ORCHARD PARK, NY – The tone changed significantly following the Buffalo Bills’ 24-22 loss to the Denver Broncos.
Just reading between the lines, there were multiple warning signs during Sean McDermott’s press conference regarding the future of offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey.
Just about 11 hours after McDermott addressed reporters at Highmark Stadium, the Bills made the decision that may define their season. The team fired Dorsey, 28 games into his first tenure as an NFL playcaller.
Instead, the Bills named quarterbacks coach Joe Brady as interim offensive coordinator, hoping the former Carolina Panthers play-caller will rescue their season from the perils of a 5-5 record and a tenth place in the AFC at the halfway point of the campaign. It’s the move of a desperate team looking for answers in what should be another season to capitalize on a Super Bowl window.
“There’s never a good time to do it,” McDermott said. “I felt like this was the right time. “I always want to try to do the best for the team and I felt this was necessary at this time.”
For many reasons, Dorsey’s continuation as the primary play-caller was an untenable situation. The offense had been disjointed and stagnant, actually since the second half of the 2022 season. At least last year, they were able to hide behind some major issues on the offensive line, lack of talent at receiver, and injuries. With several solutions to those problems added in the offseason, all available excuses had ceased to exist.
The more time passed in 2023, the more predictable the offense became. Dorsey’s tendencies became well known and he continued to play the hits of his favorite concepts instead of helping the offense evolve. There was also a constant struggle between having a lot of passes versus being two-dimensional and establishing the line of scrimmage. McDermott always subscribed to the desire for the threat to run at opponents while maintaining a pass-first approach. And while the offense would do better from time to time under Dorsey, it remained a long-running battle. This has led to the large-scale inconsistency that McDermott constantly referred to this year.
“There have been moments where we moved the ball and scored points, but I think those moments have become few and far between,” he said. “Since that Miami game, and really before that, there were some moments where I felt like we weren’t moving the ball well enough and we weren’t scoring points. That’s all. It’s all the work. It’s not just two games, four games. It’s the whole season right now.”
It’s not just the Broncos game. It may have seemed like a peculiar moment given how the game ended, however, McDermott’s frustration and his growing impatience with the offense seemed dangerously close to getting Dorsey fired even with the victory. That’s why the move ultimately had to be made at this point in the season because the Bills may not have had another chance before a winnable home game against them with a large season remaining. But as much as firing Dorsey defined the Bills’ 2023 season on Tuesday, it could also be how long it took for him to finally reach a decision.
The Bills could have saved themselves some grief and losses if they had done it earlier in the year, specifically when the idea initially came up after a bad road loss to the Patriots. However, the circumstances of his schedule may have ruled out the idea. The Bills had a short week heading into a Thursday night game that they won and where the offense showed better signs of life. While it was a victory, it gave Dorsey more time for 10 days between games. McDermott said it didn’t seem like the right time after the Bengals loss, which ultimately led to the Bills arriving on Nov. 14, the day that will be a catalyst for something, although it’s hard to predict what the outcome will be.
His first step, however, is to re-instill confidence in the offense, which had been sorely tested 80 percent of the time this year. Only the Dolphins game in Week 4 and the end of the Raiders’ win in Week 2 made McDermott feel like the offense was anywhere near his ceiling. The coach talked about helping the offense regain confidence and energy, which in turn could lead to more promising results.
“Well, I think the scheme is one thing, true, but sometimes it’s also on the margins, so you have to look at both, look at the bigger picture of everything,” McDermott said. “Fundamentals, technique, general energy of the offense in this case. A certain level, a certain DNA of the offense and the mentality. I think that’s important, right? Executing plays is one thing, but how to execute them is another. And the pride you feel for doing things well. It is never just one thing, but you have to evaluate the total package.”
