What’s wrong with the Buffalo Bills?

After suffering back-to-back losses to start the year, can QB Tyrod Taylor and the Bills revive their 2016 season?

| 3 months ago
Bills QB Tyrod Taylor

(Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

What’s wrong with the Buffalo Bills?


I’m not sure a Super Bowl prediction has ever fallen apart faster than my 2016 Buffalo Bills pick. Just eight days into the NFL season, the Bills are 0-2, leaving my selection in ruins.

Winning a Super Bowl after a 0-2 start is not unprecedented—the New York Giants did it in 2007—but it’s extremely unlikely, and that particular Giants’ victory remains one of the biggest upsets in the game’s history.

The pick of the Bills doing something special this season always had the potential to go the other way, and was very much a boom-or-bust prospect, but there was a lot to like about this team before the start of the season.

The first thing working in Buffalo’s favor was the absence of Tom Brady in New England for the first month of the season, potentially giving the Bills a chance at the AFC East title they wouldn’t ordinarily get. They have thrown that advantage away already by starting 0-2, while the Patriots have won their first game with Jimmy Garoppolo under center.

So, what’s wrong with Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills through two weeks of play, and can they right the ship soon?

Problem 1: QB Tyrod Taylor

Last season, first-year starter Tyrod Taylor was a revelation for the Bills, and ended the year with an overall grade of 89.8, good enough for seventh-best among NFL QBs. He wasn’t just a surprise package, but a genuinely impressive QB who made throws few other players in the league can make. There were flaws in his game, but they were on the routine underneath passes that most pro QBs tend to master first. Simply put, he was good at the difficult things, and not great at the easier stuff.

If Taylor had improved on his negatives, he would be a QB that could take this team places in 2016; instead, he seems to have regressed across the board, at least through two games of the 2016 season.

In the first game against Baltimore, Taylor just couldn’t make many plays, and last night against the Jets, the big plays were back, but he missed too many passes, and the interception early in the fourth quarter should have been a big gain to put the Bills into the red zone down by three—it instead resulted in a critical turnover. Taylor just hasn’t been the same player he was a year ago, and unless he can rediscover that magic, this team is sunk on offense.

Problem 2: Pass coverage

One of the more exciting things about this Bills team entering the season was the defense they could field, and more impressively, the coverage they had on the back end, with Stephone Gilmore and Ronald Darby forming one of the better cornerback duos in the NFL. With Darby just a rookie last year, I felt they could be even better in 2016, but like Taylor, they have gone the other way.

Last season, targeting Darby yielded a passer rating of 78.3, and Gilmore, 82.1; both players allowed exactly 54.3 percent of passes sent their way to be caught. So far this season, targeting Darby is yielding a passer rating of 93.6, and Gilmore, 116.7. In fact, Gilmore has surrendered 75 percent of the passes thrown his way for receptions. Against the Jets, in particular, he was torched, allowing seven receptions for 129 yards on just eight targets. Ironically, the front-seven didn’t play badly on Thursday, but the coverage on the back end allowed the Jets to keep the chains moving almost at will—and you can’t play defense like that at the NFL level.

Problem 3: Belief

Much of my logic hinged on this team believing it was capable of winning, with the Patriots faltering without Brady. Losing to Baltimore on opening weekend was a blow, but I think the more significant hit to the confidence came when the Brady-less Patriots knocked off a good Arizona team on the road. That put the Bills a game back already at a time they were hoping to steal a march on the Patriots; instead of being able to galvanize belief, head coach Rex Ryan was left trying to convince the team they could still compete.

The bottom line here is that, for the Bills to compete this season, they need a minor miracle. The 2007 Giants team started 0-2, but won their next six games, ending the season 10-6 and nabbing an NFC Wildcard spot in a relative down year (Washington behind them, at 9-7, also earned a wildcard berth).

The 1993 Dallas Cowboys also opened 0-2 before winning seven straight—and 12 of their next 14 games—to take the division on their way to the Super Bowl, and the 2001 Patriots opened 0-2, losing three of their first four games, but winning eight of their last nine to take the division at 11-5.

It’s not impossible for the Bills to salvage this season, but they need to start winning now—and likely forget about taking the division. This team certainly has enough talent to succeed. The defense is actually still playing relatively well on an individual level up front, but they are being undone by a scheme that is leaving too many holes in behind. We saw last season that Taylor has better play in him, but the time to prove it is running out.

