Josh Allen will be the full time starter in year 2 and should see a significant amount of growth. I think he will still struggle with decision making some but he will have an outstanding run game to lean on and an improved WR group. If he is even above average this year it will be a win for the franchise.
Shady McCoy and Frank Gore in the same backfield might at one time have been the best 1-2 punch in the game. They have the most combined yards over a career of any backfield ever. Rookie Devin Singletary provides a smaller change of pace option as a historically productive college back. The only thing holding this group back is the age of the two frontrunners and Shady's injury history.
Protection & Blocking
The offseason signings of Mitchell Morse, Ty Nsekhe, La'Adrian Waddle, Quinton Spain and Spencer Long, along with 2nd rounder Cody Ford represent a massive offensive commitment. This line is an overhaul and could take time to gel as a unit. Talent wise it's an improvement and offers experience and depth. Last year PFF had them as an average pass protecting unit but poor run-blockers. TEs Tyler Croft & Lee Smith are known as blockers. This is a high-ceiling, very low-floor kind of group.
The Bills WRs include Zay Jones, John Brown, Robert Foster, and Cole Beasley. Jones is a smooth, athletic outside receiver, but not a true #1. John Brown is speedy deep threat who will stretch the field and open up plays underneath. Beasley is a pure slot receiver who can uncover and find space underneath and be a nice safety blanket for Allen. Robert Foster was a deep threat last year. Rookie TE Dawson Knox has impressed. There's maybe 2 WR spots left and 7 candidates in camp to fill them.
Skills Analysis Notes
Receiving corps got faster and Josh Allen and Shady can both run. In terms of combined 40 times, the Bills' skill players are likely top 5 in the league in pure speed. The production is going to depend on 2 things: run blocking and Josh Allen's accuracy. Both are questionable at this point but I don't see how it can get worse than last year. Consistency is going to be hard to come by with so many new parts coming in and everyone having to get on the same page. They have an interesting combination of weapons for the Red Zone with Zay Jones, Cole Beasley, Tyler Croft, Dawson Knox, and their RB stable. This offense likely hits it's peak late in the season. With Allen's arm and the receivers' speed there is plenty of opportunities for big plays.
I'm not saying they're bad but they're not great. Ed Oliver should help generate interior pressure and Jerry Hughes is a steady outside rush presence. Star Lotulelei is just a massive human but not really much more. Shaq Lawson has underperformed as a 1st rounder and vet Trent Murphy hasn't been truly healthy since 2016. Harrison and Jordan Phillips add good depth at both DT spots. I worry about their ability to stop the run and beat pass pro without blitzing.
This is a good group of starters with Lorenzo Alexander, Tremaine Edmunds, and Matt Milano. Edmunds is a star in the making with 120 tackles as a rookie, Alexander is a productive veteran, and Milano is a converted safety that led the team in tackles last year with127. Rookie Vosean Joseph should be an energetic, athletic, undersized backup who could play a role. The other LBs have seen very little action as backups so depth is an issue. If a starter gets injured they're in trouble.
The secondary is the backbone of this team. Tre White, Levi Wallace, Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, EJ Gaines, and Kurt Coleman have all shown they can be trusted on the field. They have some interesting depth with former 1st rounder Kevin Johnson from the Texans, Taron Johnson & Siran Neal in the nickel, and 6th rounder Jaquan Johnson at safety. Roster spots should be interesting battles at the #2 corner, nickel & if they keep a 4th safety.
Controlling Field Position
Skills Analysis Notes
The #1 passing yardage defense from 2018 is strong on the back end and the linebackers have pretty good coverage skills. The concerning spots are sack production, and the #2 corner spot opposite Tre White. Stopping the run I think they'll be average because of their linebackers' range but the D-line is not a run stuffing unit besides the space-eater Lotulelei. Teams will try to pound the rock against them more often than not. Controlling field position will depend on their ability to get off the field on third downs and how well their offense moves the ball. Last year they were 8th in the league at getting off the field on third down. Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde eliminate a lot of big play opportunities for offenses. The longest passing and running plays against them last year were both just 43 yards and they were 3rd in the NFL in opponent's Yards Per Play at 4.9 yards. They caused 27 combined turnovers, tied for 8th best in 2018.
