(Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)
After a very narrow Week 6 loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Buffalo Bills just haven't been the same football team.
Perhaps no team was more hyped up coming into the 2021 NFL season than the Bills. After a spectacular 2020 season which cemented Buffalo in the upper echelon of the AFC, and a strong start to the 2021 season, the Bills have entered fraud territory since their 31-34 loss on October 18th to the Titans.
In the last nine weeks (which includes a Week 7 bye) the Bills have sported a record of 3-5, losing to teams such as the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, all off which are teams that no one saw the mighty Buffalo powerhouse losing to when the season opened up. After a promising start to the year, the Bills overall record has fallen to 7-6, and have officially surrendered the division lead in the AFC East to the 9-4 New England Patriots.
So, what has gone wrong with the Bills in recent months? How did they go from arguably the top team in the AFC, and a strong Super Bowl contender, to barely clinging to a playoff spot? Let's see if we can narrow it down.
1) The Bills are in desperate need of an upgrade at the running back position
This was absolutely apparent during the Bills Week 13 loss to the New England Patriots. In a game plagued by harsh upstate New York winds and snow, we knew from the coin toss that whoever had more effective rushing game would be the victor. New England's only touchdown in that game came from a 64-yard Damien Harris dash. Buffalo's only touchdown came from a 14-yard pass from Josh Allen to Gabriel Davis.
In a game with such horrible weather conditions, why is Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll relying on Josh Allen's passing to score? Because even Daboll himself knows that running backs Devin Singletary and Zack Moss cannot be trusted. Want more proof? Josh Allen led that game in rushing yards with 39. Singletary tallied 36, and Moss tallied 21.
Your home stadium is in upstate New York, smack dab in the middle of the snow belt. Don't you think an effective running back or two would be absolutely necessary?
In Week 14 in Tampa Bay, Devin Singletary recorded an 89-yard game, with 52 rushing and 37 receiving. 89 yards is Singletary's most since Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins. Josh Allen, once again, led the Bills in rushing yards in Week 14 against the Buccaneers with 109 yards and 1 touchdown.
As good as Josh Allen is, the team cannot sustain constant success without an effective backfield. Allen ran all over the league in 2020, and this year, he's been found out. Opposing teams aren't fooled anymore. They know that Josh Allen is Buffalo's only true rushing threat, which makes him a lot easier to contain once you see the rushing play develop, because 9 times out of 10, it'll be Allen carrying.
We know the NFL has the most boring trade deadline in all of sports, but did Brandon Beane doom Buffalo's chances at a title in 2021 by not acquiring an impactful running back?
Entering Week 14 against Tampa Bay, the Bills ranked 10th in the NFL in accepted penalties against with 82. Keep in mind, that four of those nine teams ahead of the Bills hadn't had their bye yet, while the Bills have. So that's one less game the Bills have played, and they still rank very high on that dreadful list.
Buffalo is tied for seventh in the NFL with six unnecessary roughness calls, and tied for sixth in the league with 16 false starts. These are such avoidable penalties!
3) Red zone woes
The Bills brought a 58.8% red zone touchdown percentage into their Week 14 matchup against Tampa Bay. That puts Buffalo in the bottom half of the NFL in that category. Buffalo's struggles in the red zone might actually be their biggest Achilles' heel this season. Look at how many games the Bills lost by one possession:
Week 1 vs. Pittsburgh, lost 23-16
Week 6 @ Tennessee, lost 31-34
Week 9 @ Jacksonville, lost 6-9
Week 13 vs. New England, lost 14-10
Week 14 @ Tampa Bay, lost 27-33
Of the Bills 6 losses this season, only ONE of them have been by more than one possession (Week 11 vs. Indianapolis, lost 41-15)
If Buffalo is even halfway competent in the red zone, how much does that change things for this team? What's their record? Possibly 12-1? That snapping sound you hear right now is my heart breaking in two.
4) The inability to limit opposing teams run game
Three loses this season can be put directly on the the defensive line. Derrick Henry ran all over the Bills in Week 6, Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts absolutely embarrassed the Bills with 185 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns in Week 11, and perhaps the most frustrating example came against the New England Patriots when Pats QB Mac Jones only had 3 passing attempts. For four straight hours, you knew that New England was only going to run the ball, and yet Buffalo's defense made zero adjustments in order to stop Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. The Bills defense effectively became a meme following that game. Absolutely sickening.
Luckily for the Bills and their fans, they have a pretty mild schedule the rest of the way. Their remaining four games come against the Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets, making the Patriots the only contender that the Bills must face the rest of the way. But, as we've seen a few times this season, the Bills seem to be very mediocre against bad teams, often times playing down to them. These next four games are all must win matchups for Buffalo. The Week 16 game against New England might be the biggest and most important game of the year for the Bills.
To make matters worse, it was announced on Monday morning that Josh Allen is day-to-day as he is now walking around in a boot. Lovely.