Ultimately, you are unlikely to see a Super Bowl prediction unspool more quickly than the eight days it took my Bills selection to do so, but I think this team can salvage something from the year, even if it is only a bit of pride and self-respect.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Forrest

    You just compared the Bills to super bowl winners… Really?

  • ArmchairMike

    They are coached by Rex Ryan and they are playing like a Rex Ryan coached team. To make matters worse the defense is playing like a Rob Ryan coached defense.

    • Joe Doe

      Drop the mic. Pre- Rex Ryan I thought this team was a competent QB away from being a perennial playoff team. And now… not.

    • Straw18

      This is a key point. Coaching is hugely important in the NFL, as Belichick (annoyingly) shows year after year. Rex was once an excellent defensive coach who had problems with the offensive side of the ball. But Jets watchers will tell you he stopped being a great defensive coach years ago, last year he took the Bills defense from the top of the league to the bottom, and now he’s hired his brother, who has a horrendous track record. Not to mention his continued inability to handle clock management, challenges, etc. (Last night he had another bonehead waste of a time out that the Bills desperately needed later.) All the evidence suggests Rex is well past his sell-by date.

      • zinn21 zinn21

        So what do they do today? Fire their OC.. What a joke.. They just put up 31 points…. And this article clearly missed the Bills major problem.. Rex and Rob Ryan’s Defense…

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      bingo

  • TTT2

    The SB Bowl pick looked bad then and even worse now. They have problems across the board.

    QB- Tyrod is a fragile running QB who is a sure thing to get injured and miss a few games a season due to his running style. The backup, EJ Manuel, is horrible to put it lightly.

    HB- Releasing Karlos Williams (probably the right move) means they have a hole here

    WR- Sammy Watkins is clearly not healthy, and the receivers behind him are either bad or just not #1 threats.

    OL: Even with Glenn the OL is terrible in the right side. Without him, the whole unit is a train wreck.

    DL: Getting no pressure on the QB, Kyle Williams is done. Not having Lawson hurts too.

    LBs: Probably have been the bright spot of the team so far, which is surprising considering last year.

    DBs: Are Darby and Gilmore just slumping or what?

    Not a Bills fan, but this team has waaaaaayyy too many problems to even think about contending.

    • JudoPrince

      Yes. We can see that now. That’s why you make predictions before the season starts, before you have the evidence of how a team is performing.

      • TTT2

        It’s not like they were any good last year either

    • GiveNoFuq

      But that gave have Rob Ryan….lmao

    • Richard

      You don’t really have a clue.

      HB – is not a problem, they have talented players at the position with McCoy, Bush and Gillislee. The problem with the running game tends to be that the Bills are predictable and tend to force the run in known run situations, i.e. always running on 1st down and always running in short yardage situations.

      WR – The receivers after Watkins aren’t that bad. The QB just doesn’t see the field and doesn’t do a good job of looking for alternate receivers. When E.J. Manuel played, Robert Woods was pretty successful but Watkins wasn’t. With Taylor, Watkins is successful and Woods is not. With Tannehill, Charles Clay was highly productive but hasn’t been with Taylor. The main reason these receivers aren’t having success is because of the QB and or the predictability of the offense.

      OL – The offensive line has actually done a good job of protecting Taylor but he takes too long to find an open receiver and he looks to run or move around the pocket even when there is no pressure. The struggles in the run game have a lot to do with the predictability of the Bills always running in known running situations.

      DL- As this article stated, the Bills did put pressure on the QB and it was not really the issue

      DBs – this has been the issue on the defense this year even though it was supposed to be the strongest part of the team.

      The problem with the Bills is QB and coaching. The coaches are too stubborn and they force a run dominant approach on offense that just doesn’t work. They have a QB that doesn’t see the field well and has accuracy issues over the middle of the field. If they fix those issues, they will be a much better team. I highly doubt the issues will get fixed because they are personality flaws that will never get addressed.

      • Tim Edell

        The WR after Watkins arent that bad?? That is hilarious.. Robert Woods has done nothing in the league. Marquis Goodwin Finally caught a pass. And Greg Salas and Brandon Tate???? This is a very very below average receiving core!

