“Sucks, shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place,” Allen said. “A lot of bad football, a lot of bad football.”
The Bills were 5-5. With one of the league’s toughest schedules still to come, the notion of reaching the playoffs, let alone winning the AFC East title, seemed to be a long shot. The next morning, offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey was fired, and quarterbacks coach Joe Brady was hired to the role on an interim basis.
The team had lost four of its previous six and only scored 25 points once over that stretch. Defensive injuries were noticeable, and things were not clicking.
The tone surrounding this team just over a month and four games later couldn’t be more different. The Bills are coming off wins over the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys, considered among the best teams in the league, and now at 8-6 have three games — at the Chargers, vs. the Patriots and at the Dolphins — to make the playoffs. The division is once again in sight with the Bills sitting two games back of Miami.
Entering Week 14, the Bills had a 21% chance to make the playoffs, per ESPN Analytics. That figure is now at 64%. The team has won eight straight games in December since 2021, the second-longest active streak behind the Bengals (nine) and the longest such streak in franchise history.
“[Just winning is] what it comes down to,” Allen said this week. “Again, just trusting the guys in this locker room, I feel like it’s a situation we’ve been in before and just using that previous experience that we have to carry us over.”
But with the Bills discussed among the best teams in the AFC while also sitting outside of the playoffs, have the problems of midseason truly been put in the past? Is this team back and primed for a run? Let’s take a look at the woes from midseason and see how they are trending.
Problem 1: Turnovers
From Weeks 1-4, the Bills had a plus-6 turnover margin (third), but from Weeks 5-10, that number flipped to negative-9, worst in the league during that stretch. Since Week 11, that number has gone back up to plus-6 (third).
Why the change?
On the defensive side, in only three of the six games during the downswing was a takeaway recorded, but in every game since Week 10, the Bills defense has at least one turnover. Adding cornerback Rasul Douglas at the trade deadline has helped — he recorded two interceptions and a fumble against the Jets.
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The four-man pass rush has been more effective, with the Bills allowing a 55.2% completion percentage (second) and recording five interceptions (third) when rushing four or more players since Week 11 compared to a 70.5% completion percentage (27th) and zero picks in those situations from Weeks 5-10.
“Coach [Sean] McDermott has challenged us to create our own identity and to find our identity and I feel like these last few weeks, I feel like we’ve done that,” linebacker Terrel Bernard said. “… Our whole thing is to be fast, physical, stop the run, affect the quarterback, and take the ball away.”
Offensively, Allen snapped a nine-game streak with an interception in the win vs. the Cowboys, and while throwing some picks with his style of play is inevitable, the bad decisions added up at times. Now, the Bills offense is on more of the same page, and the miscues have been limited to an extent.
One area that remains an issue on stalled drives is drops. Nine of the team’s 21 drops this season have come in the team’s past four games.
Verdict: Incomplete. A larger sample size is needed on this one, but it’s absolutely moving in the right direction.
Problem 2: Reduced role for running backs
This speaks for itself after the Cowboys win. It took a while for the Bills to hit their goal of finding more yards after catch in the offense, but with the running backs getting further involved, that vision is being implemented.
Second-year running back James Cook is averaging 141 scrimmage yards and 21 touches per game since Brady has taken over play calling, third and tied for third respectively in the NFL during that time. He had 83.7 scrimmage yards and 14.4 touches per game over the first 10 games.
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Brady integrating the backs as receivers has been key. Cook is tied for the second-most receptions on the team in the past four games with tight end Dalton Kincaid, and the team’s other backs, Ty Johnson and Latavius Murray, have a combined 10 receptions in those games.
“When James came in last season, we probably didn’t get him enough targets in that and that takes time … that takes work with the quarterback and rep upon rep,” McDermott said. “So now you’re starting to see some of that, in addition to the running game as well.”
The running backs had 13 receiving first downs and one receiving touchdown with Dorsey calling the plays and 12 first downs and four receiving touchdowns since.
With the running game’s success behind the offensive line, and the backs helping Allen in the receiving, the quarterback will have less to shoulder.
Verdict: Corrected. Brady has changed this element of the Bills offense and it’s not going anywhere.
Problem 3: Lack of second-half defensive adjustments
All the Bills’ losses have come in one-score games, and throughout the season there have been a variety of instances where the defense has allowed the opposing team to work its way back into games — the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles the most recent example.
This team has allowed the fifth-most yards per play in the fourth quarter or overtime (5.4) and tied for the seventh-most opponent points per game in those quarters (7.3).
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Going into the team’s bye week following Week 12, in one-score games entering the fourth quarter or overtime, no team had allowed more points per game (11) or a higher third down conversion percentage (62.5%).
This has improved somewhat. Against the Chiefs, the defense was able to get a big stop inside of two minutes (with the help of a much-discussed offensive offside penalty) after allowing Kansas City to rally from a 17-7 deficit to tie. The defense subsequently held on to limit the Cowboys, but with the help of a big lead.
“We know that to get to our ultimate goal, we’ve gotta continue to build on what we’ve done and to continue to get better,” Bernard said. “I feel like the last few weeks we’ve taken steps in the right direction, and everybody knows the standard that we need to play at and that we have to play at.”
Verdict: A work in progress. This has shown signs of moving in the right way, but not enough yet to consider it fully corrected.
Problem 4: Lack of offensive energy
Brady described Allen this week as having “a lot of joy playing ball right now.” That’s not entirely quantifiable or simple to align with statistics, but since the change at offensive coordinator, a certain energy has taken over this offense, something many players have mentioned that Brady has helped to bring.
Allen discussed using a “low positive” mentality — keeping his energy lower and allowing him to think more — in October, and there were times during games when his celebrations were more muted than usual and he wasn’t showing his personality on the field as much.
That part of Allen has been more evident on the field as of late, with the quarterback showing his running prowess via an increase in carries and showing his emotions in a variety of ways. Despite the ups and downs, he’s put together MVP-like numbers, setting the record for the most games with a passing and rushing touchdown in a season (10) and is three touchdowns away from tying Tom Brady (four) for the second-most seasons with 40 passing/rushing touchdowns. “We had to really figure out what we wanted our identity to be and I feel like … this year we didn’t really know that until the past few weeks and guys were kind of just … all over the place,” wide receiver Gabe Davis said. “But now being more consistent, figuring out the things that we need to work on and getting good at those things has helped us be more consistent on Sundays.” Verdict: Solved. The energy is back to what has been expected from the Bills over the past few seasons.
That part of Allen has been more evident on the field as of late, with the quarterback showing his running prowess via an increase in carries and showing his emotions in a variety of ways.
Despite the ups and downs, he’s put together MVP-like numbers, setting the record for the most games with a passing and rushing touchdown in a season (10) and is three touchdowns away from tying Tom Brady (four) for the second-most seasons with 40 passing/rushing touchdowns.
“We had to really figure out what we wanted our identity to be and I feel like … this year we didn’t really know that until the past few weeks and guys were kind of just … all over the place,” wide receiver Gabe Davis said. “But now being more consistent, figuring out the things that we need to work on and getting good at those things has helped us be more consistent on Sundays.”
Verdict: Solved. The energy is back to what has been expected from the Bills over the past few seasons.