The Buffalo Bills are coming off their most successful season since the early 1990s. After a 13-3 regular season that saw Buffalo lead the AFC in scoring, the Bills won two playoff games before reaching the AFC Championship Game. It was the first time the team won a playoff game and AFC East since 1995.
Despite an MVP-caliber season from quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs leading the league in receiving during his first season with the team, Buffalo’s season stalled out against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. Relying on Allen to carry the team on his back, the Bills didn’t reach the Super Bowl due in large part to not having a complete enough team that can win games in more than one way.
Buffalo’s defense wasn’t awful in 2020, but falling to No. 14 in the NFL after finishing in the top three in both 2019 and 2018 was a dip in performance. The Bills’ pass rush was modest and simply couldn’t affect Patrick Mahomes enough in the AFC Championship Game to slow him down.
Whether it was injuries at linebacker, not having a true 1-technique on the roster, struggling to find the right mix up front in the defensive line rotation, or getting accustomed to playing with a top-tier offense and how that vantage point is different from previous years, the Bills’ defense never found consistency.
So far in 2021, the Bills’ defense has performed at a high level. With the return of Star Lotulelei and the addition of Greg Rousseau as a first-round draft pick, the pass rush has been notably more effective and the run defense has been terrific. Buffalo understands that opponents are going to come in and attempt to establish the run to shorten the game and keep its high-powered offense on the sideline, but the Bills’ run defense has been up to the task. Through three games, the Bills are in the top seven of the NFL in both rushing yards allowed per game and yards per attempt.
Buffalo is allowing just 14.7 points per game, which is fifth-best in the NFL, while limiting opponents to only 253 total yards per game, slotting the Bills at No. 4 in total defense.
Not only is the Bills’ defense creating pressure on the quarterback, limiting yards, and tough to score on, Buffalo is taking away the football. The Bills have forced six takeaways in three games, second-most in the NFL.
In addition to an average defense in 2020, the Bills featured a below-average rushing offense. Averaging 4.2 yards per carry and 108 rushing yards per game, the Bills ranked No. 20 in the NFL in both categories. While the Bills’ identity on offense is and will continue to be relying on Allen to move the football through the air, Buffalo couldn’t find enough consistency on the ground to ever lean on the rushing attack. A great example of those woes is the AFC Championship Game against the Chiefs. Buffalo led 9-0 after the first quarter but the running backs only produced 32 yards on nine attempts and the Bills fell 38-24.
The Bills’ rushing offense has found much more consistency in 2021 and ranks No. 7 in the NFL in rushing yards per game. Buffalo is running the ball more with better results.
While it’s early in the season and a lot can change, Buffalo is showcasing a more complete football team so far in 2021. After a slow start, Allen reminded the league that he is capable of putting the team on his back by completing 32-of-43 passes for 358 yards with four passing touchdowns, no interceptions, and added a score on the ground in Buffalo’s 43-21 win over Washington in Week 3. In doing so, Allen joined Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Manning as the only four players in NFL history to produce multiple games with 300-plus passing yards, four-plus passing touchdowns, and a rushing touchdown.
With a running game and elite defense to go with the dynamic playmaking ability of Allen, the Bills have more balance overall. Buffalo can win games in different ways and ultimately, that can be the difference between a playoff loss and reaching the Super Bowl.
- Aug 22, 2022
- Aug 22, 2022