Ken Dorsey, Von Miller and the biggest Buffalo Bills questions for 2023

The Buffalo Bills roster is set for the 2023 season, which means the only thing left to do is play the games on their schedule. Just like the last three years, the expectations for the Bills are sky high, and they’ve got winning the Super Bowl on their minds.

As talented as the roster is this season, several underlying subjects hover over the franchise. Some are on a micro level with players on the field, and others concern the coaching staff and expectations.

What should you be keeping an eye on as the season draws near? Here are the biggest questions the Bills must answer for the 2023 season.

Will Ken Dorsey take a step forward as offensive coordinator?

The Bills put up a lot of yards and points last season, though in the second half, the offensive environment just felt disjointed. It was likely a compilation of personnel issues, including the elbow injury to franchise quarterback Josh Allen, a lack of a consistent non-Stefon Diggs skill player to put them over the top and Allen’s distrust in his pass blockers, exhibited by his quick escapes from the pocket as the season progressed. All of that was compounded by having a first-time play caller in offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, who didn’t have experience to depend on in tough times. The Bills offense was outstanding when things were at their most optimal setting early in the year. Once injuries crept up and teams began to figure Dorsey out, that’s when the problems started. His predictability as a play caller increased, and he didn’t have the tendency-breaking experience of his predecessor, Brian Daboll, to keep defenses off his scent.

Fast forward to 2023, and it’s been a solid step forward for the offensive environment and Dorsey. They added a bunch of pieces, with general manager Brandon Beane identifying the offense as the key to bettering their results from the previous season. The team added three new receivers, one talented pass-catching tight end, two starting offensive linemen and two new reserve running backs. As for Dorsey, he seemed a lot more calm and collected in his second training camp as the offensive coordinator. The creativity of his calls in camp increased, and with more versatile pieces, it seemed to have unlocked more for Dorsey as a play caller. The Bills have stood by Dorsey, the coach Allen strongly and not-so-subtly hinted that he wanted to become offensive coordinator following Daboll’s departure. They believe in his mind and potential as a play caller.

But the built-in excuses for Dorsey are gone. All of those personnel issues from last year have been erased. He has an extremely talented stable of pass catchers at wide receiver, tight end and running back. The offensive line is better. Allen is healthy. Dorsey is in his second year and has experience to rely on. On top of all that, coach Sean McDermott taking over the defense ramps up the pressure on Dorsey even more as the most prominent variable on the coaching staff. Dorsey has had as good of a summer as possible from a talent and settling-in perspective, but to many in and outside the organization, it’s time for results. And if those results aren’t consistent enough, he could be the most natural place to look first if the Bills want to change things up.



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Will Dalton Kincaid be the X-factor they’re hoping for on offense?

As Dorsey settles into his second season, perhaps the most significant player he’ll have to make a difference is rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid. The spring and summer have gone as well as the Bills could have dreamed for their first-round pick. It did not take long in OTAs for Kincaid to begin working with Allen and establish immediate chemistry. That carried over into training camp and once the pads went on.

The day or scenario didn’t matter; if Kincaid was on the field, he was getting open, and Allen naturally began looking for the talented rookie. That’s not to say Allen was ignoring Diggs or Gabe Davis as his top two targets, but you could sense a certain chemistry was brewing between the quarterback and Kincaid. Even Kincaid’s blocking improved a little bit this summer.

Will this extremely impressive summer yield results in Kincaid’s first season, and above all else, will the Bills commit to using the “11.5 personnel” after having the lowest rate of 12 personnel in the NFL in 2022? That is the only uncertainty for Kincaid entering the season. But he has easily been one of their three most impressive pass catchers in the buildup to the regular season, and it would not be a surprise for the Bills to commit to him with a substantial role in their base offense.

Will Von Miller be the same player as he was before his torn ACL?

Steadily throughout training camp, star pass rusher Von Miller vigorously attacked his rehab from a late November torn ACL. Beane said during the Chicago Bears preseason game that they think Miller could potentially be an early season contributor. But the Bills and Miller have both mentioned wanting the pass rusher to be available when the games matter most — down the stretch of the regular season and in the playoffs. When healthy last year, Miller was an instant impact player and immediately raised the ceiling of the defense. He would erase many third-down attempts by the offense, either by himself or by setting up his teammates. He was also a consistent run defender, an all-around player who maximized the Bills defense. It will be a humongous addition to an already talented defensive end group whenever he returns.