Special Teams and Coaching
Overall Unit Analysis
Stephen Hauschka was 78.6% on field goals last year going 22-28. His only misses were outside of 40 yards. He made 25-26 extra points. Their avg. punt yards was 43.4 yds. with a Net of just 39.2 which ranked 31st in the league. Punt coverage was above average allowing 8.7 yards per return and 0 TDs, 18 fair catches, and pinning 31 punts inside the 20. Their kickoff coverage was good, only allowing 22.2 yards per return and 0 TDs. On average, the Bills returned kickoffs for 21.2 yards with a long of 49 yards but 0 TDs. They averaged 6.7 yards per punt return with a long of 31 and 0 TDs. Both kickoff returns and punt returns were below league average but not terrible. WR Andre Roberts is likely the return specialist, having a fantastic season in that role for the Jets in 2018.
Overall Coaching / School Analysis
Doug McDermott is a really good defensive coach and D-coordinator Leslie Frasier has a proven track record. Brian Daboll has been around a lot of great coaches like Nick Saban and Bill Belichick, but he hasn't been great as an OC until his 2017 Alabama national championship. The Bills finished 30th in total offense in 2018 because of their inability to pass successfully. This has been a career struggle for Daboll to get the passing game going but, to be fair, his options were pretty limited last year with multiple QBs starting games, a poor offensive line, and a rag-tag bunch of receiving threats. Going back to McDermott, he has a long leash with Bills fans after he took them to their first playoff game in 17 years. I think he has a good vision and he has certainly changed the culture. His biggest limitation is that high profile free agents don't usually choose Buffalo, and on the flip side, it is hard to retain players who want to leave for greener pastures. This means they have had to rely on draft picks before they're ready in many cases and they don't have good continuity from year to year. Every year has felt like a "fresh start" but eventually they'll have to stick with something and build on it. That being said, he has done well with rosters that are not among the most talented in the league so he's making the most of his situation. The week to week inconsistency severely hurt the ratings above, especially effectiveness. There were some weeks where everything looked out of sorts and they never got anything going on Offense and ended up getting blown out. Then other weeks they showed up and dominated. You never know which Bills team is going to show up. Its hard to fault the coaches for everything but the best teams show up each week, even against the league's best.
The defense is well coached and has a sound group of 10 returning starters and 1st round rookie Ed Oliver. Whichever corner steps up to win the spot opposite Tredavius White is going to have to be ready to go because the Bills rely on their coverage skills to create sacks and pressures. I expect them to be aggressive in run support, although the loss of Kyle Williams at DT will encourage teams to test the belly of the defense more often. The offense on the other hand, returns just 5 starters from last year, if you include fullback Patrick DeMarco and Josh Allen who came in because of injury. The O-line is the newest, and most important unit to this team's success in 2019. If they can improve in run blocking and give Allen more time in the pocket to find his speedy receiving corps, this offense can make a big jump. As far as the roster goes, there are a lot of fine players, but not many who are really great at their respective position. In fact, zero Bills players were named to the Pro Bowl in 2019 (Kyle Williams went as an alternate).
Last season, did the team
meet your expectations?
I wouldn't expect the Bills to be a playoff team because of the competition in the AFC and because they have a pretty tough schedule. At their absolute best, maybe they're a 9-7 team and that's if they steal multiple games from perennial playoff contenders. The worst case scenario I think is 5-11 and 3rd place in the division. If Josh Allen starts to make good decisions on a consistent basis AND they can run the football, look for them to be at the higher end of the projection. If Allen is the same Josh Allen and the defense is giving up 125+ rushing yards per game, start thinking about next year.