Things are starting to unravel for the Buffalo Bills.

Three weeks ago, they sat at 5-2 and looked the part of a team capable of making the playoffs. Since then, they’ve dropped three in a row and as a result, a broad assessment of their postseason prospects is now anything but rosy. All three losses came in blowout fashion, including Sunday’s 54-24 debacle against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Earlier in the week, head coach Sean McDermott made a change at quarterback, naming Nathan Peterman the starter over Tyrod Taylor. It’s a decision that backfired precipitously as the rookie fifth round pick out of Pittsburgh endured a miserable debut. Peterman lasted just a half before McDermott pulled the plug, putting Taylor back in to start the third quarter.

Though Peterman’s dreadful performance is undoubtedly going to make the most headlines, this was a team loss. For the second time in three games, the defense failed to force a single turnover. Philip Rivers had a field day, throwing for 251 yards and two touchdowns. And Buffalo’s issues defending the run were once again on full display. They gave up 146 yards on the ground and a touchdown apiece to Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler.

What makes Sunday’s result all the more concerning is the fact that the Chargers came into this game averaging 18.6 points per game. They ended up tripling that output against the Bills. The last time Los Angeles hung half a hundred on an opponent was on December 28, 2008. And the 54 points is the most Buffalo has surrendered in the history of this series which dates back to the old AFL’s inaugural year of 1960.

With the Bills losers of three in a row and now .500 on the season, there are questions that need quick answers to prevent things from going completely off the rails.

Nathan Peterman Flops

When making a change at quarterback, your rationale centers upon the idea that the replacement gives your team the best chance to win. After two inconsistent performances from Taylor against the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints, McDermott felt the time was now to make a move by going with Peterman this week. But it didn’t take long on Sunday to realize that Peterman isn’t quite ready yet.

On his third pass of the game, Peterman attempted a dump off pass to fullback Patrick DiMarco. It deflected off his hands and into the waiting arms of Korey Toomer who took it 59 yards the other way for a pick six. Though Peterman wasn’t completely at fault, it marked the beginning of a first half to forget for the rookie. Call it “baptism by fire” or “throwing him to the wolves,” whichever way you look at it, Peterman struggled mightily.

When the smoke cleared on the smoldering mess that was Buffalo’s first half, Peterman’s numbers told the story. He completed just 42.9 percent of his passes and threw a whopping five interceptions. Since 1991, only one other quarterback, Keith Null of the then St. Louis Rams, equalled such a display of ineptitude in his first ever start. Taylor replaced Peterman in the second half and stabilized things, even though Joey Bosa strip-sacked him in the third quarter, leading to a Melvin Ingram defensive touchdown.

Poor Game Plan on Offense Proves Costly

Success in the NFL dictates fluidity and adaptability when it comes to game planning for opponents. What works against one team may not necessarily get the job done on a week-by-week basis. Nevertheless, it helps to play to the strengths of your team. And that’s something Buffalo completely whiffed on in Sunday’s matchup against the Chargers.

Initially, it looked as if this wasn’t going to be the case. On the Bills third drive, LeSean McCoy proved immensely effective against a run defense that came into this game ranked second worst in the league. The drive lasted two plays, with McCoy blasting off gains of 37 and 27 yards respectively, that latter of which resulted in a game-tying touchdown.

But for whatever reason, offensive coordinator Rick Dennison decided to shy away from incorporating McCoy into the offense for the remainder of the half. After getting five carries during the Bills first three possessions, he saw just three more touches before halftime. All in all, he finished with 13 carries in a game that necessitated Buffalo using him as a bell cow back.

The fact that it didn’t happen is inexplicable. Making the run game the focal point of the offense would’ve taken a ton of pressure of Peterman in the first half. You’re also playing to the strengths of your offense while attempting to take advantage of the opponent’s weaknesses on the other side of the ball. So the coaching staff certainly deserves a fair amount of blame for not putting the team in a position to win in that regard.

Run Defense Improves but Still Needs Work

Against the Jets and Saints, Buffalo exhibited a shocking level of ineptitude when it came to stopping the run. A combination of poor tackling, improper pursuit angles, and unsound gap discipline all conspired against them as they gave up 492 rushing yards in the two losses. It included New Orleans’ 298 yard effort in week 10, just the eighth time in franchise history that the Bills gave up over 295 yards on the ground.

Things improved marginally in L.A. The Chargers managed 146 rushing yards on Sunday, with their 4.2 yards per carry two full yards fewer than what Buffalo allowed last week against the Saints. But the Chargers’ two rushing touchdowns on the day showcased all the issues affecting the Bills. You can’t arm tackle talented running backs in this league, which is what linebacker Ramon Humber attempted to do on Gordon’s second quarter score. And what the Bills demonstrated on Ekeler’s fourth quarter scamper was complete anathema to sound defensive fundamentals.

Next week, the Bills face a Kansas City Chiefs team with a rookie running back in Kareem Hunt who was the talk of the NFL during the first half of the season. But he’s currently in the midst of a slump, failing to eclipse 100 rushing yards in the past five games while his last touchdown of any kind came in week three. Playing the Bills and their porous run defense might be the perfect recipe for a resurgence. And if they aren’t careful, Arrowhead Stadium has the potential to be a house of horrors en route to a losing record.

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