Michael Nania brings the numbers for the New York Jets, this time starting with a Week 1 statistical scouting report preview for the Buffalo Bills.
Throughout the season, I’ll be previewing the New York Jets‘ opponent each week with an update of their current statistical rankings.
However, since this is opening week, we only have 2018 at our disposal. These should be taken with a grain of salt since many of the players who contributed to those numbers are no longer with the same team. At the same time, they can tell us a good deal about where the Buffalo Bills need to improve and where they need to replicate what they were doing last year.
Let’s dive into some key numbers on the 2018 Buffalo Bills heading into this Sunday’s season-opening AFC East clash.
Strength: Josh Allen’s legs
The Bills offense got off to a historically awful start last season, but it was the mobility of Josh Allen that helped pull them out of the basement.
Allen had a historically great rushing season last year. He racked up 631 rushing yards across his 12 appearances, averaging 52.6 rushing yards per game. That stands as the eight-best single-season mark ever posted by a quarterback (minimum 10 games played).
In addition, Allen scampered for a total of eight rushing touchdowns, tied for the 11th-most in NFL history by a quarterback. If Allen maintained his average of 0.67 rushing touchdowns per game over a full 16-game season, he would have scored about 11 rushing touchdowns, which would have been tied for the third-most all-time.
Even the advanced numbers loved Allen’s rushing efficiency. Football Outsiders credited him with 192 rushing DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement), tops among quarterbacks last year.
Weakness: Passing attack
While Allen was able to add a new dimension to Buffalo’s offense with his legs, he couldn’t do enough in his rookie season to make their passing offense respectable.
The Bills finished the 2018 season ranked 32nd in passing touchdowns (13), 31st in net yards per pass play (5.2), and 31st in total passing yards (2,794) while throwing the second-most interceptions in the league (22).
Altogether, they ranked 31st in Pro-Football-Reference’s passing EPA (expected points added), with a mark of -88.5. Only the inept Arizona Cardinals were worse.
Buffalo did its best to supplement Allen by upgrading the receiving core, which was graded as the worst in the NFL by Pro Football Focus last season. The Bills signed John Brown and Cole Beasley, giving Allen a deep threat and a security blanket to help him progress in year two.
Buffalo quietly fielded one of the best defenses in the National Football League last season. They ranked 10th in fewest points allowed per drive, fourth in EPA, and 2nd in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average).
At the core of Buffalo’s defense was its outstanding secondary. Last season, the Bills ranked near the top of the league in numerous pass defending categories. They placed fourth in interception rate (3.3 percent), third in fewest net yards allowed per pass play (5.4), third in lowest opposing passer rating allowed (82.6), and first in fewest yards allowed per completion (9.9).
Leading the charge in Buffalo’s defensive backfield is young star cornerback Tre’Davious White. In 2018, White was charged with allowing only 22.3 receiving yards per game to his assignments.
Safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer make up the backbone of the Bills secondary. Last season, Hyde allowed only 179 receiving yards on 30 targets, an average of 6.0 per target. Poyer notched four interceptions, and now has a total of nine picks in his two seasons with the Bills.
Weakness: Red zone
Despite their prowess in the secondary (4th in pass defense EPA) and stoutness against the run (9th in rush defense EPA), the Bills still ranked only tenth in fewest points allowed per drive and 18th in total scoring defense. The big reason why? Their inability to defend the red zone.
The Bills allowed their opponents to score a touchdown on 34 of 48 red zone trips last season, a rate of 70.8 percent that ranked as the third-worst mark in the league.
Buffalo struggled to defend the pass when their backs were against the wall. In the red zone last season, the Bills allowed their opponents to convert either a first down or a touchdown on 42.9 percent of their passing plays, the third-worst percentage in the NFL.
Another issue the Bills had in the red zone was their lack of ability to take the football away. A hallmark trait of good red zone defenses is the ability to force turnovers near the goal line. It is a highly difficult skill to maintain year-over-year, but in one given season or game, a takeaway or two in the red zone can make a world of difference. In 2018, the Bills were one of five teams that failed to register a single takeaway in the red zone.
Special Teams tidbit: Keep an eye on Andre Roberts
Only three Jets made the Pro Bowl last year. The only member of that trio to also be named a first-team All-Pro was return specialist Andre Roberts, who joined the Bills in free agency. In 2018, Roberts led qualifiers in punt return average (14.1) and ranked second in kick return average (29.4). His total of 1,498 return yards led the NFL.
It will be interesting to see how Roberts performs in the return game for Buffalo this season. While he was tremendous last year, history has told us that top-notch returners have generally seen a great dip in production the next season. Starting with a revenge game against his former team, will Roberts be able to buck the trend this season?