You’ve had a week now to digest the difficult loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game. With the emotion of that game wearing off, I hope all Bills fans have had time to reflect on what truly was a magnificent season. After years of futility and heartbreak, you finally broke through not just one barrier, but several: a 13-win season, the AFC East Division title, two home playoff wins, and most importantly, the hope that a Super Bowl title is realistically within reach.
Bills fans, you probably were pretty jealous over the weekend when the Lions traded Matthew Stafford to the Rams for Jared Goff and some draft picks, including two future first-rounders. Rumor has it that the Bills begged the Lions for Stafford, offering Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, TreDavious White, and eight future first-round picks. The deal was set to be finalized before Roger Goodell stepped in and stopped the deal. I guess he was worried the Lions would corner the market on tight ends in the league with that many first-round picks.
With the 2020-21 season in the rearview mirror for the Bills, I thought I’d spend today looking at what I think the Bills need to do in order to take that next step as a franchise. For now, I have to consider Kansas City the gold standard in the AFC, and Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott need to approach this offseason with the mindset that they’re chasing the Chiefs. Every draft pick and every free agent signing needs to be focused on getting closer to beating Kansas City.
Three Unbiased Opinions
1.) Improve the Pass Rush
The difference between Buffalo’s great defense of 2019 and the decent one of 2020 was along the defensive line. The production of Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson as pass rushers wasn’t adequately replaced, and that was on full display during the AFC title game. The only way to beat a great quarterback is to make him feel uncomfortable. If you’re constantly relying on the blitz to get your pressure, you’re going to give up big plays.
None of the Bills’ defensive ends strike fear into an opponent. Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison were decent enough, but they’re not guys a defensive coordinator needs to game plan around. The pass rush from the tackles was nearly non-existent. Ed Oliver only had three sacks in 16 games, and it’s fair to expect more out of a top-10 draft pick who was a Heisman contender in college because of his ability to rush the passer. If you want to beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, you absolutely have to put pressure on him with your front four.
The Bills have a nice young piece in A.J. Epenesa, who showed some flashes as a rookie. But if they are going to make one splash move this offseason, it needs to be signing or trading for a difference making pass rusher.
2.) It’s All About Speed
The most glaring difference between the Chiefs and the Bills was the speed on the offensive side of the ball. If I’m Beane, I’m looking to get faster on offense. Looking from the outside in, I love what the Bills have done to revolutionize their offense in the past few years. Josh Allen is a franchise quarterback who can beat you with his arm or legs. Stefon Diggs might be the best receiver in all of football. Cole Beasley is a ninja in the slot. Gabriel Davis is going to be a factor in this offense for a long time. But none of those guys are game breakers with their speed.
John Brown is a guy who brought some wheels to the offense, but he was injured for much of the year. He’s also on the wrong side of 30, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Bills cut him to save some money. There are always plenty of speed receivers available. The trick is finding one who fits well in your offense and can be elusive with the ball in his hands. One name to watch is Curtis Samuel of the Carolina Panthers. He’s coming off a productive season with just under 1,000 yards receiving. He can line up in the backfield (40 carries this season), and he’s fast (ran a 4.31 at the combine).
Whether it’s Samuel, resigning Brown, or finding a guy in the draft, upgrading the speed on the offense could be the key to dethroning the Chiefs in the AFC next season.
3.) Find More Balance
I think Josh Allen is the second-best quarterback in the league under 30. Other than Patrick Mahomes (and Jared Goff, obviously), there’s not another QB I’d rather start a franchise with right now. But the Bills need to get this man a running game. Ten times this season, the Bills failed to rush for 100 yards. That puts an excessive amount of pressure on your quarterback to make plays.
Singletary and Moss are nice backs, and both should be useful moving forward. But the Bills need a third option who can bring speed and receiving chops to the offense. If they could clone Darren Sproles, they’d have the perfect complement to Allen and the dynamic passing game. The draft will present options such as Najee Harris or Travis Etienne, and there will be plenty of useful free agents available. Find a guy with some speed and play-making ability.
Of course, running backs are only part of the rushing equation. A dominant offensive line makes any running game effective (and keeps your QB upright too). The Bills will have some decisions to make on the OL this offseason, but the unit was decent this year and should get Cody Ford back from injury. Some more good news: the top of the 2021 draft is loaded with offensive linemen. Even at #30, the Bills should be able to find a good offensive lineman in the first round if they feel so inclined.
One Final Thought…
It’s been a great season and I’ve enjoyed watching more of the Buffalo Bills than I ever have in my life. But with the season now over, you no longer need my Outsider perspective. Next week, I will return to my college scouting role and will highlight defensive players that the Bills should target in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Great season, everyone. Here’s to next year.