Through the first three games of the 2015 NFL Season, the Buffalo Bills have looked like a legitimate playoff team. Heading into Sunday’s game against the New York Giants with a 2-1 record, here are 5 things “I Think I Think” about this year’s squad.
Greg Roman is a Wizard
Throughout the duration of the Doug Marrone/Nate Hackett era of Bills football, fans grew angry and bored when watching the Bills’ offense take the field. The “run, run pass” brand of vanilla game-planning and conservative play-calling left fans wanting more.
This year, Greg Roman has shown to be multiple and versatile with his offensive attack. The core philosophy is based around a power rushing attack that’s designed to open things up in the passing game. Through three games, the Bills lead the NFL in rushing-gaining 458 yards and five touchdowns on 97 carries. Roman’s creative blocking schemes that utilize motioning tight ends, multiple formations and read-option concepts have produced four 20+ yard gains, the most in the league.
Tyrod Taylor, an unknown that sat behind Joe Flacco for the first four years of his career with the Baltimore Ravens has played fantastic, with much of the credit due to Roman’s play-design ability that maximizes the best traits of the mobile, yet strong-armed dual-threat passer. Taylor has completed 58-of-78 passes for 714 yards (74.4% is 4th-best), seven touchdowns (6th) and three interceptions. His 116.1 passer rating is fifth-best in the league.
Roman has done an excellent job of scheming star players like Percy Harvin and Charles Clay into space, while keeping things simple for Taylor with basic “Hi-Lo” reads. The success of the running game allowed Roman to maximize Taylor’s mobility and short-to-intermediate accuracy with play action and bootlegs designed to hit shallow crossers and corner routes.
We’ve seen a variety of formations and concepts just three games into the season, so it will be fun to see what else Roman has up his sleeve as the season progresses.
Ronald Darby Has Proved Me (And Many Others) Wrong
I’ll admit it. I hated the Bills selecting Ronald Darby in the 2nd round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Sure, there’s no doubting his freakish athletic ability, but the team already had Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, Nickell Robey and Corey Graham on the roster. I thought the pick could’ve been better utilized elsewhere. McKelvin was injured at training camp, and Darby was immediately thrown into the fire.
During the preseason, it seemed like my thoughts were correct, as Darby was abused early and often, giving up eight receptions on 12 targets for 179 yards, a 22.4 yards-per-catch average, surrendering two touchdowns and a 97.9 passer rating against.
Then, the regular season came and Darby looked like a totally different player. Facing off against premier receiving weapons like T.Y. Hilton, Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, among others, Darby has allowed just 13 receptions on 29 targets (44.8% completion rate is 7th best among CB’s who’ve faced 10+ targets) for 147 yards and two interceptions (t-1st). He hasn’t allowed a touchdown, and he leads the league in passes defended with eight. His 31.8 passer rating against is tops among all cornerbacks.
This is a credit to the coaching of Donnie Henderson, who took a raw, athletic cornerback that was willing to learn and transformed him from a liability to a potential lockdown corner in a matter of months.
“Next Man Up” Doesn’t Bring Worry Anymore
The Bills did a great job bolstering the depth throughout their roster over the past few seasons, and it’s already paying off. Marcell Dareus, an All-Pro defensive tackle was suspended for the first week of the game but the defense didn’t miss a beat, as Corbin Bryant recorded five tackles, a stuff, one sack and another QB pressure in his absence. Starting safety Corey Graham went down with a concussion on the first defensive snap in that game, so Baccari Rambo stepped in and notched six tackles while allowing just one completion for six yards.
LeSean McCoy is still dealing with a nagging injury, but fifth-round pick Karlos Williams has made the most of his opportunities, rushing for 186 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries, earning an “Offensive Rookie of the Week” nomination. Last week, Sammy Watkins went down with a calf injury, but it was Percy Harvin, Robert Woods and Chris Hogan who stepped up to fill his shoes. The trio combined for 14 receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown against the Dolphins.
Rookie right guard John Miller also suffered a calf injury, so Kraig Urbik stepped in to play 48 snaps and didn’t allow a sack, hit or hurry. He played a key role in Karlos Williams’ 41-yard touchdown as well.
This is a team built to win, and it seems that no matter who goes down, there’s another quality player ready to step into those shoes.
Jerry Hughes Keeps Getting Better
The Bills retained Jerry Hughes as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, rewarding him with a five-year, $45 million contract after posting back-to-back 10-sack seasons. Those who choose to just look at box scores will see eight tackles, one sack and one forced fumble and say that it was a poor move. However, when you consider the fact that Andrew Luck, Tom Brady and Ryan Tannehill have averaged 2.26 seconds from snap to attempt, Hughes’ sack, 1 QB hit and 11 hurries seem even more remarkable.
Hughes is still improving his game and is now setting up opposing linemen with inside moves, spin moves and rip moves, and is now strong enough to effectively bull-rush. He’s doing a good job setting the edge against the run as well, as teams are averaging just 2.8 yards-per-carry when rushing behind their left tackle.
The Bills have a stretch of games coming against weak offensive lines and inexperienced quarterbacks, so look for Hughes’ stats to start to pop.
Richie Incognito Could Be The Best Free Agent Signing In The NFL
The guard position has been a serious question mark for the Bills ever since Andy Levitre left in 2012. During the last two seasons, Buffalo started five different players at left guard, to no avail. When running the ball behind the left guard, the Bills averaged just 3.6 yards-per-carry. When passing, left guards surrendered five sacks, 20 QB Hits and 51 QB Hurries.
Richie Incognito was away from football for a year following a bullying scandal, but Rex Ryan gave him a chance to redeem himself, and he’s worked his way back to being a premier player at the position. He’s not only given the Bills’ line an attitude and aggressiveness they’ve lacked for years, but he’s consistently effective—pulling around the right tackle and blowing up a linebacker to clear a running lane, anchoring against a bull-rushing defensive tackle to maintain a clean pocket, and helping out his teammates with nasty blocks when his zone is empty.
Through three weeks, the Bills average 4.2 yards-per-carry when rushing behind the left guard, and 5.15 yards-per-carry on power runs with Incognito as the pulling lead blocker.