Week 8 Preview: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
Say what you want about analytics, but there’s no arguing the numbers that Football Outsiders, one of the most respected number-crunching organizations in the industry, has produced regarding the Bills offense.
It’s into the historic category for its level of incompetence through seven games.
Football Outsiders tracked the numbers back to 1986, the first year of the Jim Kelly Era in Buffalo, and this current offense – having been operated this season by Nathan Peterman, Josh Allen and Derek Anderson – is the worst on record at this stage of a season. And it’s not even close.
Using its Defense-Adjusted Value over Average metric (DVOA), which takes into account multiple factors based on down and distance and then adjusted based on the opponent and the game situation, the Bills are currently weighing in at 53.2 percent below league average this season.
While NFL teams are averaging 363 yards per game, the Bills are at 234. In terms of scoring which is really the most important number of all, teams are averaging 24.1 points per game, while the Bills are averaging less than half that, 11.6 points.
It’s staggering how horrible this offense is. “It just is what it is; we’ve got to do a good job with it and be better and at the end of the day, that’s our job,” said offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, an explanation that was as weak as his offense.
Now the Bills have the Patriots up next, and they will be confronted with a New England offense that has scored at least 38 points in four straight games when the teams meet on Monday Night Football. The Bills scored three offensive points against the now 2-5 Indianapolis Colts. It is a virtual impossibility that they will be able to outscore the Patriots, no matter how much their defense bounces back from a terrible performance at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“We know we’re not where we need to be,” said Daboll. “You have to be mentally strong, whether you’re doing well or you’re not doing well. I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. You have to have short term memory. You have to look at the things that you need to improve on, which, for us, is a lot.”
Patriots running back James White has 45 receptions; all of the Bills wide receivers have combined for 48 catches.
The Bills have been shutout in the first half four times and in their five losses have been outscored 104-6 in the first two quarters; the Patriots have scored at least 21 points in each of the last four games in the first half.
The Bills have four scoring drives of 60 yards or longer all season; New England had three such drives last week in its victory over the Bears, one of the better defenses in the NFL.
The numbers go on and on and only get worse.
“It comes back to fundamentals and technique,” said coach Sean McDermott, who really has no answers at this point. “We’ve got to make sure we’re dialed in on all the fundamentals and technique, and then we’re all on the same page with those fundamentals and technique.”
Actually, what it comes down to do is an enormous talent gap between the Bills and just about every other team in the NFL with the exception of the Cardinals and Raiders.
Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, the Bills lowest point total in a non-strike year was 200 by the 2-14 team of 1985, the year before Kelly arrived. Currently, the Bills are on pace to set a new futility standard.
This is the 117th regular-season meeting, and the Patriots lead the series 72-43-1. Rarely has there ever been a more lopsided NFL series than this one over the past 18 years. The Patriots have now won 31 of the last 36 games, and Tom Brady is 28-3 as a starter in his career against the Bills. The teams have played each other on Monday Night Football three times, all in New England, all Patriots victories.
BY THE NUMBERS
88 – That’s how many points the Rams’ Todd Gurley has scored this season by himself, which is seven more than the Bills have scored as a team all year.
- RB LeSean McCoy suffered a concussion in Indianapolis and did not practice Thursday as he remains in protocol.
- DE Trent Murphy suffered a knee injury last week and coach Sean McDermott said his status is week to week, meaning he won’t be playing Monday against the Patriots.
- CB Tre’Davious White continues to draw the assignment of traveling with the opponents’ best receiver, but picking one against the Patriots among Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, and Chris Hogan will be intriguing.
- QB Derek Anderson had a passer rating of 39.6 last week. In his career, in games where he threw at least 20 passes, that was the fifth-worst game he’s played.
- WR Kelvin Benjamin had his best game, yardage-wise, as a Bill, with 71 yards last week, but he still has only 217 yards all year.
- WR Zay Jones continues to lead the Bills in snaps played at the position, as well as catches (19) and yards (226).
- LB Tremaine Edmunds leads the Bills with 54 tackles, including two for loss, and he has two forced fumbles. He also has a team-high five pass breakups.
- DE Jerry Hughes leads Buffalo with 4.5 sacks, 10 QB hits and 3 forced fumbles.
- QB Josh Allen remains sidelined with an elbow injury and is not practicing.
- RB Taiwan Jones will likely miss his second game due to a neck injury.
RB Chris Ivory. Twice this season, LeSean McCoy has been sidelined by an injury, and in both games Ivory has filled in admirably. He may be asked to do so again Monday against the Patriots with McCoy in concussion protocol. McCoy sat out all of the Minnesota game and Ivory ran for 56 yards and caught three passes for 70 yards. Last week in Indianapolis, McCoy went down on the second play of the game and Ivory stepped up and rushed for 81 yards and caught three passes for 25 yards. Ivory is a straight-ahead masher and the Patriots are a team that can be run against, so if he has to play in place of McCoy, the Bills will try to get him established.
It really hasn’t mattered what the game plan on offense has been this season because virtually nothing has worked. The Bills have redefined ineptness on that side of the ball, having scored only 81 points in their seven games. Derek Anderson will have one more week of practice and familiarizing himself with the playbook, but he really has no business playing. What little success he had last week came from short passes to the running backs as Chris Ivory and Marcus Murphy combined for eight catches. The Bills will try to run with either LeSean McCoy (if he can play) or the combination of Ivory and Murphy, but look for them to incorporate more quick routes to the wideouts and tight ends.
The Buffalo defense needs to put last week in the rearview mirror and get back to playing the way it did in the previous four games because if it plays like it did in Indianapolis, the Patriots offensive machine will explode. It might anyway. The Bills have a weak spot at CB in Phillip Gaines, so Tom Brady will scheme things in the pass game his way and avoid going at CB Tre’Davious White. The biggest concern though, is stopping TE Rob Gronkowski, who is expected back after missing last week’s game in Chicago. The Bills have never been able to handle him, and though LB Tremaine Edmunds is a physical marvel, he’s a rookie whose coverage weaknesses have been taken advantage of and Gronk could be a major problem.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Bills LBs vs. Patriots RB James White. As much as Tom Brady has dynamic weapons in Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and Rob Gronkowski, his favorite target this season has been White out of the backfield. White has 45 catches for 380 yards and 6 touchdowns, so the Bills, particularly Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds, will have to be assignment conscious of him when he jumps into the pattern.
Bills offensive line vs. Patriots front seven. The Patriots are allowing 4.6 yards per rushing play, and in the last two games, the Chiefs and Bears averaged more than five yards per attempt. The Bills have not thrown the ball with any consistency and that’s probably not changing, so the line has to have a big night and give the backs room to operate. If McCoy plays, it’s one of those games where he’ll need 25 touches because the Bills have to maintain possession of the ball to keep the dangerous New England offense off the field.