It’s officially the midway point of the season for the 2019 Buffalo Bills. The team currently finds itself in uncharted territory from the standpoint of recent history. Not since 1993 have the Bills won at least six of their first eight games, a year associated with the most successful era in franchise history. In fact, it’s only the eighth time it’s occurred since the NFL transitioned to a 16-game schedule back in 1978.
Bills fans have plenty to be excited about. There’s much to suggest that Josh Allen is progressing well in his second season as a pro even though there is room for improvement. It’s not hyperbole to say that the defense is an elite unit. That much is certain given that only the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers, who are a combined 16-1, are giving up fewer points per game. Still, which units are standing out and which still have work to do in order to realize their true potential?
That’s what we’ll take a look at here as we give grades to each unit on offense and defense.
2019 Buffalo Bills Midseason Report Cards and Grades
As mentioned before, there’s no doubting that Allen is an improved quarterback in comparison to his rookie year. He’s already exceeded his win total and equaled his touchdown total from 2018 halfway through this season. Quite a few other statistical measurements bear this out as well. Below are Allen’s year-over-year increases in completion percentage, yards per game, and passer rating.
Completion percentage: +8.1 percent
Yards per game: +33.8 yards
Passer rating: +15.0
He’s certainly played his part in helping Buffalo attain its current status as the best non-division leader in the AFC. But that’s not to say that Allen doesn’t have a lot of work to do if he truly wants to become an elite NFL quarterback. That’s especially true with regard to taking care of the football. Allen has already turned the ball over 11 times in 2019 (seven interceptions, four fumbles) with his interception total tied for eighth-worst in the league. And his Pro Football Focus player grade of 58.9 ranks 29th among NFL quarterbacks. The second half of the Bills schedule is much more difficult than their first eight games. This will require a lot out of Allen if this team is to maintain and potentially improve its spot in the AFC standings.
Running Back: B+
The Bills said goodbye to LeSean McCoy at the conclusion of the preseason after a memorable four-year run in Western New York. That left the team with the following running back trio at the top of the depth chart: Frank Gore, Devin Singletary, and T.J. Yeldon. The fact that the 36-year-old Gore beat out Shady for a spot on the 53-man roster is a massive testament to his unprecedented longevity. It’s also inevitable that he’ll make history this season as he’s only 85 yards away from passing Barry Sanders for the third-most career rushing yards in NFL history. And in a narrow 16-10 loss to the New England Patriots, Gore became the second-oldest player since 1950 to rush for over 100 yards in a game.
Yeldon’s been pretty ineffectual as he’s totaled just 45 yards through eight games. And even Singletary managed just 172 yards in five appearances prior to Buffalo’s Week 9 clash with the Washington Redskins. Part of it was a function of him dealing with a nagging hamstring injury. But the rookie out of Florida Atlantic truly broke out against the ‘Skins. He registered 95 rushing yards on 20 carries while also adding 45 receiving yards. And his touchdown scamper late in the game essentially sealed the Bills’ sixth win of the season.
Singletary’s impressive outing is a good sign moving forward. It further solidifies this running back corps from the standpoint of enjoying a healthy mix of youth and experience. And since Gore is obviously up there in age, there’s a very real risk of him wearing down late in the season. That means the Bills will likely continue to call on Singletary to help take the pressure off the passing game.
Wide Receiver: C+
Buffalo’s free agency moves at wide receiver in the off-season centered around the two Bs. The front office brought in John Brown and Cole Beasley with the intent of giving Allen a downfield threat as well as a weapon in the slot. Both are making their own unique contributions to the Bills receiving corps. They’ve combined for five touchdowns and in Brown’s case, his 603 yards receiving puts him in the top 20 among the league’s pass-catchers. He’s also one of just 20 players with at least 50 receptions in 2019 catching at least 70 percent of the balls thrown his way.
But there’s a big dropoff after those two players depth-wise. That’s even more of an issue after the team dealt Zay Jones to the Oakland Raiders. The only other receiver who’s totaled at least 100 yards so far is Isaiah McKenzie. Plus, the Bills still lack a true big-bodied vertical threat at the position. It’s a reason why it’s difficult to give this unit too lofty of a grade. And if either Brown or Beasley gets hurt, it will make Allen’s job that much more challenging.
