It took some research, but I went through the recent seasons on pro-football-reference.com — a valuable resource that I use every day — to find the answer.
There have been eight men to start a game at left tackle since Peters played his final season in Buffalo in 2008. Peters was traded to the Eagles in April of ’09 after a year-long stalemate with the Bills over a new contract. The Bills got the 28th overall pick (plus two lesser picks) in the deal, which they used to draft Eric Wood. Andy Reid made Peters the highest-paid tackle in the NFL the day he got him.
Demetrius Bell (who later changed his name to Demetress) and Jonathan Scott each started eight games in 2009. Bell started all 16 in 2010, Chan Gailey’s first year as coach. Bell, Chris Hairston and Andy Levitre all started games at left tackle in 2011.
Cordy Glenn started 13 games as a rookie in 2012. Chris Hairston and Erik Pears also started. Glenn started every game from 2013-15 and 11 in 2016. Cyrus Kouandjio started five games in ’16. Last year, Dion Dawkins started 11 games as a rookie for an injured Glenn, who was traded to the Bengals in March. The Bills used the 12th pick they got from Cincinnati to move up for Josh Allen in the draft.
They’ve never really replaced Peters, which I assume is your point. He was a tough guy to replace. Peters has made nine Pro Bowls for the Eagles. Last season, he tore his ACL and MCL in a Monday night game in October and was sidelined for Philly’s Super Bowl run. But he was back in time for the 2018 opener and is still going strong at 36. He has a very good case for the Hall of Fame.
Eric Sepci asks: A lot of excitement around the Sabres. How long of a leash does Phil Housley have? I can see him hit the hot seat by December with a slow start.
Sully: There is a great deal of anticipation for the Sabres’ new season. They have a rookie sensation in defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, a new offensive weapon in Jeff Skinner, and a number of other additions that have fans confident they can improve dramatically on last year’s discouraging campaign.
Still, the fact remains they finished dead last in Housley’s first season as head coach and had the worst home record in franchise history. The home fans turned their backs on a dreadfully dull product. Instead of a waiting list for season tickets, there were scalpers desperately trying to unload game seats for $6 a pop.
That was bad for business, and as I suggested last spring, it would be bad for Housley if his team didn’t show marked improvement in his second season. The Sabres are the town’s chief winter entertainment. If people are indifferent, the Pegulas will have to consider another head coach.
That will be especially true if this team doesn’t play well out of the gate and quickly re-engage the impressionable home fans. People should be careful not to expect too much too soon, but they have a right to demand a newly energized and exciting team on the ice. You can lose games and still create hope for the future.
But if the Sabres are sinking back toward the bottom of the conference after two months, Housley could — and should — be on the hot seat. Not even a starry-eyed fan like Terry Pegula has unlimited patience for losing and disaffected customers.
Jack Gray asks: Why does Aaron Boone insist on playing the worst defensive catcher in baseball along with a .184 batting average when he has a fine defensive catcher who has 10 homers and a .244 average in Romine?
Sully: Good question. Gary Sanchez has been brutal this season. He's a mess at the plate. He leads the big leagues with 18 passed balls and isn’t nearly as capable a backstop as Austin Romine.
Boone is a rookie manager who seems interested in being seen as a players’ guy, devoted to his established stars. He continued to bat Brett Gardner at the top of the order, even when Gardner’s on-base percentage was .290 over a two-month stretch.
Sanchez is a more dangerous hitter than Romine, despite his season-long slump, and Boone is no doubt hoping for a revival in October. Boone insists that Sanchez has improved behind the plate. Romine defends him, too. But Sanchez could cost the Yankees a game with a passed ball or some other defensive gaffe in a wild-card game.
What would critics be saying about the manager then?
@mehser12 asks: Ryder Cup weekend, Sully! What are you looking forward to? Any predictions?
Sully: Well, the first day is finished and the Europeans lead, 5-3, after winning all four afternoon matches for their first session sweep since 1989. Europe, which has a 25-year winning streak on home soil, will be tough to beat at Le Golf National in Paris.
This comes as no surprise. On the Bucky & Sully Show on Thursday, I predicted a win for Europe. Other than Patrick Reed, the U.S. doesn’t have many proven Ryder Cup winners. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have losing career records.
Mickelson was a bad captain’s pick by Jim Furyk (who had one of the worst Ryder Cup records in American history). Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau got smoked by Alex Noren and Sergio Garcia, always tough in this event, 5 and 4 in the afternoon round.
Things have a way of turning around in the Ryder Cup, but it’ll be tough for the Americans to recover from the Friday afternoon embarrassment. The U.S. guys put on a show of team unity every year, but the event means more to the Europeans, and their team is scary.