The Buffalo Bills are second in the NFL in scoring offense, averaging 29.3 points per game. They’re third-best in points per drive. They’re top of the league in yards per drive and yards per play. They’re also the best team in the league at converting third downs, moving the chains 52.8% of the time. Put simply, the Bills are as efficient an offense as you can find in the NFL today.
Until they get into the red zone, that is.
Bills red zone stats
Before B.J. Monacelli gets this going with some GIFs breaking down what’s happening, let’s set the stage with some stats-based fun.
This really sounds like it should be a single stat. That stat would be 54.5%, if you’re wondering. That’s how often Buffalo scores a touchdown when they get to the red zone. That’s tied for 15th in the league with the San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, and Las Vegas Raiders. For Buffalo’s offense, even our “woes” merely mean “average.”
My first thought was that perhaps Buffalo hasn’t had that many trips, what with all the long touchdowns to wide receiver Gabe Davis and all. If that were true, one or two missed chances could skew the results. However, that’s not the case. They’re tied for the eighth-most red zone trips in the NFL. That’s a nine-way tie, by the way, so this too is pretty average.
In other words, they really are mediocre at earning red zone touchdowns.
The Bills pass the ball 63% of the time. Feel free to trust me on this, so I don’t have to spit out volumes of play propensity information, but there’s no change to that percentage when they get to the red zone. Is the compressed part of the field making it harder to throw the ball? I bet B.J. will have some opinions on that. Time to hit the film room...
Bills red zone All-22 analysis
This play occurred on Buffalo’s first drive of the game versus Kansas City. 1st & 10 at the KC 17-yard line, and the Bills dialed up the perfect play call to strike for a touchdown—but Josh Allen didn’t see it. At the 17-yard line, there’s still some room to breathe and spread the defense out to take a shot, but Allen gets a little antsy in the pocket and checks down to his running back. In the grand scheme of things, this really isn’t a bad play—they gained positive yardage and set themselves up for a 2nd & 6. The problem is that they missed an opportunity at a wide-open touchdown (that doesn’t happen often), and on the next play, they turned the ball over with a fumble.
The Bills had three plays in a row at the Chiefs’ three-yard line; this second-down play is the first of those three. I wonder what Allen was thinking here, because it looks like he made a decision before the snap. This isn’t always a bad thing; if the defense is showing a look that Allen likes, then he should take advantage of it. But I would much rather see Allen let the read option with running back Devin Singletary play out, since there is one defender to beat between the two of them. Then, if all else fails, pull the ball and throw it to tight end Dawson Knox, because he is open for a touchdown.
This is the third-down for the Bills after the play I just showed above. The Chiefs bring an all-out blitz here, just like they did on the last play. Kansas City brings more defenders than the Bills have offensive linemen, so Allen needs to get rid of it quickly. Ideally, this is a predetermined “hot route” where a wide receiver alters his route to be available for a quick throw against the blitz. The problem here is that his hot route appears to be the running back, and that route takes a little too long to develop, so the pressure gets to Allen.
This is the fourth-down play that followed the previous two plays above. Once again, the Chiefs bring an all-out blitz and bring more defenders than the Bills can block. Do you see the theme here? This forces Allen to make a quick decision, and after three plays in a row, the Bills are unable to convert from the three-yard line. Allen actually gives wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie an opportunity to make a play, but he fails to come up with the catch. I think Allen’s first read on this play was Knox at the bottom of the screen, but he was covered well. After Allen moves back to the left, it is too late, and he has to make a throw off of his back foot. If he throws it as soon as McKenzie was coming out of his break, it would have been a touchdown. This drive ended with a turnover on downs.
The Bills have 1st & 10 at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 17-yard line, and once again, they miss an opportunity to convert a wide-open touchdown pass. The offensive line creates a nice pocket and time for Allen to throw, doing an outstanding job of picking up the blitz. Diggs runs a spectacular route and is clearly open. This play should be a signed, sealed, and delivered touchdown, but Allen overthrew Diggs. This one falls squarely on the shoulders of a bad throw by Allen. This drive ended in a field goal.
We’re all familiar with this play that was featured in my Week 3 film review article. We’ve all moved passed this potential game-winning touchdown versus the Miami Dolphins, but it’s still a missed throw by Allen. He wanted it back as soon as he threw the ball. The heat was terrible, everyone was tired, and Allen just didn’t have a good base to throw an accurate football. This drive ended in a turnover on downs.
On this drive, the Bills start out at the Tennessee Titans’ 20-yard line after a muffed punt, but they fail to gain even one yard. The Titans had two tipped passes on this drive, which really just disrupted the rhythm of the drive for the Bills. The play above is the 3rd & 10 play of that drive, and you can see the defense may have slightly fooled the Bills. They presented a Cover 2 look at the snap, but then settle into a Cover 1 Robber coverage. The Bills run a route concept that is better suited to beat Cover 2. Nonetheless, the Bills still had a chance to gain some yardage if it wasn’t for the tipped pass.
Going forward, we can expect Allen to make these throws that he’s missed to this point in the season. Everything shrinks for the offense in the red zone, which makes it difficult for the Bills to impose their deep threats, but they have been really close to converting these opportunities. After six games and a bye week to reflect for offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, I think he will come up with some new wrinkles for the red zone. My vote: keep giving Allen the football and let him make plays.