Tight End: C-
The tight end position remains a weak point for the Bills. Most fans are well-aware that Charles Clay didn’t exactly set the world on fire during his time in Buffalo. It prompted the front office to completely retool the position via free agency and the draft. They signed Tyler Kroft from the Cincinnati Bengals and also drafted Dawson Knox in the third round of the 2019 draft.
The problem is that Kroft has battled injuries which has given added reps to Knox in his rookie season. And though he does lead Bills tight ends with 192 receiving yards and has one touchdown, that yardage total is 26th among NFL players at the position. One can only hope that a healthy Kroft can boost a Bills tight end corps that continues to struggle.
Offensive Line: B+
The Bills invested heavily in their offensive line during the off-season. Among their free agency signings who’ve contributed heavily through eight games are tackle Ty Nsekhe, guards Quinton Spain and Jon Feliciano, as well as the most high-profile off-season addition, center Mitch Morse. The also added guard Cody Ford in the second round of the draft.
At the midway point of the season, the line is allowing 22 sacks which are tied for 13th-highest in the league. That said, they are receiving high marks from the PFF analysts. Of the linemen who’ve seen a minimum of 450 snaps, none have a player grade ranking lower than 35th in the NFL. It includes Dawkins and Morse who rank 13th and 15th at their respective positions. However, Ford ranks 65th among tackles so there’s certainly room for improvement during the second half of his rookie campaign. Through it all, one thing is certain. This unit could do a better job keeping Allen upright.
Defensive Line: C+
As mentioned in the introductory paragraphs, this year’s Bills defense is truly making waves. Points come at a premium as they demonstrated against the Redskins when their red-zone trips resulted in field goals and not touchdowns. And though it came in a losing effort, they held the Patriots to their lowest point total of the season to date. So why isn’t the defensive front getting a more favorable grade here?
The simple answer is that they don’t get to the quarterback enough. Through eight games, the Bills have tallied 20 sacks which rank 11th-worst in the league. The leader of the pack is interior defender Jordan Phillips with six but after that, there’s a pretty significant dropoff as Jerry Hughes is second on the team with 2.5. Hughes is currently the Bills highest-graded defensive lineman according to PFF at 22nd among edge defenders. Rookie top-10 pick Ed Oliver and last year’s high-priced free agent Star Lotulelei aren’t even ranked in the top 70 among interior linemen. A huge key to this team consolidating their playoff positioning is becoming more formidable in the trenches.
A distinguishing hallmark of this year’s Bills linebacking corps is how well they can disrupt opposing passing games when the ball’s in the air. That becomes evident when you consider that Buffalo is the only team with two linebackers who’ve tallied at least five passes defended this season. Veteran outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander has a team-leading seven while second-year man Tremaine Edmunds has five. In fact, the only two linebackers in the league with a bigger pass breakup haul are Cory Littleton (8) and Eric Kendricks (10).
Edmunds has also done an admirable job at breaking up plays in the backfield with his six tackles for loss second on the team behind only Jordan Phillips. Matt Milano has also played his part, tallying five TFLs of his own. Much like the unit in front of them, this linebacking corps can make itself even more formidable if they can improve their ability to harass opposing quarterbacks with increasing regularity in the second half of the season.
It really doesn’t come as much of a surprise that most observers tabbed the defense as a whole as a strength for the Bills in 2019. But, in particular, fans were expecting a lot out of the secondary. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer have emerged as one of the top safety combinations in football. They haven’t disappointed as they both have a top-12 player grade from PFF this season. Tre’Davious White had to have been motivated to rebound after he experienced a bit of a sophomore slump in 2018. He’s done that and then some with three interceptions so far this season. The only NFL players with more are Janoris Jenkins (4) and Devin McCourty (5).
As a whole, this unit has only allowed five passing touchdowns which are second-best in the league behind the Patriots. It’s for those reasons that the secondary receives the best grade among all the units we’ve presented here. They must continue to perform at a high level to ensure that the current Bills playoff drought is significantly shorter than the previous one.