The Buffalo Bills’ 2013 campaign was full of ups and downs, but that was to be expected by a team led by a first-time head coach, a first-time offensive coordinator, a new defensive coordinator, a rookie quarterback and two rookie wide receivers on the offensive side of the ball.
On defense, the team had five starters that were newcomers to the team, while each of the 53 players that made the final roster were foreign to the schemes on both sides of the ball. The Bills’ defense was statistically one of the best in the entire league, but the offense struggled.
On offense, where do the Bills need to statistically improve in 2014 in order to make a serious run for the playoffs?
34% 3rd down conversion percentage (29th)
Nathaniel Hackett emphasized that no matter how fast the Bills’ offense is moving, it’s still not quick enough. In theory, Hackett and Marrone’s philosophy is a smart one, as it’s designed to put the opposing defense at a disadvantage. However, when the Bills aren’t consistently moving the ball and converting third downs, the odds are against them.
Did The Team Fix This?
The Bills struggled converting on third-and-short situations when rushing the ball, which is why the team brought in Anthony Dixon, a hybrid tailback/fullback mix that brings strength and legs that don’t stop moving. Furthermore, right tackle Cyrus Kouandjio should bring a little extra push to the pile.
1,116 offensive plays (3rd-most) 28:43 average Time of Possession (27th)
The Bills’ hurry up offense was inconsistent, to say the least. In a press conference during OTA’s Nathaniel Hackett explained that he wanted to run as many plays as possible, in order to keep the ball moving, as well as ensure that his playmakers get their share of touches.
However, with a rookie quarterback that couldn’t seem to develop a rhythm with his receivers after dealing with numerous injuries, his far too often check downs caused drives to be stalled and the clock paused.
Did The Team Fix This?
The Bills are a run-first offense that added wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams to serve as EJ Manuel’s receiving weapons, while adding Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown to the backfield. With a big offensive line that has the athleticism to pass protect, Manuel *should* be able to serve as, at the very least, a solid game-manager that can get the team over the hump.
49.8% of Bills’ passes went for 1st down (32nd), 4.8 yards-per-pass-play, OL allowed 108 QB Hits (29th)
In a passing league, teams have to consistently move the ball down the field with the pass. While the Bills’ offense is based primarily of west coast offense concepts, a scheme that relies on quick, high-percentage short passes, EJ Manuel’s status as a rookie really showed. Far too often, it seemed like he was scared in the pocket—basically just “feeling” pressure that wasn’t there, leading to forced throws and poor decisions. As a result, Manuel’s footwork would get sloppy and he’d throw some pretty ugly passes.
Did The Team Fix This?
The coaching staff has made it clear that Manuel’s footwork was a priority for them throughout the offseason, and from the videos/pictures posed on various social media accounts, it’s clear that he’s been working to improve his craft.
The Bills made a bold move during the draft in order to select the most explosive offensive player in college football, in order to give Manuel a reliable weapon that has the skill-set to score a touchdown anytime he touches the ball.
In addition to Watkins as a receiving weapon, the team brought in four mammoth offensive linemen in Chris Williams, Cyrus Kouandjio, Cyril Richardson and Seantrel Henderson. Neither weighs less than 320 pounds, and are large and powerful enough to provide Manuel with a sense of security in the pocket.
The influx of offensive linemen could mean the end for veterans like right tackle Erik Pears and left guard Doug Legursky who are nearing the end of their careers.
Running Back Utilization
There’s a reason why the NFL has turned to the “running back by committee” vision for the running back position. Long are the days of the bruisers that’d get 325+ touches per season, only to last 5-7 years in the league. Now, teams are taking advantage of the different styles of athletes at the position, opting to utilize two running backs with varying skill sets in order to create mismatches.
The Bills’ want to beat teams down the middle when rushing the ball, which is clearly evident when you look at Fred Jackson’s stat line. However, while C.J. Spiller had a disappointing and inconsistent season as he dealt with a nagging ankle injury, he could’ve been used much more effectively.
While Jackson is a powerful, in-between-the-tackles runner, Spiller is a “space” player—get him outside and let him turn the corner and hit the jets. However, Spiller was asked to run between the tackles on 115 of his 202 carries, where he averaged a paltry 3.3 yards-per-carry. On the 87 carries Spiller took it outside, he averaged 5.6 yards-per carry.
CAN The Bills Fix This?
I can understand the team wanting to rush inside, as right tackle Erik Pears was arguably one of the worst run blocking lineman in the league. The team as a whole averaged just 2.3 yards per carry when rushing behind Pears, while 17 rushes to the right side of the offensive line were “stuffed.”
Kouandjio’s addition could bring a dramatic change to that stat.
Which areas of the Bills’ offense would you like to see improve this offseason? Anything you noticed that I didn’t? Join the conversation with me on Twitter at @RQuinn619