It's an offense that has not yet reached critical mass. How could a brand new scheme to every offensive player on the roster, except Boobie Dixon, be expected to perform at peak efficiency in its first year of implementation? But coming down the stretch in the second half of the season offensive coordinator Greg Roman is encouraged with the strides being made by Buffalo's offensive unit.
"We've got to continue to mature and play with a greater level of consistency and that requires greater focus and concentration," said Roman in an interview on Bills flagship station WGR Sportsradio 550 Thursday. "If we can do that the sky is the limit because at times I think we're probably as hard an offense to stop as there is in the league. We've got to learn to play with more consistency throughout the course of a game and see what that looks like."
Over the last five games there has certainly been a clearer picture as to how Roman and head coach Rex Ryan want the offense to look. Buffalo has had Tyrod Taylor in the lineup for 10 games this season, the first five and the last five. Looking at those two sets of games one can see noticeable improvements in a number of areas.
Though points per game have remained relatively flat the team's third down conversion rate is up almost 10 percent (34.3% to 43.2%) and the team's rushing yards per game total has increased almost 40 yards a game (128 to 165). Part of that success can be attributed to McCoy's improved health.
McCoy is averaging close to two yards more per carry over the last five games (5.1) than he did in the first three games this season (3.4) before missing two games in Weeks 4 and 5 with the nagging hamstring issue from training camp. His 10-plus yard runs have more than tripled with 16 in his last five games compared to just five over his first three outings this season.
"I don't think you can overstate how valuable that is," said Roman of McCoy. "You're talking about one of the best running backs in the world. The difference that makes—each player of that caliber brings a dimension that you can't quantify. When you start getting all those guys together, it starts to force multiply. And everybody becomes a little bit better. I can't overstate how important it is having him healthy and getting back to 100-percent. I love what he brings every day."
Evidence of that perhaps was most noticeable in last week's win over Houston. His early success on the ground forced the Texans to alter their defensive approach and provided opportunities for Roman to dial up some downfield throws in which Tyrod Taylor and Sammy Watkins connected.
"The safety was getting nosy just by LeSean rushing and the line doing a great job," said Watkins. "They were just getting nosy looking in the backfield and we took a shots over the top."
By committing another safety to the run front, Watkins was able to pull in a pair of 53-yard receptions. One led to a touchdown and the other would've led to points as well had there not been a missed field goal.
Watkins and Taylor have finally spent time together on the practice field and game field for the past five weeks, the longest stretch since training camp. The synchronization of their play on the field is obvious.
"I think we are gradually more and more chemistry together, actually being able to get out there and get game reps. That's beneficial for both of us," Taylor said. "I'm able to practice with him on a consistent basis. With me battling injuries and him battling injuries, it's good to have us both back out there. Whether we're getting extra reps after practice or just talking through things, we're definitely on the same page."
Through their first three games together Watkins averaged a little over four targets per game. Over the last five games Watkins has seen the ball an average of seven times per game and the production has followed. Averaging almost 100 yards receiving (97.6) the past five weeks, Watkins is having a major impact on a consistent basis.
"I think we've begun to develop some trust and chemistry there," said Roman of the Taylor and Watkins combination. "I definitely think there are some instances where we could've gotten the ball to him and we didn't. Or I wish I would've called a different play. We're always trying to get him the ball. At the same time I think you've got to be judicious. There's a lot more to it. The simplest way to put it is when Sammy is able to touch the ball a lot I sleep well at night."
Tight end Charles Clay has also become a more frequent target of late, as was the case at the start of the year. Roman however, has been pleased with Clay's performances all season long recognizing that his value comes in more than just his receiving ability.
"To me he's playing at a Pro Bowl level," Roman said. "It's just not a stat thing with him. He's so valuable as far as the entire operation. Run, pass, protection. He had to pass protect a lot against Houston to help with their pass rush. You can't do that stuff if you don't have a guy you can trust, but he can do it all.
"When we're focusing on getting him the ball he's doing a great job. There have been several times where he's been wide open and beat his man like a drum and we just couldn't get him the ball based on the protection or something. If you just watched him this year, he's playing at an extremely high level."
Of course aiding in protection has been an offensive line anchored by veterans Richie Incognito and Eric Wood. Taylor's second 53-yard pass to Watkins last week is a perfect example. Even though it was a max protection call, the pocket held up long enough to not only keep Taylor clean, but it allowed him to step into the throw.
"I think our line has done a fine job in protection to allow him to survey the field," said Roman. "Some of our deep balls are deeper than most other teams because we feel we have another 10 or 15 yards in us than other guys I've been around and that changes the protection and everything else."
The line's cohesiveness on run plays has also been tight especially with guards and tackles pulling in tandem. The men up front feel they've found a comfort level with the blocking assignments as well as some bread and butter plays they can rely on when they need it most. It all is paving the way toward consistent execution, and the players know that only enhances their chances of stacking wins.
"We're getting better and better within this offense," said Wood. "We're all learning what we're good at, especially running the ball-hitting those plays a good number of times. Any time you have a new coordinator you're going to get better and better as the year goes on. Just getting more comfortable with the variations in the run game-that's put us in a position to succeed."