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Carucci Take 2: There are plenty of reasons for the Bills to be thankful

This Thanksgiving, WGRZ Bills/NFL Insider Vic Carucci offers an alternative to the usual preview of what Buffalo needs to do against another team it should beat.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Here are my five thoughts on the Buffalo Bills’ game against the Detroit Lions Thursday at Ford Field:

1. Rather than the usual preview rundown of what the Bills need to do against another team they should have little problem beating, I’m going to list five reasons they should be thankful, beginning with the obvious: Josh Allen.

No, he hasn’t looked much like the leading candidate he once was for league MVP lately. You know things are going less than smoothly when one of the most frequently asked questions regarding the team that’s second in the AFC East and a fifth playoff seed is, “What’s wrong with Josh Allen?”

The simple answer is that Allen has gone through a stretch of carelessness with the football. This isn’t anything new for him, though it is seen as being more pronounced because of the exceptionally high level he was playing through most of the first five or six games of the Bills’ 7-3 start. In the last four, Allen has resembled the inconsistent form he displayed through his first two NFL seasons.

In last Sunday’s win against the Browns, his problems shifted from turnovers to wild inaccuracy with his throws, including some that were completed. Allen played as if he were fearing an interception, which is largely why he frustrated Stefon Diggs by not throwing in his direction through most of the first half because Allen wanted to avoid the risk of challenging double coverage.

That changed near the end of the second quarter, as Allen found his groove and methodically led an impressive two-minute drill, ending with his touchdown dart to Diggs.

Allen remains every bit the elite quarterback he has been since 2020. He’s still the primary reason the Bills are among the favorites to win the Super Bowl. His prolific passing and freakish speed-power combination as a runner are going to pose a major problem for every opponent left on the schedule in the postseason.

With Allen, the Bills are extraordinary. Without him, they aren’t.

2. General manager Brandon Beane and the player-personnel department for building a roster with arguably the best depth in the league, especially on defense.

Injuries have hit the Bills as hard as any time during the two-and-a-half seasons they have been a top-level club. It’s bad enough they have played the whole season without one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks, Tre’Davous White, who is a year removed from a major knee injury. Then, they lost one of the league’s top safeties, Micah Hyde, to a season-ending neck injury. And Jordan Poyer, another elite safety, has been in and out of the lineup with an injured elbow.

Yet, the back end of the defense has persevered and has not been a glaring weakness, even as the team suffered rare back-to-back losses. The replacements in the secondary have had their difficulties, but usually find a way to hold their own.

The challenge becomes even greater now that Buffalo’s D has more injuries with which to contend. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and defensive end Greg Rousseau will miss Thursday’s game, while DE A.J. Epenesa is doubtful.

Should that be cause for panic? No.

One, the Lions, despite their three-game winning streak, have health problems of their own, including the fact they will be missing both of their starting guards. Two, the Bills’ rotation of their defensive front will keep fresh bodies on the field throughout. Look for Von Miller, Matt Milano, Ed Oliver and Jordan Phillips to do their share to make certain the defense doesn’t miss a beat.

3. The Bills’ run defense is back.

It performed well early in the season, shutting down the Los Angeles Rams and the Tennessee Titans (with one of the game’s best running backs in Derrick Henry) in the first two games of the season. It held its own through the next four games.

Then, against the Green Bay Packers, it fell off a cliff and struggled badly through most of the next three games. The picture got much brighter last week against the Browns, who despite their poor record, have as good a running game as any in the NFL with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt working behind a big, physical offensive line.

The Bills matched that physicality, hit-for-hit, and held the Browns to a mere 80 yards on the ground. Cleveland’s best path to victory was to slow the game’s tempo with a ball-control, power-driven offense and the Bills put up an effective roadblock.

As I mentioned, the Browns are minus their starting guards, making it difficult for them to succeed with the run-centric attack they’re expected to employ.

4. The Bills have found their running game. Seriously.

That wasn’t a mirage we saw at Ford Field last Sunday. The Bills had two backs, Devin Singletary and James Cook, rush for 86 yards apiece on a day when the team’s usual leading rusher, Josh Allen, only ran three times for seven yards.

The fact the Browns’ run defense ranks near the bottom of the league doesn’t minimize Buffalo’s 171 total yards on the ground and 5.2 yards-per-carry average.

First, the Bills showed that their offensive line is finally connecting with the coaching of Aaron Kromer, who returned in the offseason for his second stint with the team and brought his emphasis on drive-blocking with him. Second, Cook, with 10 games of NFL experience, is showing a greater grasp of the professional game and is showing increased ability to follow his blockers and find seams in opposing defenses. Third, Singletary seems to be running with a greater purpose, trying to prove he’s a worthy No. 1 back.

Expect the Bills to find more significant run production against the next-to-last run D in the NFL.

5. Last weekend’s snowstorm.

I know, I know. This doesn’t sound as if it should be on the list, particularly with all the hardship and deadly force it brought to Western New York.

But I want to share some perspective that grew out of a recent conversation with my family physician. We were talking about how the Bills’ players and coach Sean McDermott showed genuine gratitude for all the community assistance they received to dig out of their homes and get to the airport for last Saturday’s flight to Detroit. My physician noted that those didn’t sound like empty, obligatory words of thanks – that they were coming from the heart and that the Bills genuinely embrace where they live and the people who support them.

He’s right. They get it. I would add that, in the 40 years I have lived in Western New York (which is most of my life), I have not seen the Bills more connected with the area. That means something.

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