Last season was one of transformation in Buffalo. Following a first playoff appearance in 18 years, the Bills pulled the trigger on a rebuild. Tyrod Taylor was out, replaced through the draft by a young gunslinger with question marks about his accuracy. Josh Allen did little to allay fears about his throwing abilities in 2018, completing just 52.8% of his passes. However, Allen was protected by one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL and had limited options in the passing game. He was flushed from the pocket repeatedly, which forced him to show off his proficiency in the run game (631 yards, 8TDs).
It was Allen’s arm that the Bills fell in love with though. Poor protection forced quick releases, preventing Allen the opportunity to air it out like he and his franchise would have liked. Buffalo finished 30th in points scored last season. Yet in 11 starts in 2018, Allen was 5-6. Buffalo were 1-4 when another player started under center. The potential is there, which is why this offseason was so crucial to the Bills.
Weapons on offence
LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore make up the oldest running back pairing in the league, sharing the load to keep their well-travelled legs relatively fresh. T.J.Yeldon will take the reins primarily on passing downs. Rookie Devin Singletary won’t see much game time with a cramped depth chart at the position.
With offence at a premium last season, it was crucial that Buffalo add pieces in all facets on that side of the ball.
Receivers Cole Beasley and John Brown joined in free agency to add to Zay Jones’s productivity. Brown’s speed (4.34 40 yard time) will be especially important to Allen’s long range passing gifts. His quick breaks mean Allen need not wait too long to let the ball loose. Competency at tight end is crucial to give the young quarterback extra options in the passing game. Tyler Kroft will be missed as he recovers from a foot injury. Lee Smith will share a lot of snaps with Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney at training camp.
A line in the sand
Of course with the offensive line as poor as the Bills’ 2018 edition, Allen would rarely get enough time to let his receivers get deep. They required a complete rebuild at the line. Buffalo acted aggressively in free agency to get one of the best available centers in Mitch Morse. He will immediately plug up the middle of the line, while second round pick Cody Ford adds much-needed strength at right tackle. Ty Nkeshe was another free agency signing at that position, so Ford may move to guard initially before taking over.
Dion Dawkins protects Allen’s blindside at left tackle alongside Quinton Spain, who comes over from Tennessee. It’s a much stouter line that will give Allen the time to spray the ball around the field. Multiple tight end packages will also add depth to that protection on passing downs.
The Bills were in the middle of the league on defence last season (18th in scoring defence). With the players at their disposal on the defensive line and at linebacker, they should improve on the 41 sacks from 2018. Jerry Hughes and Lorenzo Alexander combined for 13.5 sacks last season. 9th overall pick in the 2019 draft Ed Oliver adds legitimate threat at defensive tackle. Hughes, Shaq Lawson, and Trent Murphy come off the edge. Alexander and Tremaine Edmunds arrive from the second level.
The Bills secondary is strong for the most part. Micah Hyde and Tre’Davious White are leaders on the defence. Hyde and Jordan Poyer at safety force quarterbacks to look away from their side of the field. White is a lockdown corner on his day. The only issue in the secondary is depth at cornerback. Taron Johnson, Kevin Johnson, Levi Wallace and E.J. Gaines compete for the other cornerback spot. Edmunds, Alexander, and Matt Milano combined for seven interceptions from linebacker. Second in interceptions and fourth in passes defended in the league in 2018, Buffalo look to continue getting takeaways from the opposing passing game.
If Ed Oliver is the defensive wrecking ball the Bills hope he is, this defence could be one of the most disruptive in football. Interceptions from the secondary and defensive pressure in the quarterback’s face could be a dangerous combination. The defence still feels like it’s a top-quality edge rusher away from being top-10 in the league.
Likelihood of reaching the playoffs: Low.
6-10 last season and with an improving roster, the Bills have reason to be optimistic. However they remain in a division with Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The New York Jets have also improved significantly. They face multiple playoff-calibre teams in their schedule. The Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens, and Pittsburgh Steelers await. Josh Allen’s accuracy must improve. Buffalo will likely end up .500 at best, despite a stout defence and improved offence.