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Pro Football Focus

Why have the Bills been so bad in the third quarter? What the numbers show

The Bills are 6-2 and the arrow is pointing way up for Buffalo's playoff chances, but one nagging issue that has impacted the team is third-quarter struggles.

The Bills have scored 16 points in the third quarter in eight games, ranking 30th in the NFL, and are 30th in passing grade and overall offensive grade, according to Pro Football Focus. The offense is ranked 21st when looking at all four quarters.

Offensive line play might be a good place to start. The line has the ninth-best grade in pass blocking overall, but the grade drops to 22nd in the third quarter.

In the first half, Bills’ offensive line play has been among the best in the NFL in pass protection allowing 46 total pressures (sixth lowest) and a 25.1% pressure rate (fourth lowest). The second half is a different story. Buffalo has allowed a respectable 51 total pressures (13th fewest), but their pressure rate allowed jumps considerably to 38.9%, 22nd in the league after the break.

Obviously, the line's play also impacts quarterback Josh Allen. His first-half passer rating is 82.6, but it falls to 57.5, second lowest among 35 quarterbacks with 25 or more dropbacks in the third quarter.

Allen has 12 turnover-worthy throws, five of which have come in the third quarter, his most in any quarter. Most of those have come under pressure.

The Bills’ receivers have not been doing Allen any favors as playmakers in the third quarter. As a unit, they have generated a lowly 62.1 passer rating when targeted, second lowest in the NFL, with four dropped balls. The group has also generated only 157 yards after the catch in the third quarter, fourth lowest among all NFL receiving corps, with 13 first downs and a 4.77 yards per route run average, both second lowest as a unit.

The offensive woes have not helped the defense.

The defense has been outscored, 43-16, and the Bills have allowed a 94.0 passer rating in coverage during the third quarter compared to 78.9 in the first half. The first-half ranking is third lowest in the league.

One positive of the Bills’ defensive play in the third quarter is that they lead the league in tackles for no gain or a loss in run defense (18) and in average depth of tackle (2.63) past the line of scrimmage. However, the run defense has allowed six runs of 10-plus yards and recording the most missed tackles at 20.

Of course, the Bills have bounced back in a major way from their dismal third quarters on offense in the fourth. In the fourth quarter, Allen ranks fifth at 113.3 with 45 completions, 361 yards, four scores and zero interceptions, despite being pressured at the third-highest rate in the game’s final frame.

The running game has ramped it up in the fourth quarter with 305 yards on 66 attempts. Their 4.6 yards per attempt in the final quarter ranks sixth in the NFL, while their 21 first downs on the ground rank second. The receivers also pick it up, ranking in the top 10 in passer rating generated when targeted (108.8), yards per route run average (6.97) and explosive plays of 15-plus yards (14) in the fourth quarter, all significantly better than their third-quarter margins.

There’s a lot to love about this Bills team and the playoffs seem to be on the horizon in Buffalo, but correcting these third quarter struggles is absolutely necessary for a deep run in the postseason.

Pro Football Focus will be contributing to all season long.

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