Less than a year removed from being a playoff team, the Buffalo Bills have crashed to the bottom of the NFL hierarchy this season.
When the Bills, who sit at 2-5, meet the New England Patriots on Monday night in a familiar AFC East clash, the gulf between the two teams will be as wide as it has ever been.
Buffalo are lacking talent across the board, but their problems start – as they usually do for most struggling teams – at the quarterback position, where they’ve not found their short-term answer, or potentially their future solution.
Josh Allen is supposed to be the latter. The Bills traded up in this year’s draft to select the talented but raw prospect, who was taken seventh overall after Buffalo gave up the 12th overall pick along with two second rounders (53 and 56).
It appeared as if the Bills would take it slow with the 22-year-old and allow him to learn as a back-up in his rookie year, but that plan was quickly thrown out the window after Nathan Peterman’s abysmal performance in the opener.
Allen was thrown into the fire in his second game as a pro, and while he’s shown flashes of promise – mainly in the shock defeat of the Minnesota Vikings in Week 3 – he’s also proven to be a bit of a project and someone with plenty of flaws in his game.
His touchdown-to-interception ratio of 2-5 and passer rating of 61.8 don’t scream ‘franchise quarterback’, but considering the draft capital Buffalo spent on him, Allen will be given time to develop.
That time has been cut short this year with Allen currently sidelined by a right elbow sprain, forcing the Bills to turn to veteran Derek Anderson, who has been no better than the rookie or Peterman so far.
In his first game under centre last week, Anderson threw three interceptions for a passer rating of 39.8 in a 37-5 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. His life will get no easier on Monday when he goes up against Tom Brady and the surging Patriots, who can pile on to Buffalo’s misery.
New England have scored at least 38 points in four straight games, but they likely won’t need anything close to that to beat the Bills, who are fielding one of the worst offences in recent memory.
Congratulations Buffalo Bills, who at -53.4% now have the worst offensive DVOA ever tracked through 7 games, and by a good margin. 1992 Seahawks second at -45.5%, then 2013 Jags, 2010 Panthers, and 2004 Dolphins.— Aaron Schatz 🏈 (@FO_ASchatz) October 22, 2018
Buffalo rank second-to-last in yards per game (234.0), last in yards per play (3.9), third-to-last in giveaways (16), second-to-last in third-down conversion rate (27.4 per cent), and last in scoring (11.6 points per game).
The ground game continues to be the focal point of their attack, but after three consecutive seasons or ranking in the top six in rushing yards, the Bills have been mediocre at best running the ball this year. Their 3.9 yards per carry places them 28th in the league, while their 104.6 yards per game slots them 19th.
LeSean McCoy finally appears to be fading after years of mileage on his legs, with the 30-yard-old running back managing just 244 yards on 3.9 yards per carry so far. He’s been rumoured to be on the trading block with the Bills going nowhere this year, but he apparently won’t be moved ahead of Tuesday’s deadline, according to reports.
Buffalo’s defence under defensive-minded head coach Sean McDermott has been the team’s best unit, ranking fourth in the league in yards allowed per game (320.9) and 16th in points surrendered (25.0), but it hasn’t been good enough to completely mask the shortcomings on the other side of the ball.
As such, the Bills are on their way to grabbing one of the top picks in next year’s draft, as well as a full rebuild.
There’s little reason for optimism right now, but in the NFL, things always get worse before they get better.