        • Richard

          Woods caught 65 passes and 5 td’s with Kyle Orton at QB in 2014. He caught 40 passes and 3 td’s as a rookie with a rookie QB in E.J. Manuel. Even last year he caught 47 passes and 3 td’s despite only playing in 9 games. So Woods has been productive when healthy despite playing with bad QB’s. Goodwin has been injured for most of his career so nobody knows how good he is. Charles Clay caught 69 passes and 6 td’s in 2013 with Ryan Tannehill as his QB. He caught 58 passes in 2014 and then 51 last year. The receivers aren’t that bad. It’s just like when Michael Vick was with the Falcons and had Roddy White but everyone was considering White a bust because he wasn’t producing. White caught 29 and 30 passes with Michael Vick and then Joey Harrington started in 2007 and Roddy White caught 83 passes and 6 touchdowns and all of sudden he was one of the best receivers in the NFL. His numbers got even better in 2008 even though Matt Ryan was only a rookie. Peerless Price was a huge free agent bust because he couldn’t produce with Vick. The funny thing is, Price caught 63.5% of the passes targeted at him from Drew Bledsoe while that number fell drastically to 45.4% and 42.5% with Michael Vick throwing to him which was the worst of his career even though he had Alex Van Pelt and Rob Johnson throwing to him early in his career. Sometimes, the QB is the reason a receiver is not productive.

      • jimbo

        Not just personality, but an overall lack of talent.

  • a57se

    Sam, just admit that that was one Karnak moment you wish you could have back.

  • Brad Barber

    It has more to do with the ryan brothers in my opinion. Especially rob ryan. Before rex came the bills defense was top 10 and ryan was supposed to make it better because he’s supposedly a great defensive minded coach. Darby and gilmore were a top 5 duo last year. Rob ryan, coming from the saints who’ve had horrible defense simce hes been there looks to be doing the same in buffalo. Just not good coaches in my opinion.

  • Brad Barber

    Tyrod is a running qb but can standin the pocket and throw as good as alot of pother starters. His only legit target is sammy watkins. Their number two wr woods makes reuben randle look like TO. Their TE charles clay can’t catch and is just athletic. Give taylor some credit for working with nothing. Not to mention watkins just about misses every other game or is never 100% percent. Taylor was throwing to greg salas and marquise goodwin. Who tf???

  • Patrick Johnson

    Tha season is not over till all 16 games are played 14 more to go bills still got chance to make playoffs

    • Eric

      They are 0-2 in the AFC. Figure they can afford 4 more losses, and note that they have ARZ, at NE, NE, at SEA, at CIN, at OAK, PIT, and at NYJ as a sampling of their remaining schedule.
      The biggest problem with the Bills is the people that are currently either not on the field, or are playing hurt. The lack of a pass rush made the secondary look bad last night. Fitzpatrick is no superstar but even he can make plays when he has all day to throw.

      • jimbo

        The biggest problem is the Bills are very poorly coached with too many players that don’t belong in the NFL.

    • jimbo

      That’s in the same vein as only needing 3 TDs with the 2-point conversions and a field goal to beat the Chargers in 2005 when they trailed 35-10 at the half (they lost 48-10, for the record)

  • GiveNoFuq

    The Bills are going to start 0-4…lmao

  • Jeff

    If Taylor has regressed, I chalk that up to bad coaching. The guy was raw, so his instincts were a big part of his success last year. Recall he wasn’t even really pegged as their #1 QB until Orton retired and Manuel was shown to be a bust.

    Now with the whole offseason of being coached up as the franchise guy, he looks like this? A guy who can’t complete a 5 yard pass in the pocket? With how unbelievably futile this coaching staff is (it truly is one of the worst in recent NFL history), I blame this regression on them. They obviously have coached him into a way where he’s lost the mechanics that showed such great promise last year.

    The best thing for him, if this team inexplicably keeps the Ryan circus would be to get far far FAR away from Buffalo.

    • McGeorge

      Rex Ryan did a poor jobs with QBs when with the Jets. He brought the same QB coach with him, so why would results be different?

      I’ll bet with a good HC the Bills win an extra 2 games.

