Every summer leading up to training camp Buffalobills.com examines 25 of the more pertinent issues facing the team as they make their final preparations for the upcoming regular season. This year we wanted to focus on a few different areas that impact the team off the field in addition to what takes place on the field. From now until report day at training camp we'll address these subjects one at a time. Here now is the latest daily installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 18 and the Sept. 7 opener at Chicago.
The red zone for Buffalo's offense in 2013 was an area of frustration at times. Ranked 29th in the league in touchdown efficiency no one needed to tell the offensive unit they needed to improve. The Bills got to work in the offseason adding playmaking pieces at the skill positions while beefing up the offensive line all in an effort to enhance their point-producing potential once they crack their opponent's 20-yard line. Here now are the three reasons Buffalo's offense should be better in the red zone this fall.
1 – Big play ability
The Bills had offensive playmakers last season, but C.J. Spiller and Marquise Goodwin were the only big play threats who delivered at times in 2013. And following Spiller's high-ankle sprain his big-play ability was severely limited. As much as big plays are remembered when they result in touchdowns, big plays also create red zone scoring opportunities.
Last season Buffalo ranked 25th in the league in red zone drives with just 44 despite having the most offensive possessions in the league (207).
With the addition of Sammy Watkins to the passing game Buffalo now has a receiving threat equivalent to the big play ability that Spiller brings to the run game. It should lead to more red zone opportunities. More chances should mean more points as Watkins is expected to be a big factor even after the Bills reach the red zone, which leads to our next reason.
2 – High-point receivers
Last season Buffalo's receivers had just 11 of the team's 34 touchdowns, which was less than a third of the team's six-pointers. Their leading receiver in 2013, Scott Chandler, had just a pair of touchdown catches despite being a giant red zone target at 6-foot-7.
Defenses keyed on Chandler at times in the red zone, but without another receiving threat to throw a jump ball it limited Buffalo's playmaking ability in the limited space down near the end zone. With the addition of Watkins and Mike Williams the Bills have a pair of receivers who are experts at high-pointing the football.
Williams scored 23 touchdowns in his first three NFL seasons and is one of the best wideouts in the game at catching the ball high over the heads of defenders. He estimates that at least three-quarters of his touchdown grabs have come by high-pointing the ball.
"Most of them definitely," he told Buffalobills.com. "Going up and getting the ball where they can't even reach it until I come down. Like my mom always said, 'Put the candy on the shelf where the kids can't play with it.' So that's what I tell the quarterback. Throw the candy on the top shelf where they can't play with it."
Watkins also possesses the ability to high-point the ball, especially on jump balls and fade passes to the corners of the end zone. With Watkins and Williams lined up on opposite sides of the formation it will challenge defenses and potentially leave another big target in Chandler open for more opportunities in the middle.
3 – Short yardage upgrade
When it came to converting third downs in the red zone or goal to go situations Buffalo all too often found themselves settling for field goals. The Bills converted just 31 percent of their third downs in the red zone last year to rank 24th in the NFL.
Enter Anthony Dixon. A short yardage and goal line specialist, Dixon is both nimble and a load at 6-1, 233 pounds.
"That's one of the things I did in San Francisco and the last few years I was perfect on it," said Dixon. "I had a goal line touchdown in the NFC Championship game last year. I feel like I've got that down pat. If he wants me to do that then I'm definitely capable of fixing that problem, short yardage and goal line."
With Buffalo also adding size to their offensive line at left guard with free agent signee Chris Williams and additional beef in players like Chris Hairston (back from injury), Seantrel Henderson (331 pounds), Cyrus Kouandjio (322 pounds) and Cyril Richardson (343 pounds) the Bills also have the depth to move the pile and the chains where the yards are toughest to come by.
In addition to these reasons Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett believes simple repetition and experience for the younger players on offense will also lead to more success in the red zone.
"Anytime you get in the red zone it's the hardest place in the world to score because it's a shorter field, and everything happens faster," said Hackett. "The defense is tighter. They're not worried about the deep ball. You just have to keep practicing that, over and over and over. The more that everybody's in there, the better we're going to get."