It’s only been five games and the 4-1 record the Bills currently possess has certainly raised expectations for the final two-thirds of Buffalo’s 2019 campaign. If you ask head coach Sean McDermott there is still plenty to work on and improve upon for Buffalo’s offense before the team reaches the stretch run in mid-November. But there has been unquestionable growth for Brian Daboll’s group despite wholesale changes on that side of the ball this past offseason.
“We’ve been able to move the ball, so that’s been a positive,” said McDermott, in reference to the team’s ranking of 10th in total yards. “I think we’re executing at a higher level than we have in the past, with still a lot of room to improve.”
McDermott is correct. There was no point in the 2018 season where Buffalo was a top 10 offense in total yards or a lot of other categories. In fact, the Bills were 30th in offense and 30th in points scored a year ago.
Statistically, the improvements are rooted in a couple of key areas where Buffalo made personnel changes. Namely, the offensive line and the receiving corps.
“It starts up front with our five guys,” said Josh Allen of the team’s offensive line. “We’ve had to be pretty fluid up there mixing guys in and out with some guys going down. But they’ve been doing a great job coming out to practice every day and putting together some good schemes with our offensive staff. Our guys up front have been doing a good job pass protecting and run blocking.”
PHYSICAL PLAY UP FRONT IS MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Through five games this season, Buffalo is averaging almost 140 yards rushing per game, good for sixth in the NFL. The ability to win at the line of scrimmage has been a big factor in the offense’s success. In 2018, through their first five games, Buffalo’s running backs got stuffed on 10 percent of their carries and averaged 3.52 yards per rush.
After five games this season, stuffs are down more than three percent and their yards per carry average is up almost a yard and a half (4.85).
As for pass protection, sacks have been cut by a third from where they were after five games last season (22 to 14).
Aiding in that execution is the aggressive style Buffalo’s offensive line brings to the field.
“What has really shown itself is our physicality,” said Pat DiMarco. “Whether it’s Frank (Gore) running the ball, Dawson Knox finishing his runs after a catch, Jon Feliciano finishing in the pocket, Mitch Morse pulling and taking on linebackers coming downhill. You can tell that the (opposing) defense has their head on a swivel when they’re playing us. If you’re standing around you’re going to get hit. There’s an attitude there.”
Left guard Quinton Spain believes the reason they can play so aggressive is due to their effective communication before and during each snap.
“I think our physicality is helped by our communication,” said Spain. “You can tell there’s good communication. Everybody is on the same page and that’s a big step from some previous offenses here in Buffalo. It’s the bond we have and we make sure we’re in sync and execute.”
The revamped receiving corps has also paid dividends in the early part of the season. John Brown and Cole Beasley have capably stepped into primary roles and delivered a measure of consistency to Buffalo’s passing game that did not exist previously.
The offense’s catch rate year over year after five games is up from 50 percent to 67.3 percent. That in turn has raised Buffalo’s receptions per game from 14 to 22. Yards after the catch is up almost 150 yards from where it was after five games last year and passing yardage is up almost 80 yards per game.
TIGHT TEAM BOND MAKES IT EASY FOR EVERYONE
Beyond the numbers however, the veterans on the roster believe there is a more important force at work pushing the offense forward.
“Just the cohesiveness as a whole group and rallying around Josh or riding with Frank,” said DiMarco. “If we’re going to throw the ball we’re going to ride with Josh. If we’re running it and its four-minute drill then Frank is our guy and no one is going to touch our guy. So it’s about playing for the guy to your left and your right than the name on your back. It’s what this group is about so whatever is going to win the game, we’re going to do it.”
“We all play for each other,” said Gore. “Nobody cares about who makes the play, as long as the play is made. As long as we keep doing that and working as a group and keep building each game and keep believing in us, we’ll be able to do whatever we want.”
And that ability to adjust to whatever scenario might crop up in a game speaks to the offense’s improvement when it comes to situational football.
“Just the ability to run the ball when we’ve needed to run the ball and being able to throw the ball when we’ve needed to throw the ball,” said DiMarco. “We’ve had two-minute drives where we’ve dink and dunked it down the field and we’ve had four-minute drives where we’ve had to run power over and over with Frank. So we’re able to adapt to whatever situation we’re in.”
WHERE THE OFFENSE NEEDS TO IMPROVE MOVING FORWARD
The men on Buffalo’s offense know they’re far from a finished product. They understand that scoring 18 points per game is not going to help them maintain their winning ways.
“Extending drives and remaining penalty-free and executing at a high level with everybody on the same page is a point of emphasis for us,” said McDermott of the plans going forward. “That’s a consistent point of focus for us if we’re going to put up points. That’s one thing we need to work on. We’ve got to score points and score touchdowns.”
“This league is a tough league. It's tough wherever you play, whoever you play. Each team that you're playing has good coaches, good players,” said Daboll. “There are certainly things we would like to clean up. There are some things that we're doing okay right now, but we have to keep improving. It's still so early in the season. There’s a long way to go.”