Coming into 2015, Buffalo fans were hopeful that Rex Ryan would be the difference maker and lead Buffalo into their first playoff bid this millennium. And if you told me that Buffalo would have the 7th-rated pass offense and 4th-rated pass offense, I’d say there would be a good chance that they were fighting the Patriots for lead of the AFC East…but instead, the Bills are 6-8.
Here’s a quick rundown of what went wrong and what has gone right this year:
What Went Wrong
- Stupid penalties. Buffalo has the most penalty yards in the NFL. Against the Redskins, they had “only” 8 penalties for 56 yards. When you’re averaging 9.5 penalties for 84 yards a game, you are automatically giving away points to your opponents. Coming into week 15, the Bills had almost twice as many penalty yards as the Arizona Cardinals. Good teams do not allow that many penalties.
- Coming into the Redskins game, the Bills had the 24th-rated defense according to DVOA, and the 35-point thumping will probably push them down a little bit.
- Specifically, on defense, the pass rush has been non-existent. Buffalo came into the Washington game 30th in the league in sacks, bringing the quarterback down a mere 19 times. By contrast, the team had 54 sacks in 2014, including 14.5 by Mario Williams alone. This year, Williams and Jerry Hughes have (coming into week 15) 4 apiece.
- This defense is a Jim Schwartz defense, not a Rex Ryan defense. I think that speaks negatively of Ryan rather than acting as an excuse for him. Mike Pettine and Jim Schwartz both found great success with this defense.
- Injuries. Top cornerback Stephon Gilmore was injured coming into the season and needed a few weeks to shake off the rust. Top safety Aaron Williams missed pretty much the entire season, leaving the Bills in the not-so-capable hands of Bacarri Rambo. Tyrod Taylor missed two game, both of which EJ Manuel lost. LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams have missed time and McCoy has played hurt as well. We also saw Kyle Williams, Ty Powell, and Tony Steward miss significant time.
- Percy Harvin was a major bust. Instead of being a rushing, receiving, and special teams threat, Harvin played five games and scored just one touchdown. With his failure, Robert Woods and Chris Hogan needed to step up, and neither really did.
What Went Right
- Tyrod Taylor is the biggest pleasant surprise for this year’s Bills. Tyrod started camp as the #3 starter, was a stretch starter, and responded with a great season. Through week 15, Taylor has nearly 2700 yards passing and over 400 yards rushing. His 20-5 TD-INT ratio is excellent, although his 63.5% completion percentage isn’t fantastic.
- Karlos Williams has also stepped up in a noticeable way. Williams only has 417 rushing yards on the season, but he scored in his first five games of the season and averaged more than 5.7 yards per rush. Matching him up with a healthy LeSean McCoy gives the Bills a powerful 1-2 tandem.
- Charles Clay and Sammy Watkins are good receivers. After a weak start to the season, Watkins has really turned it on the past four games, averaging over 100 yards per start and 5 TDs during that stretch. He’s got a shot at 1000 yards, which he just missed in 2014. Clay, meanwhile, has a solid 528 yards on the season. It’s not quite as good as what he did as a Dolphin, and he’s almost certainly not worth the top-shelf TE cap hit, but Clay has been a dependable part of this Bills offense.
- Ronald Darby is a serious defensive rookie of the year candidate.
The most likely end game for Buffalo is 7-9, but they do have a chance to scrape out an 8-8 season, which would be a disappointment but at least not as bad as a losing season. We’re a long way from the off-season, but it’s already time to start thinking about what will make this Bills club more competitive next year. If you wanted quick answers right now, I’d start with a linebacker or two, a good right tackle, and a good wide receiver to give Tyrod Taylor another pass catching threat.