Comparing the Buffalo Bills to the 2019 NFL Final Four Teams
Welcome back to “Four Downs with David.” In this week’s article, we’ll take a look at each of the teams that remain standing in the NFL playoffs. Are the Bills on the path or headed down the same path of any of these teams?
Should they strive to be constructed along the lines of the 49ers and Titans? Or does the front office have faith enough in Josh Allen to envision roster construction and philosophy more in line with the likes of the Packers and Chiefs?
1st down through 4th down will take you through what I believe to be the least to most comparable models I think the Bills could (somewhat) follow.
1st Down: Kansas City Chiefs
It’s been talked about to death, but I am not one of those people who loses sleep over the fact that the Bills could have drafted Patrick Mahomes in 2017 had they not traded the 10th overall pick to the Chiefs. Hindsight is always 20/20 on these types of discussions. A number of teams could have drafted him and didn’t (Bengals, Jets, Jaguars…just to name a few).
Instead, I want to change the lens of this discussion to determine if the Bills are even in a position to follow the Chiefs model of philosophy and roster building. The easy answer is “yes,” because who wouldn’t want to model their team after the Chiefs? Yes, Sean McDermott comes from the Andy Reid coaching tree, but being a defensive-minded head coach, I don’t believe the Bills will ever truly be an “offense first” team under McDermott. The offense undoubtedly needs to improve, but the foreseeable future points to the Bills continuing to field an above-average to elite defense…with sights on making incremental improvements on offense.
The Chiefs have poured enormous amounts of resources into their offensive weaponry, holding alpha talent at almost every skill position…outside of running back. Again, with McDermott’s mindset/philosophy, the Bills are not likely to create an identity as a pass-first offense…at least not in the near term future.
2nd Down: Green Bay Packers
On the surface, the Bills and Packers may seem like polar opposites in terms of roster construction and philosophy. While I don’t disagree, I believe the Bills are actually more similar to the Packers than they are the Chiefs. The Packers needed to get better on defense, and they have been able to make improvements under the guidance of former Bills defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine.
The Packers made significant, but somewhat under the radar, signings in a pair of edge rushers. The “Smith Brothers” of Preston and Za’Darius have transformed the Packers defense in a way that the Bills could mirror during the 2020 offseason. While it’s not likely the Bills are able to make two splash edge rusher signings via free agency, there at least appears to be consensus across the media/analyst population that the Bills do need to address “Edge” this offseason.
Spending available cap dollars on an above-average pass rusher, while simultaneously investing draft capital into the same position makes sense to me. I would love to see the Bills overhaul their defensive end unit (presuming that Shaq Lawson is not re-signed). The Packers (3-4) and Bills (4-3) do not run the same base defensive set, but paring a duo of pass rushers can obviously pay dividends in either scheme.
On the offensive side of the ball, outside of Davante Adams, the Packers skill-position group is not what we’ve been accustomed to seeing during the Aaron Rodgers era. Boasting an improved running game with Pro Bowl snub Aaron Jones, the Packers have been effective enough on offense with Adams, an aging Jimmy Graham, and a motley crew of secondary receivers.
3rd Down: Tennessee Titans
I think the easiest and most obvious comparisons to the Bills are the Tennessee Titans. The Titans are the only team remaining in the playoffs that have a head coach with a defensive background. On the surface, the Titans philosophy does appear to closely resemble what the Bills “wanted” to do this season. The Titans are proving that having an elite level running back with a serviceable quarterback that protects the ball can do damage in the playoffs.
This trend seems to play itself out each and every year. Season after season, teams that can run the ball well and play solid defense are not only making the playoffs but winning a game or two once they get there. However, more times than not, it is the teams with elite quarterbacks that find themselves in the Super Bowl…with the mid-level, serviceable type QB’s sneaking their way there every now and again.
One area of philosophy that doesn’t quite line up with some of the things McDermott mentioned in his year-end press conference was the dominating usage of a single running back. Ryan Tannehill has resurged in 2019, demonstrating that it might not be too late for him to put a signature stamp on his NFL career. The Titans offensive skill position players outside of Derrick Henry are now being led by rookie standout A.J. Brown. Another pre-draft favorite of @TheBillsGuys, the Titans have proven that day two receiver selections can undoubtedly be standouts in their first year (see also: D.K. Metcalf and Deebo Samuel).
The remaining receiving options round out a solid, if unspectacular, group (sound familiar?). I actually think the Bills want to pass the ball more than the Titans, which might sound unusual, but it leads me to the ideal model I’d like to see the Bills copy…
4th Down: San Francisco 49ers
Although Kyle Shanahan comes from an offensive-minded background, I feel the Bills have the makings to truly follow the 49ers model. With an excellent defense at all three levels (especially on their defensive line), the 49ers have been the poster child for winning with a top running game and strong defense throughout the 2019 season. The 49ers were 2nd in the NFL in rushing (trailing only the Ravens) and 13th in passing.
The 49ers are not loaded with offensive weapons in the same fashion as a team like the Chiefs, but the mix of their skill position group makes them a dangerous team and a legitimate Super Bowl contender. With a trio of usable runners, the 49ers philosophy of rotating backs similar to what McDermott likely envisioned this season with Devin Singletary and Frank Gore. The 49ers are not afraid to use all three of their running backs, and while the Bills would prefer a two-man rotation, the thought process is largely the same.
As receiving threats, the 49ers do have an elite tight end in George Kittle and a mixture of veteran and up and coming young receivers. Developing rookie Deebo Samuel has paired nicely with veteran trade target Emmanuel Sanders. Kendrick Bourne settled in nicely as a decent third option. If Dawson Knox can develop further after what I considered to be a very successful rookie season, the Bills could be looking like a high potential group should they add another receiver in free agency or early in the draft.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of the 49ers is that they have not put too much on the shoulders of Jimmy Garoppolo in 2019, and they haven’t’ needed to. Jimmy “Grapes” has been successful in throwing short, high percentage passes, and letting his receivers generate the highest YAC average in the league.
Maybe that would be a good strategy for a certain QB that looks good in shorts?