The Buffalo Bills carry the 30th best red zone offense in the NFL. There are two teams that are worse than the Bills and one of them is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have scored a total of 11 touchdowns in their nine games played. The Bills have totaled 93 plays within opponent’s 20-yard line and have scored 12 touchdowns. Compare that to the league’s best red zone offense, the Denver Broncos, which has 107 red zone plays and have scored 31 touchdowns. Oh, by the way they are also 8-1.
Just like in any game it comes down to being able to score more points than your opponent to win, and the Bills have not able to do that consistently. The team had seven consecutive 20+ point outputs. However during this stretch they still struggled to score once they reached they’re opponent’s 20-yard line. So the question lies, how do the Bills get better?
The issue starts with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who has been chastised by fans and media members alike for being too predictable in the red zone by either formation or play call. The go to play has been lining up in a heavy set formation and running Fred Jackson into the pile and hoping he can find daylight across the line.
Typically the constant reason to an offense’s deficiency in the red zone is because the opposing defense plays much closer to the line of scrimmage as space becomes tighter. So when a team lines up in a heavy front it creates a 20-yard wide wall of humanity. Expecting Jackson to find holes within it there is difficult, though he’s been able to pull it off six times.
This example shows an example a lack of creativity of Hackett’s part to recognize game situations, opposing personnel, and how to exploit the defense’s weakness.
In the game this past weekend, CBS analyst Rich Gannon pointed out the Bills don’t have a tall receiver to position on the outside for a jump ball scenario. The fact is that the Bills do have a player like this, his name is Scott Chandler and he’s 6’7”. Though Chandler doesn’t have athleticism like a Calvin Johnson it doesn’t mean he can’t out jump a 6’2” cornerback for a lofted ball in the endzone.
When it comes to tight confines, formation spacing becomes an offensive advantage. An offense will typically want to have an extra blocker as the defense will probably bring a blitz, but this shouldn’t discourage the offense from running quick slants, wide receiver screens and sweep plays to counter.
When the Bills are within the 10-yard line they are clearly running the ball on two of the three downs. This constant pattern makes the offense predictable and thus the play less likely to succeed.
Another wrinkle the Bills could add is from the athleticism of their quarterback EJ Manuel. While in college Manuel did run a spread offense, not saying a quarterback sneak is always the best, but what about the option? Manuel possess enough athleticism where a roll out with an option to pass, run himself, or pitch to a trailing back could drive defenses crazy.
If that fails then the old adage of not going backwards to go forwards may be a good idea. With a great center like Eric Wood leading the way, Manuel should have no issue picking up two to three yards on a sneak. The New England Patriots have perfected the short yardage QB sneak with Tom Brady; maybe the Bills offensive coaching staff should watch some film on why this play is so successful and figure out how to duplicate it.
No matter what, the Bills need to heal this ailment if they have any desire to get back into the playoff picture these last six games. The offense needs to make sure the defense’s efforts aren’t going to waste by their inability to punch the ball in.