1 – Defense is even better than last year
As we profiled in our weekly stats column on Tuesday, Buffalo’s defense sits atop the league in total defense. It’s quite an improvement for two reasons. First, this was a defensive unit that finished 26th in total defense a year ago. Second, they have spent considerably more time on the field than they did last season, which obviously exposes them to giving up significantly more yardage to their opponents.
To this point they haven’t.
Buffalo’s 2017 defense relied heavily on takeaways, finishing ninth in takeaways and seventh in turnover differential, but they were 29th in run defense, 20th in pass defense and 31st in sack percentage.
The 2018 edition of Buffalo’s defense currently ranks eighth in takeaways, but additionally ranks high in run defense (12th), pass defense (2nd) and is top half of the league in sack percentage (14th).
Simply put, it’s a better all-around defense that the Bills have put on the field this season and it’s only going to get better.
2 – Quarterback compromised by injury
It was anticipated that there would be growing pains at the quarterback position, once it was determined that Josh Allen was going to be the starter going forward in Week 2. What wasn’t expected was those pains would be more physical than mental.
Josh Allen’s play was admittedly up and down as one would expect from a rookie signal caller, but his elbow injury in Week 6, compromised his learning curve and his progress.
He’s missed four starts as a result. Four more opportunities to learn and grow.
Fortunately, it appears he’s on track to return to the lineup when the team returns from bye to play against Jacksonville in Week 12. Hopefully veteran Derek Anderson is out of concussion protocol by then as well.
3 – Youth is showing promise
Even though statistically the Bills have one of the oldest rosters in the league in terms of average age, it’s due largely to the presence of three 35-year olds on the roster in Lorenzo Alexander, Derek Anderson and Kyle Williams.
The fact is that there are 27 players on the roster who are 27-years old or younger. Buffalo also has 12 starters who are 25-years old or less. Coming off their win over the Jets, head coach Sean McDermott is encouraged by the contributions his younger players are making.
“It was great to see so many young players out on the field,” he said. “I counted six or seven on defense at one point, first and second-year players. [There were] six or seven on offense, and special teams kind of takes care of itself with the young players. Those players making big time plays in a game like that, so that’s very encouraging for the future and we have to continue to build on that.”
McDermott told Buffalobills.com that two players who have improved the most from where they were last year are LB Matt Milano and DL Shaw Lawson. Both have emerged as quality contributors and budding playmakers, who are still on the ascent.
Seeing other young players like Tremaine Edmunds, Robert Foster, Taron Johnson, Zay Jones and Wyatt Teller emerging has McDermott looking to give his younger players more opportunities on the field in the games that remain this season.
“[GM] Brandon [Beane] and I continue to talk about that and there are some other young players that are kind of hanging in the wings right now that are working hard to get themselves ready to go,” he said. “You saw Levi [Wallace] and you saw Wyatt [Teller], so we’re going to continue to talk and look for opportunities to get some young guys [in] if they earn the chance to play.”
4 – More team speed is needed
If there was one area where Buffalo’s offense was lacking, by coach McDermott’s own admission, it was team speed. The addition of Foster and Isaiah McKenzie to the receiving corps paid immediate dividends in the Bills Week 10 win over the Jets.
It forced the Jets to defend the entire field, thereby opening more space for the run game.
With prolific passing attacks quickly becoming the bedrock of successful franchises across the league, Buffalo will need to continue to augment their team speed on offense.
Knowing speed is at a premium for offenses across the league, the Bills must continue to add speed to their defensive units to have the ability to cover and run with the talent they face each week.
5 – Hauschka is as good as they come
Stephen Hauschka’s track record preceded him when he signed with the Bills in 2017. Since his arrival however, Hauschka has likely exceeded expectations.
This season is no different. Buffalo’s place kicker currently has one of the top five active streaks of consecutive field goals made at 14 makes in a row.
He’s also third in the league in most consecutive field goals made under 40 yards at 35 and under 50 yards at 24.
Finally, in 2018 he has additionally made his last four attempts of 50-yards plus, including his 54-yard bomb in Buffalo’s Week 10 win at New York.