This past weekend Bills head coach Doug Marrone said he would spend all of his extra time combing through their cut-ups of the team's offensive plays in the red zone in an effort to accurately diagnose their problems inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Ranking last in the league in red zone touchdown percentage, Marrone feels he has a handle on what's costing them points in prime scoring territory.
"I don't think we're doing a good enough job up front of running the football," Marrone said. "At the end of the day, when you're 25-percent efficient running the football, that's a major issue."
Marrone also would like to see a collective approach to the red zone that is more aggressive, whether it's his quarterback pulling the trigger, a receiver getting off press coverage, a running back hitting a hole or an offensive lineman finishing a block through the whistle. Buffalo's head coach wants his players to execute whatever is necessary to get more points on the board in close.
Whether it's run or pass Buffalo's offense has had trouble making significant gains inside the 20-yard line. For the season the Bills are averaging just a shade over two yards per play in the red zone (2.13), less than half their average gain per play this year (5.07). That's contributed to Buffalo having the lowest red zone touchdown percentage in football (39%).
"I wish I could tell you one thing that it is. It's a combination of a lot of different things," said Fred Jackson in his weekly radio segment on Bills flagship WGR Sportsradio 550. "When you watch film, we're missing guys that we need to block to have time to throw the ball. We're not making some catches, we're missing some pass protection things. We have to be able to get that done. That's what we're going to have to focus on this week. When you've got to get things done in the red zone and you're not doing it and you're at the bottom of the league it's going to be hard to win football games."
Even though the Bills have the eighth-most possessions in the red zone this season they rank 23rd in total rushing yards in the red zone (76) and 30th in average gain per carry in the red zone (1.85 yards).
What's made running in the red zone more difficult is the surge this season in defenses turning to their goal line fronts long before an opponent gets inside their five-yard line. Buffalo saw the Chiefs use such an approach in Week 10 jumping into a goal line set once opponents reach their 15-yard line. The Bills ran for just 14 yards on five carries in the red zone. Kansas City has yet to give up a rushing touchdown this year.
"A lot of teams nowadays they're either getting in a five down linemen front or a goal line front from the 10-yard line in so when we get down there we've got to just execute a little bit better," said G Kraig Urbik.
Buffalo's bread and butter play is the inside zone run, which they make good use of in the red zone. But teams have gotten wise in devising ways to neutralize that play.
"Definitely got to change it up a little bit," said Urbik. "We go a lot of inside zone, but we've also got to do a little outside zone and keep them on their heels."
Of course the Bills haven't run the ball very much in the red zone in either of their last two outings. Against Kansas City and Miami in the six combined red zone possessions they've run it seven times and called pass plays 18 times. That's almost a 3:1 pass to run ratio.
Since Kyle Orton entered the lineup as the starting quarterback that's close to what the pass to run ratio has been the last six games. Of the 54 red zone plays called 34 have been pass plays (63%) and 20 have been run calls (37%).
The players however, aren't focused on the play calling. They're more concerned with their execution of the plays that are called.
"It's on us as players to go out there and get the job done and we have not done that," said Jackson. "Plain and simple it's on the players to get that done. When we don't, that's when everything starts to back fire. We've had some opportunities in the red zone where we could've made some catches, could've made some throws and could've made some runs and we didn't get that done."
Marrone is hopeful that Jackson can return to the lineup and help the run game efforts in the red zone as well as picking up blitzers.
"Any time you get a good player back in Fred, whether you're handling the ball, throwing the ball-he's one of our leading receivers plus in a protection standpoint—he's been an outstanding player for us," said Marrone. "When you can get those types of players back it helps."
Most of all Buffalo's sideline boss has encouraged his players to attack when they reach the red zone rather than focus on being careful and measured with their play.
"I think coach's message was to really go out and play aggressively and not worry about making mistakes and just go out there and take it," said Orton. "That'll be the theme for us. I think just as a whole we have to execute better. Just go out and play hard, focusing on the positives and getting the ship righted."