    • jimbo

      If you remember, Taylor looked decent against the small timers but mostly terrible against the actual contenders. He couldn’t come close to beating a single team that qualified for the 2015 playoffs. Enormously overrated; did not belong in the Pro Bowl.

  • BEAR_LION

    Coming from a die hard BILLS fan that defense last night sucked. If that defense doesn’t do a 180 then this season is done. Didn’t even see the Jets punter until 3rd quarter. Need better blockers when running. Man im 32 years old, been a fan since I was 6 years old. Watched them lose the 4 straight superbowls. Cheered them through the doug flutie era when doug flutie led them to the playoffs and only for the coaches to not let him start that game and they lost to the dolphins. Watched Tennessee titans make my heart drop in my stomach during the playoffs when all the bills had to do was kick it off and make a tackle and win the game but no they let the guy run it back and end our playoff season. Watched years and years of no winning seasons, quarterback after quarterback, coach after coach, make the dumbest trades in the history of football. Man idk how much of this I can take. Sometimes I think just take buffalo out the nfl. Then Rex comes and boast “im taking the bills to the playoffs” WHEN MOTHERFUCK**.

    • Trenton Tyler Rains

      You really get your point across when you ** the er. Lol

    • crosseyedlemon

      As a diehard Bears fan I have tremendous respect for fans in Buffalo, in large part because they endure mediocre teams and horrific winter weather yet rarely whine like so many other fans do. Ralph Wilson was one of the best owners the NFL ever had and your team has a rich history so take pride in that. Many fans have had to wait longer than 26 years for a taste of glory (Falcon fans have currently been waiting 50 years) so continue to support your team.

  • Nighthawk

    Best defensive player on the team, Marcell Dareus hasn’t played snap yet. His 4 game suspension certainly isn’t helping this team.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Sam originally stated that his Bill picks was a long odds “value” play and from that perspective I think he made a sensible choice. The Bills had an injury filled training camp and it didn’t help that the Ryan brothers had their dad “Buddy” pass away in June. There is still time for Buffalo to rebound and make a playoff run (Chiefs were 1-5 last season if you recall) so hitting the panic button would be a bit premature.

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      i’m doubling down on my bills vs browns for worst afc team bet with you from preseason, lol. poor, poor coaching. when greg roman is the best coach on the team, all due respect, that’s a bad thing

      • crosseyedlemon

        I think every coach is bound to struggle when the players he was counting on aren’t available or are banged up. If the Bills can get healthy I think you will see much better play from them and I still think they finish ahead of the Dolphins.

        • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

          hadn’t even seen the news about greg roman when i left that comment, ouch. not fair to make him the scapegoat

  • Dingus

    I would go back to Jim Schwartz and the defense that was killing QB’s on a record basis.
    And follow it up with a competent OC

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    since when does the absence of tom brady affect the patriots? lol. belichick didn’t get suspended

  • Worc1

    The Bills haven’t made the playoffs since the last century, 1999 to be exact, and you pick them to win the SB!? Did the NFL realign that placed the Bills in different division than the Pats!?

    How is it you write for a publication called Pro Football Focus!? I see the problem now, you also write for that disreputable organization called ESPN!

  • Joe

    The Bills need a pocket passer that is not afraid to use his arm they also need a Much better O-Line Finally they need someone to replace Duke williams and once shad lawson is up and running the bills should be back to their usual elite defense

  • Joe

    I would recommend someone like Chip Kelly, 2nd pick would be a big time receiver,3rd pick would be safety, and 4th and 5th picks would be two good o lineman that could be coached into a great player with in a couple months

  • jimbo

    Forget the comparison to the 2008 Giants, which was an unbelievably obvious script. There is no theme to favor the Bills. I figured they’d at least beat the Ravens armed with the Tyrod Taylor-theme, but I guess the league is finally tired of handing the Bills cupcake victories.

    But seriously, what could possibly have motivated the perception that the Bills were a Super Bowl team? Taylor’s numbers are meaningless; he couldn’t come close to beating a single team last year than actually qualified for the playoffs. The team is run by personnel who actually believe that EJ Manuel not only belongs in the NFL, but is an outstanding backup (the only reason EJ is on this team is due to his religious affiliation with Bruce Smith).

    The only muscle this team works out regularly is its mouth. Watch it in full motion next week after the Cards annihilate the Bills 50-7.