Why didn’t they throw the ball to Sammy Watkins more?
How come Mike Gillislee didn’t get any carries?
Why wasn’t Charles Clay targeted more?
All of those questions – and plenty more – could be asked of the Buffalo Bills following a 13-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
While there are plenty of answers, one good place to start is the lack of plays run by the offense. The Bills’ 48 offensive snaps is the fewest among the 28 teams who had completed Week One of the season going into the Monday night games.
“It’s just that we had way too many three-and-outs,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said. “I think we had five ‘Ks’ we call them. And so it’s hard to establish any sort of rhythm when you’re doing that. And then the first quarter, on defense, that team right there, they controlled the pace of the game, I think. That’s what it felt like to me and part of that is when you make teams go three-and-out, it’s hard to establish a rhythm.”
Obviously, the way to get more plays is to convert more third downs. That was a goal of offensive coordinator Greg Roman coming into the season. At least Sunday, the team didn’t come close to reaching it. The Bills went just 3 of 13 on third downs, a 23.1-percent conversion rate that ranks third worst among 28 teams through Sunday.
“It was a function of what happened yesterday,” Roman said Monday. “It’s something that we’ve got to address and get better at. It’s that simple, but I don’t think you let one game bleed into another. Every game is unique.”
Last year, the Bills averaged 63.5 plays per game, which ranked 20th in the NFL. Roman was hesitant to put an exact number on how many he wants per game, but concluded “you definitely want at least 60.”
Of course, if an offense is picking up chunks of yardage and scoring quickly, that’s a situation when fewer plays is no problem.
That wasn’t the case against the Ravens. The Bills had just nine possessions in a little over 27 minutes of possession time. Their longest gain was a 33-yard completion from Tyrod Taylor to Charles Clay that came after the quarterback brilliantly scrambled away from trouble. That was the Bills’ only gain of 20-plus yards.
The Bills simply didn’t give themselves enough chances to make big plays. They went three-and-out on five of their nine possessions, including on all three in the fourth-quarter, each of which began within one score of the lead.
“They did really well shutting us down on third-down plays,” running back LeSean McCoy said. “They had a number of third-down packages that surprised us, and they were structured very well.”
The Bills went three-and-out an NFL-leading 27.9 percent of the time last season.
“We’ve got to stay on the field,” Roman said. “When we do that, we’re pretty darn good.”
While the communications issues on defense last season received plenty of attention, few thought it would be a problem for Buffalo’s offense.
But that was the case Sunday against the Ravens.
Roman mentioned two specific instances, but it certainly appeared during the game that the play clock was nearing expiration several times.
The Bills used two second-half timeouts with more than 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter, and took a critical delay-of-game penalty after getting the ball back down 13-7.
“We had issues, so that’s something we’ve got to improve on, starting with me,” Roman said.
Ryan elected to give his starters minimal work during the preseason – a decision that he said Monday he would review after there definitely appeared to be some rust left to shake off.
“I think if we would have lost somebody maybe the question would be different,” he said. “I’ll definitely look at that. We rested the entire defense for those two games. Thought they played pretty decent.”
That they did, which makes Sunday’s result all the more frustrating. The Ravens were a team begging to get beat. All the Bills needed to do was produce one more touchdown, and they couldn’t. For an offense with such high hopes, reaching the end zone once is massively disappointing.
“We thought, obviously, that we were going to play better,” Ryan said. “We had some practices leading up to it, so there was no indication that we were going to go out and play like we did, but you have to give your opponent credit. They did a nice job and coaches did a nice job of scheming and everything but man, we got to play better than that.
“We all know that and it starts with us. We got to look at us first, what we’re asking ourselves to do. Do we have too much in? Do we have too little in? We got to look at all those types of things and come out with a great plan that our guys feel confident in.”