Regardless of that return date, it’s fair to wonder how impactful a 34-year-old will be in his first year following a substantial injury. Regardless of the professional sport, for many players, it takes a lot of time after their on-field return to get back to their pre-injury playing levels. There have been exceptions, but it’s a mental and physical hurdle each player returning from a long-term injury must master. Look at Tre’Davious White, who didn’t return until late November last year and didn’t begin to look fully like himself until right when the season ended. That was White in the prime of his career at 27 years old, too. Miller is a no-doubt Hall of Famer when he retires and has rare physical tools that have made him one of the best in league history to rush the passer. So, if there is a 34-year-old who can brush aside his second torn ACL to come back to full strength, it’s him. But it’s not guaranteed, given the usual age drop-off and injury factors. However, as soon as he steps on the field, he will receive plenty of attention from the opposition, regardless of his effectiveness.

Have the Bills done enough to fix the offensive line?

From what the Bills had in 2022, both in their starting lineup and the depth options, things are looking up with their offensive line. They have two meaningful upgrades at guard, with Connor McGovern taking over for Rodger Saffold at left guard and rookie O’Cyrus Torrence winning the job from Ryan Bates on the right side. And it’s not only the starting lineup of the interior that has significantly improved, the depth has taken a massive step forward. Bates is likely their primary backup center and right guard, with longtime Los Angeles Rams starter David Edwards as their top reserve left guard. Both players could start for another team. Along with starting center Mitch Morse, the interior trio has the potential to be a strength.

However, offensive tackle could be a different story, depending on their starters’ performance and availability. Left tackle Dion Dawkins has been a mainstay for years, and they believe he is a good starting left tackle in the NFL. That is likely to continue in 2023. But the unknown is right tackle Spencer Brown, whom the Bills have remained bullish on through the offseason and summer. They believe Brown has the potential to be a long-term answer at right tackle, despite inconsistent play in 2022. But the depth is in a similar spot as 2022 (with a bit more potential), but now they’re relying on Germain Ifedi and Ryan Van Demark as their top reserves. They have to be hoping Dawkins continues playing at a similar level, that Brown takes the jump they’ve been expecting and that both stay healthy. Otherwise, offensive tackle could become a liability for Dorsey, Allen and the offense.

Can Sean McDermott get the Bills past the divisional round of the playoffs?

We saved the biggest question for last. After the previous two playoff exits, the patience in Buffalo for this team, in the peak of its prime, is beginning to dissipate. The core players around Allen are getting older and out of contract, so there is concern that 2023 could be their last chance with this complete of a team to finally win a Super Bowl. But any world championship desire begins with the Bills doing something they haven’t done since 2020, and that’s make it to the AFC Championship Game.

While expectations are high in Buffalo, the Bills are not as highly regarded outside of the fan base. The Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals are the presumed two best teams. And everyone seems to be talking about the Chargers, Ravens, Dolphins or Jets. To a certain degree, the Bills have become the forgotten AFC superpower. The players in the locker room will use that disrespect to fuel them, as they’ve loved to do. However, is there a legitimate reason for the Bills to have fallen back with the pack?



Who would you rather be: The Buffalo Bills or Cincinnati Bengals?

It all comes down to McDermott getting the most out of this super-talented roster when it matters most. The Bills have been excellent over the last three regular seasons but fell frustratingly short in the playoffs. They were outclassed by the Chiefs in 2020 in the AFC Championship Game, they let the 2021 divisional round slip away in Kansas City after they had it won, and the 2022 Cincinnati divisional-round loss looked like a combination of a mismatch against a great team and mental exhaustion.

Based on one offseason decision, you can tell McDermott is tightening his grip on the variables to control the outcome. The fact McDermott is the defensive coordinator, in charge of calling the plays how he feels is best, is notable. In past years, the Bills talked about how strongly they feel about promoting from within, so McDermott’s choice to be the head coach and defensive signal caller is a reversal of that.

It’s a signal of him knowing the stakes of the 2023 season. He’s the one who wants to do most of the work for a group project in class and hand it in for everyone for the final grade. In his mind, it’s the right approach for the coming year. It also ramps up the pressure on him should the Bills not hit their playoff goals. If McDermott’s defense doesn’t deliver and the Bills fail to at least get to the divisional round or past it with this outstanding roster, his seat could begin to warm up as they enter the 2024 campaign.

(Photos: Joshua Bessex, Cooper Neill, Quinn Harris / Getty Images) 

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