And ultimately, Dorsey’s assessment fell short in McDermott’s eyes. Now that Dorsey is merely a memory in the history of the 2023 campaign, it’s time to turn it around, because life changes for some different people. It starts, most notably with Josh Allen, who now no longer has the protection of the kind he effectively chose once the Giants hired former Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
Allen has long been a strong supporter of Dorsey, so this probably stings a little. Since the quarterback established himself as one of the league’s best, the Bills have made efforts to make Allen feel as comfortable and supported as possible in their quarterback room, often surrounding him with players and coaches with the who has excellent relationships. with. Dorsey was one of those originally as a quarterbacks coach.
It was such a good relationship for some time that one wondered how Allen would react to a possible firing of Dorsey. Would the Bills need to discuss it with Allen to avoid running the risk of him feeling left out of the decision?
“Well, Josh and I talk every day. “This decision was made by me and only me,” McDermott said with authority. “Beyond that, it’s Josh’s responsibility and job to go out and help Coach Brady formulate the game plan and go out and execute the game plan, take care of the football and be our offense more than anything.”
It’s also fair to wonder if there would be any residual impact on Allen’s relationship with the organization or with McDermott due to Dorsey’s firing. We certainly won’t know the answer until the season calms down and we have an idea. He’s too fresh for now as the Bills are trying to get up to speed with a new offensive coordinator before Sunday.
Regardless, Allen needs to play a much sharper, more vibrant style of football, rather than the lifeless display that has become all too common for the Bills’ offense this year. Whether that means more quarterback scrambles, designed runs or anything to keep the defense guessing, it’s all up to Allen to do the job.
As for Brady, McDermott has already given him some new ideas, which will likely excite the head coach. His true identity as a play-caller will be exposed, as he works for a head coach with defensive experience, rather than the offensive experience he worked with in Carolina under Matt Rhule. He’ll have to decide where he’ll be during games, but that’s all now before he auditions for the full-time job in 2024. The first step, of course, is to transform an inconsistent Bills offense back into one of the best units in the game. the league. No pressure.
Will this be the move that saves the Bills’ season and pushes them into the postseason? With their brutal upcoming schedule and the short schedule before their Week 11 matchup with the Jets, the odds are not in their favor. But they may be hoping that the element of surprise will help them get through this weekend against the Jets, and the next one in Philadelphia before a much-needed bye week after that.
But really, aside from Allen, the person who this decision by Dorsey could affect the most is McDermott. Now, with Leslie Frazier out of the picture on defense and Dorsey on offense, all the attention falls squarely on McDermott’s shoulders. There are no other coordinator changes that could boost the team, and McDermott certainly won’t be fired. Recent results have not been kind to McDermott’s overall standing within the fan base. Many are frustrated and have come to question whether McDermott should be let go if the Bills miss the postseason.
Although the idea of McDermott not being the Bills’ head coach in 2024 seems completely far-fetched from an organizational perspective. McDermott has history on his side, and that history shows a head coach who has made the playoffs in five of his six full seasons. He just signed a long-term contract extension upon the scheduled opening of his new stadium. It would take a dramatic upheaval for him to be in danger after the season, regardless of whether they miss the playoffs. This could be a precursor to a discussion a year from now as the only focus is on him for an entire offseason, which could make this the year before the bench year. But we are still very far from that.
Regardless, the only thing that matters now is how the Bills respond to Dorsey’s firing, whether it will ultimately be a case of too little, too late or whether this can be the tangible change to return as a legitimate playoff contender. What they have been for the last six games is simply not good enough. Fortunately for them, it’s not too late. It’s close, but you never know what injuries will affect other teams in the NFL to make those possibly tough games more attainable. And even if in the grand scheme Dorsey’s firing doesn’t get them there this year, it’s at least an admission that what was happening wasn’t good enough rather than continuing with the status quo, and perhaps the wake-up call what did you recieve. I need to face a much more cap-challenged 2024 season.
But make no mistake, if the Bills don’t make the postseason, given all of their talent coming this year, it will be an organizational failure from the front office to the players. They have seven games to figure it out. The clock is ticking.
(Top photo by Ken Dorsey: Eric Espada/Getty Images)