1st Down: Offense, Scoring
The Bills are averaging 18.0 points per game, which currently ranks 25th in the NFL. If not for the Chicago Bears, the Bills would be the lowest ranked scoring team on a per game basis with a winning record. Coincidently, both teams have been able makeup for their bottom ten scoring offenses with elite defenses.
Taking a deeper look at the Bills opponents thus far, they have faced the 6th, 7th, and 11th worst teams as it pertains to scoring defenses (Giants, Bengals, and Jets). The Bills upcoming schedule sets up favorably for them to improve their scoring numbers, as the Dolphins, Eagles, and Reskins all rank in the bottom ten of the league in scoring defense. The Dolphins are dead last in the NFL is scoring defense, and they happen to be the Bills next opponent. Coming off a bye week, and playing at home, it would be a minor disappointment if the Bills were not able to at least score in the 20-24 point range against the lowly Dolphins.
2nd Down: Offense, Yardage & Efficiency
Anyone who has regularly watched the Bills this year should come to a somewhat similar and somewhat obvious conclusion…the offense is still lagging behind the defense in terms of proficiency. Looking into the numbers, we can assess how and where the offense is actually lacking. We’ve already covered the scoring aspect, so as we turn the attention to pure yardage totals, the numbers actually paint a somewhat different story.
The Bills are actually 11th in the NFL in total offense (yards per game). Not surprisingly, they rank a somewhat below average 19th in passing yards per game, but thanks to a successful ground attack to date, they rank 6th in the NFL in rushing. Led predominantly by a 36 year old Frank Gore, what the Bills have been able to achieve running the ball so far this season has been quite remarkable. The Bills run game has also been efficient, averaging 4.8 yards per rush, well enough for a top 10 ranking in the league.
My hope is that the Bills have used the bye week to re-introduce some of their deep passing game elements to the offense as we move forward. The Bills relied heavily on some big hitters last year with Josh Allen and Robert Foster, but we have yet to see them really “air it out” this season. I find it interesting that the Bills have the 11th ranked offense by yardage, but only the 25th ranked offense by scoring. It becomes even more head scratching seeing as the Bills rank 2nd in the NFL in red zone scoring percentage, with a bulk of this scoring actually coming via the touchdown (Stephen Hauschka has only made three field goals all season).
The conclusion I have drawn is that Bills are actually moving the ball well until they cross into opponent territory, but have struggled in between midfield and the opponents’ 30 yard line. This critical 20 yard area of the field tends to be where the Bills have stalled on many of their offensive series. Coming out of the bye, how the Bills perform in this area of the field will be something I closely monitor.
3rd Down: Defense, Sacks & Takeaways
Steve Mathes and I previously analyzed the history of Sean McDermott led defenses, and the fact that his defenses have not traditionally racked up huge sack totals. On our latest “The Bills Guys” episode, we talked about how we are somewhat concerned with the pass rush moving forward, and at present, a defensive tackle (Jordan Phillips) is leading the team in sacks (4).
The Bills are currently tied for 21st in total sacks, but have played one fewer game than many of the teams ahead of them. With 26 total QB hits (per Pro Football Reference), the Bills are still generating decent pressure, even though the sack totals are somewhat suppressed. Per Football Outsiders, the Bills have an adjusted sack rate of 8.1%, which would rank them 12th in the NFL. When calculating their adjusted sack rate, Football Outsiders accounts for pass plays faced, opponents faced, and a number of other factors that lend some credibility to the Bills pass rush this season.
From a takeaways perspective, the Bills have tallied five interceptions through five games, ranking them tied for 13th in the NFL. They have only recorded two fumble recoveries. Turnovers can occur at any point during a game, but my theory for the Bills somewhat low number of takeaways is twofold. Firstly, one of the most common times an opposing team fumbles is via sacking the quarterback, which the Bills have not done with proficient regularity yet this season. Secondly, the Bills have not been well ahead (outside of a quarter or two in the Giants game) in any of their games this season.
When teams are playing from behind, passing more and trying to force the issue…there will be more opportunities for interceptions on the back end. We could see the Bills takeaway number increase quickly, as turnover prone teams dot the schedule over the next month+ (Dolphins x2, Redskins, Browns).
4th Down: Defense, Scoring & Yardage
On defense, the Bills have been one of the best units in the NFL through the early stages of the season. They are 4th in the NFL in only allowing 14 points per game. They only trail the Patriots, 49ers, and Bears in this statistic. While I do not want to discount the strong play of this defense, it is worth noting that other than the Patriots (#1 scoring offense in the NFL), the remaining Bills opponents to date have all been bottom nine scoring offenses.
We can’t completely ignore the competition, but in my opinion, it was a telling sign that the Bills were able to hold Tom Brady and the vaunted Patriots to a mere 16 points. Even in a loss, the Bills defensive performance against such a potent scoring offense should instill continued confidence in this unit moving forward.
From a yardage perspective (per game), the Bills defense is 3rd in the NFL in total yards allowed, 3rd in passing yards allowed, and 7th in rushing yards allowed. The Patriots and 49ers are the only other teams (both undefeated) that rank in the top 7th in both passing and rushing defense. The Bills will have a great chance to sustain or even improve upon these numbers given that two of their next three opponents (Dolphins and Redskins) are bottom five in the NFL in total yards per game (on offense).