Right now, the Buffalo Bills' newly-installed no-huddle offense is all the rage in Western New York. Through two pre-season games, Bills quarterbacks - yes, all four of them - are completing a whopping 77 percent of their passes, and the team has averaged 311 yards per game. All of this was accomplished despite the fact that the full projected starting offense has not yet played a down together (RT Brad Butler missed the first pre-season game, and WR Terrell Owens missed the second).
Despite all of that success and all of the well-founded excitement, however, the fact remains that the Bills have only scored three offensive touchdowns to this point - and two of them were set up deep in enemy territory by forced turnovers. None of those touchdowns have occurred before halftime, when most of the team's starters and key reserves are on the field. The red zone offense, in particular, has been a problem area - and despite all the excitement, it's an area that needs to be addressed quickly if the Bills wish to end their nine-year playoff drought.
Starters are only 0/1
Before y'all get your pants in a hitch and prepare to freak out, it's important to realize that Buffalo's starting offense - which, again, has yet to play together as an eleven-man unit - has made only one red zone trip in four series. While that drive ended only in a field goal, one drive isn't cause to label this anything more than an issue in need of work.
Right now, the Bills are 3/8 in converting drives that reached the red zone into touchdowns. Again, two of those were drives that began at the opponents' four-yard line, thanks to back-to-back interceptions by rookie CB Ellis Lankster. All but one of the drives were converted into scores (the Bills lost one possession on downs).
The two scores late in the Chicago game were encouraging to a degree, but after years of fielding a low-scoring offense in Buffalo, it's natural for fans to fear what seems to be the inevitable when the starting offense has produced three points in four drives.
It's all about personnel
Without reading too much into this - after all, the Bills are hardly going to unveil every plan or wrinkle they have to put points on the board - the issue appears to be centralized around personnel. Red zone targets such as Owens, Steve Johnson and James Hardy have missed time. Shawn Nelson has gotten work in that area extensively, but not so much in games with the first unit. Meanwhile, the Bills have struggled to run the ball at times, which has further hampered their already limited reps to put the ball in the paint.
We have harped all off-season, it seems, about Turk Schonert being willing to use some of his talented, big targets in the red zone. Other veteran players such as WR Josh Reed, WR Roscoe Parrish and tight ends Derek Schouman and Derek Fine (who clearly are far less experienced than the receivers) have not had an impact in the red zone at any points in their careers. Right now, teams have keyed on Lee Evans and Marshawn Lynch down close - in other words, it's been business as usual.
My caution to you this afternoon is this: yes, the red zone offense hasn't been great, and yes, if we're not proficient in this area, we're not going to be winning many games. Hold off on proclaiming the season a lost cause because of this; the Bills are four drives into the pre-season with their starting offense, and they've been dealing with some minor injuries that has removed some valued targets from their disposal. As with any work in progress - and yeah, this no-huddle is very much a work in progress - it's going to take time. The pieces are in place. We just need to get them on the field.