In 2009 scoring touchdowns in the red zone for the Bills was an exercise in futility. There were only four NFL clubs last season had fewer red zone opportunities than Buffalo (38), but no other team found the end zone with less frequency than the Bills (31.6%). In 2010, armed with a head coach that knows how to put points on the board, Buffalo is a changed team once they get inside their opponents' 20-yard line.
At the season's midway point the Bills rank second in the league in red zone touchdown percentage, cashing in with touchdowns almost 70 percent of the time (68.8%). Not surprisingly, those Bills that were part of the offensive unit that struggled mightily in 2009 largely credit their head coach as the biggest reason for the dramatic turnaround in red zone touchdown production.
"It's coach Gailey," said Stevie Johnson plainly. "He's got a great offensive plan. He always has a great offensive plan coming in so I give the credit to coach. He's very versatile. If you've got the receivers and the running backs to go along with that game plan then it'll work. So a lot of it has to go to coach Gailey and the playbook that he has."
"He's putting us in the right position and we're going out there and getting our job done this year," said Fred Jackson. "We feel like we're making plays all over the place, and that's the most important place to make them in the red zone."
Granted, Buffalo is among the teams with the fewest possessions inside their opponent's 20-yard line, but when the Bills offense does get down close, they're better at finding the end zone than the likes of Indianapolis (65.5%), the Giants (64.5%) and the league's highest scoring team, Tennessee (58.3%).
Though Gailey's scheme gets all the credit from the players in Buffalo's locker room, the Bills sideline boss points to his trigger man on the field.
"I think that Fitz (Ryan Fitzpatrick) has such an unbelievable understanding of defenses," Gailey said. "He really understands defenses and what they're trying to do. Our guys are going where they're supposed to go and he's able to find them in the soft spots of the defense and he's done an amazing job of getting us in the end zone."
Through the first eight games, Buffalo's 11 red zone touchdowns have largely come through the air with eight of them being passing touchdowns with three coming on the ground.
"I think one thing you look at is Steve (Johnson) and his production down there," said Fitzpatrick. "He's been a guy that can get open in the tight spaces, but he's a guy that has been real efficient down there."
Johnson does lead the team in red zone scoring with three touchdown catches, all of which have come since Fitzpatrick entered the lineup in Week 3. But Buffalo hasn't been shy about spreading the ball around, which has made the Bills difficult to defend in close.
"Oh yeah, we throw it to Lee (Evans), we throw it to Stevie (Johnson), we throw it to a lot of different people," said Gailey. "Obviously, Roscoe (Parrish) got the big one (Sunday) before he got hurt. We tried to hit David (Nelson) down the middle one time. So, they don't know who to look for down there and that is another positive."
"That's the one thing," said Fitzpatrick. "There's no reason to hold back. If Chan sees something that he likes, he's going to go ahead and use it."
And in the end Gailey's scheme is what has led to the successful trips inside the 20 this season. It's why Buffalo in eight games this season has almost as many red zone touchdowns (11) as they did for all of 2009 (12).
"The scheme that we've had this year, overall, has been good," said Fitzpatrick. "I think that's something that Chan has excelled at in the past and something that he's done a good job with, with us."