Sully: Buffalo Bills Still Behind the Curve in a Passing League
Column as I see ‘em, Week 4:
Bills fans are understandably optimistic about Josh Allen’s chances to become the team’s first real franchise quarterback since Jim Kelly. Allen has the physical tools and the temperament to be Kelly’s heir as the franchise guy. He looked the part in a stunning upset at Minnesota in Week 3.
But it’s going to be awhile before we know for sure. The fact is, after the first quarter of the season the Buffalo passing attack is where it has been for most of the time since Kelly retired after the 1996 season: Nowhere.
After four games, the Bills are 32nd and dead last in the NFL in passing yardage. They’re last in yards per pass attempt by a wide margin at 3.7 yards per pass. Arizona is nearly a yard better (4.6) in 31st. The Rams lead the league with 9.8 yards a throw. The Bills are 31st in scoring, total offense and first downs. You get the picture.
The Bills have 530 passing yards thus far, an embarrassing figure in a league where big passing days are more frequent than ever. There are currently 18 QBs on pace for 4,000 yards. That would easily be a record. There were 13 other NFL games played in Week 4 heading into Monday night. There were five 400-yard passing games and eight other games in which quarterbacks threw for 300. Yes, half of the teams in those games had a QB throw for more than 300 yards.
The NFL becomes more of a passing phenomenon with each passing year, and the Bills continue to lag behind the trend. They were 31st last year, 30th in 2016, 28th in 2015 (and people say Tyrod Taylor was unappreciated). They’ve been bottom 10 in passing in 12 of the last 15 years and haven’t finished in the top 10 since 2002, the year Drew Bledsoe became the only Bill to throw for 4,000 yards in a season.
It’s a grim chronicle, and tells you why Buffalo fans are so desperate for Allen to succeed and drag their team out of the dark ages in a passing league. But patience is required, because it won’t change overnight, not with this sorry collection of offensive linemen and wide receivers. The one thing that’s certain is, it can’t get any worse.
Frank Reich is getting roasted around the league for his decision to go on fourth-and-4 from his own 43-yard line with 27 seconds in overtime of a tie game against the Texans on Sunday. Andrew Luck threw incomplete on fourth. Deshaun Watson hit Deandre Hopkins for 24 yards on the next play and Houston beat the Colts, 37-34, on a 37-yard field goal by Ka’imi Fairbairn.
Reich addressed the issue immediately after the game. “We’re not playing for a tie,” the Bills legend said. “We’re going for that 10 times out of 10. That’s just the way it’s going to roll.”
OK, so maybe Reich wanted to send a message to his team, as his few defenders argued on his behalf. He wanted to show that the Colts would be aggressive, the way the Eagles were when he helped win a Super Bowl last year with Doug Pederson.
Fine. But Reich acts as if playing for a tie is some cowardly act, a concession to weakness. There’s nothing wrong with a tie. It’s better than a loss. Ask the Ravens and Chargers if they would have taken a tie over any loss last season. If either of them had gone 9-6-1 instead of 9-7, they wouldn’t have lost a tiebreaker to the Bills and would have made the playoffs.
Reich said he’d do it 10 times out of 10. But he handed a victory to the Texans on Sunday. Indy probably isn’t good enough for it to make a difference. It was a bold move, but not a smart one. If he did it again and lost and I was the owner, I’d show him the door.
Is He Owned? Just when you think all the quality players are taken, a couple of fresh gems emerge. I couldn’t decide between two candidates for my weekly fantasy football find, so I’ll go with a couple of rookies as co-winners this week: Houston wideout Keke Coutee and Cleveland running back Nick Chubb.
Coutee (pronounced Coo-Tee, accent on second syllable) made his NFL debut on Sunday and had 11 catches for 109 yards in the Texans’ 37-34 overtime win over the Colts. Coutee had been sidelined by a hamstring injury, but suited up as the third wideout and assumed a key role when Will Fuller went out with a bad hamstring of his own.
The 11 catches were the most by a player in his NFL debut since the merger. Sid Blanks of the Houston Oilers had 13 in 1964. Coutee was a fourth-round pick last spring out of Texas Tech, where he had 93 catches for 1,429 yards and 10 TDs last year as a junior. (Why can't the Bills ever find receivers like this?)
Chubb, the 35th overall pick in the 2018 draft, had three rushes for 105 yards and two TDs in Cleveland 45-42 overtime loss at Oakland. Chubb became the first player in NFL history to have 100 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a game with that few attempts.
No Browns rookie had rushed for 100 yards in a game since Terrance West in 2014. Chubb had only 41 yards on seven carries in the first three weeks, playing behind Carlos Hyde. This should earn him more playing time in a young backfield alongside fellow rookie Baker Mayfield.
Both Coutee and Chubb were available in all three of my fantasy leagues as of Monday afternoon. Might be worth a claim or two.
Stats Incredible: The Bears scored 38 points in the first half of their 48-10 win over the Bucs. Chicago had gone 42 straight without scoring 35 in an entire game … Oakland had a 400-yard passer (Derek Carr), two 100-yard receivers (Jared Cook, Amari Cooper) and a 100-yard rusher (Marshawn Lynch) against the Browns. According to Elias, it was the first time for the Raiders since 1964, when Cotton Davidson (427 passing), Clem Daniels (167 rush), Billy Cannon and Art Powell (111, 152 receiving) did it … Phil Rivers and Antonio Gates connected on their 88th TD on Sunday, the most ever by a QB-tight end tandem. Gates also became the oldest tight end to score a TD in the league … Bookend Bears fact: Chicago has eight interceptions through four games. In each of the previous three seasons, they had exactly eight picks all season. Do you think Khalil Mack makes a difference? By the way, the ex-UB star has a sack and forced fumble in all four games …