The Buffalo Bills’ biggest offensive deficiency the last two seasons has been an inability to finish drives.
The team ranked 29th in 2013 and 30th in 2014 in red-zone touchdown percentage. While three games aren’t enough to draw any concrete conclusions about this season, the early evidence suggests the problem has been fixed.
Through Week Three, the Bills rank second in the NFL inside the red zone, scoring touchdowns on 83.33 percent of their trips thus far. Only the 3-0 Arizona Cardinals, at 91.67 percent, have been better.
“That is a big turnaround,” center Eric Wood said. “I didn’t realize we were No. 2.”
As for what’s keyed the improvement, Wood didn’t make it sound like there had been some sort of philosophic switch.
“Focusing on the week in practice and then going out and executing,” he said. “I know that sounds very simple, but we have guys making plays, and that makes a big difference.”
The Bills have just six trips to the red zone in three games, with five of them ending in touchdowns and the other resulting in a field goal. They are one of 10 teams to score on each trip inside their opponent’s 20-yard line.
“Some different plays, totally different offense,” Wood said of what has changed. “The windows get tighter, the safeties aren’t as loose – they don’t have to be – makes it a little tougher to run the ball, but the good teams can score down there, and we have to keep executing down there.”
On the surface, Buffalo’s six trips inside the red zone seems like a problematic number. Only two teams – St. Louis and Chicago with five – have been there less. But that’s because the Bills haven’t needed to get down there. Buffalo has 13 touchdowns, which ranks third in the NFL, and seven of them have come on plays that have originated from outside the red zone (the other was Preston Brown’s interception return).
The Bills have been explosive on offense, with an NFL-leading 17 offensive plays that have gone for at least 20 yards – 13 passes and four rushes. On those plays that don’t go the distance, though, the offense has done a good job of making sure drives end in the end zone.
“We’re executing,” said rookie running back Karlos Williams, who has touchdowns in each of the Bills’ first three games. “We want to score down there in the red zone. When you don’t score touchdowns in the red zone, when you only put three up on the board, it leaves a lot of opportunity for the other team to come down and put seven up. So you want to go down there, you want to put seven points on the board.
“You want to execute down there. … That’s something we want to build. We’ve been successful at it, and we want to keep getting better each and every week.”
Part of the Bills’ success can be attributed to the way the ball is being shared. The team’s five red-zone touchdowns have been scored by five different players. Boobie Dixon had a 1-yard run against Indianapolis, Williams had a 2-yard run and tight end Charles Clay had a 9-yard catch against New England, quarterback Tyrod Taylor added a 7-yard run in the same game and running back LeSean McCoy caught a 10-yard pass from Taylor last week against the Dolphins.
Taylor, McCoy, Clay and Williams all are new to the offense from a year ago, as are receiver Percy Harvin and guards Richie Incognito and John Miller. That’s five starters and in Williams, a key contributor.
“We have a lot of talent, that’s for sure, and I’ve really enjoyed the scheme,” Wood said. “Obviously we’ll keep getting better, and keep developing within this offense. Even though we’re scoring some points, each week there’s a lot on film we just wish we could have back, stuff that in practice you do it and then the game is a little faster and you say, ‘all right I won’t mess that up next time, and we’ve been doing a good job getting better week to week.’ I really look forward to what we can do moving forward.”