The Buffalo Bills 2014 season was underwhelming to say the least, after fans were sold on former head coach Doug Marrone’s offensive line expertise, the addition of Sammy Watkins and the projected development of quarterback EJ Manuel. On defense, the team was utterly dominant, finishing at, or near the top in nearly every statistical category across the board.
After Marrone rode off into the sunset in order to acquire the prestigious title of “Offensive Line Coach and Assistant to the Head Coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars” the Bills went all in in the 2015 Offseason. Rex Ryan was hired as Head Coach and he filled his staff with innovative Offensive Coordinator, Greg Roman, a proven offensive line coach in Aaron Kromer, quarterbacks coach David Lee, and up-and-coming wide receivers coach in Sanjay Lal. General Manager Doug Whaley re-signed stud edge rusher Jerry Hughes, traded for superstar running back LeSean McCoy and added Charles Clay and Percy Harvin via free agency.
So which statistical areas will the Bills need to improve on in 2015 if they want to earn their first playoff berth of the 21st century?
League Rank- 28th
In an offense that featured Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and C.J. Spiller, it was the now 34-year old running back Fred Jackson that led the 2014 Buffalo Bills’ offense in receptions, with 66. The atrocious offensive line play certainly hindered the ability to incorporate much more than simple one or three step drop passes into the passing game, but 6.7 yards-per-attempt is not going to get it done in a passing league. Of the team’s 537 total “aimed passes,” 370 traveled less than 10 yards down the field (266 behind the line of scrimmage, 266 between 0-9 yards).
First-Down Percentage- 32.1%
League Rank- 26th
The 2014 Bills were unable to keep the chains moving with the passing game, as just 32.1-percent of the team’s pass attempts converted for a first down. The Bills will be a run-first team in 2015, but they’ll need to have a quarterback under center that’s capable of making quick decisions in key situations to keep drives alive.
League Rank- 26th
After gaining 2,307 yards (2nd most) on 546 rushing attempts (1st) for and scoring 15 touchdowns on the ground in 2013, the Bills managed just 1,482 yards (26th) on 402 carries (20th) in 2014. Buffalo’s 3.7 yards-per-attempt gained on the ground ranked 26th in the National Football League. The addition of LeSean McCoy, along with guards Richie Incognito and rookie John Miller should ensure that that total increases in 2015.
Explosive Plays- 20+ yard rushes- 7
League Rank- 20th
Explosive plays are critical to winning football games. Just ask Pete Carroll, who found that if you hit either a 12-yard run or 16-yard pass in any drive, you will score points on that drive 75 percent of the time, according to a study he conducted while coaching at USC. Unfortunately, the NFL only provides statistics for rushes that gain at least 20 or 40 yards, while ProFootballFocus provides information for rushes that gain at least 15 yards.
However, the Bills still couldn’t consistently pick up big chunks of yardage on the ground last season, as just seven rushes went for 20 or more yards. C.J. Spiller gained 300 yards on 78 carries in 2014, but 122 of those yards (40.7-percent) came on three of those attempts- meaning he averaged a mere 2.4 yards-per-attempt on the other 75 carries he had.
Rushes for No Gain or a Loss- 77
The Bills interior offensive line really hindered the team’s rushing attack last season, as 77 of 402 (19.1-percent) rushing attempts went for no gain or a loss. 185 gained two or less yards. Running the ball will be critical to any success the Bills will look to achieve next year, so having 46-percent of the team’s rushing attempts gaining two or fewer yards will be unacceptable.
Other Key Stats To Improve
Yards-Per-Play: 5.0 (28th)
First Downs per Game: 17.1 (28th)
Penalties: 124 (2nd most)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage: 43.1% (30th)
Have These Problems Been Addressed?
The Bills’ quarterback situation is a major question mark, but on paper, the team should see significant improvement on the offensive side of the ball. In 2014, the Bills started four different guards (Chris Williams, Cyril Richardson, Kraig Urbik and Erik Pears) with all but Urbik grading out terribly by any metric you look at.
The team signed Richie Incognito, who’s two years removed from a Pro Bowl appearance and is looking to reform his image after sitting out the last year following the Jonathan Martin bullying scandal with the Miami Dolphins. They replaced Pears with John Miller, a third-round pick who’s a reliable and powerful player that should be a solid fit in Roman’s blocking scheme.
Passing-wise, the team acquired Charles Clay—a versatile, do-it-all tight end with speed and blocking ability to replace Scott Chandler—in addition to one of the more explosive receiving weapons in the league, Percy Harvin. Now, these additions won’t make EJ Manuel, Tyrod Taylor, Matt Cassel, or whoever starts under center any more talented of a player, but they’re more weapons in an offensive arsenal that should make things a bit easier.
Greg Roman is one of the most innovative minds when it comes to running the football and has consistently fielded top rushing attacks each year, using his power run game and multiple formations to scheme opportunities for big plays in the run game. Let’s hope that trend continues into the 2015 season.