Part 2 of our season review for the Buffalo Bills deals with the offense. Rex Ryan made a bold but decisive move when he fired Greg Roman as offensive coordinator after the Bills started 0-2, especially since Ryan’s sorry defensive unit was the problem in the second loss. Anthony Lynn was promoted from running backs coach to OC and the move paid off as the Bills’ offense became a competent unit, especially in the run game. There were at least 4 games this season in which the offense did it’s job, which was to score 20 or more points, not turn the ball over and allow a strong defensive unit to win the day – at Miami, at Seattle, at Oakland and at home against Miami. A decent showing by the defense in those games would have cut the Bills’ loss total in half, and had them solidly in playoff contention. Here is a positon-by-position look at where the Bills stand on offense entering the off-season.
As usual, it appears the quarterback position is in a state of flux. The “business decision” to bench Tyrod Taylor in the season finale makes it look like the team may be ready to part ways with him. I think that would be a bad decision. Taylor hasn’t been spectacular, but has given the Bills strong enough play at the quarterback position to warrant keeping him around. This is a spot where continuity would be a good thing, since Taylor has gradually grown into the leader of the offensive unit. Also, his play improved markedly when he had all of his top weapons available. There’s a lot of consternation about letting Taylor’s contract extension kick in, with the reasoning being that they’ll be stuck with an overpaid, underperforming player (see Ryan Fitzpatrick). However, if the numbers being reported are accurate, Taylor’s contract would put him at around the 15th highest paid QB in the NFL, which is about where he falls. As for backups, EJ Manuel is as good as gone from Buffalo. He was never a good fit here and needs to move on to a better opportunity for his own good. Cardale Jones could be a viable option if he develops as the team hopes he will. All the more reason to make sure the next coaching staff has competent teachers who will ensure the young players develop, not regress as they have under Ryan.
This is a solid unit, with LeSean McCoy and Mike Gillislee complementing each other with different styles of running. Rookie back Jonathan Williams showed some promise in limited playing time, and it was good sign that he was trusted to be on the field at times on obvious passing downs for blitz pickups. Honestly, I never saw any reason why an aging Reggie Bush was even on the roster. He contributed almost nothing and will likely not be around next season. At fullback, Jerome Felton rebounded nicely after being cut at the beginning of the year. He was re-signed and became a solid presence as a blocker and pass receiver for the offense.
This unit was a revolving door for most of the season, and Taylor deserves a lot of credit for accomplishing what he did despite not having much familiarity with the receiving corps for much of the year. There’s no question that Sammy Watkins is the stud of this corps, the problem is keeping him healthy and in the lineup. He is extremely talented and also an up and coming leader in the locker room. I loved his call for a “culture change” on the team after Ryan was fired. With all the prima donna “me first” divas in the league at wide receiver, Watkins is a refreshing “team first” player. There were scattered contributions from just about everybody on this unit in 2016, including Watkins. In sifting through the others who played in games this year, or were at least on the roster, a few players had some positives but there was very little consistency. Marquise Goodwin, whose career has been plagued by injuries, made some big plays when called upon. Robert Woods was a solid slot receiver and a reliable blocker in the run game, but becomes a free agent. If the team wants to keep some continuity in their successful rushing attack, keeping Woods should be a priority. Justin Hunter, once a top prospect who has floated around the league in his first couple of seasons, signed with the Bills during the season and may have found a home. He developed some chemistry with Taylor when he arrived and is a big red zone target. Brandon Tate is another in-season signing who improved the team’s return game, while also seeing some time as a receiver with all the injuries. Dez Lewis worked his way from the practice squad to the active roster by season’s end, but he has shown little in his time with the club. There is a possible diamond in the rough waiting in the wings on the injured list in Kolby Listenbee, a speedy low round draft choice who never saw any action this year due to hernia surgery. A free agent signee who hasn’t lived up to his billing is tight end Charles Clay, but he finally started to click with Taylor toward season’s end. Another reason to keep Taylor and try to keep some semblance of continuity with the offense. Nick O’Leary earned plenty of playing time as a backup TE, while 2 other tight ends on the roster are development projects – Gerald Christian and former quarterback Logan Thomas. Chris Gragg was having a decent season before he was hurt and will be a roster option for the next coaching staff also.
The Bills were one of the top rushing teams in the NFL again this year so the offensive line, although not loaded with star players, is at least competent. Eric Wood is solid at center, and guards Richie Incognito and John Miller did a good job blocking inside for the team. Left tackle Cordy Glenn got a big contract prior to the season, then spent a lot of the year battling nagging injuries. Jordan Mills was quietly efficient most of the year at right tackle. The injuries to Wood and Glenn revealed two players – Ryan Groy and Cyrus Kouandjio, as adequate replacements. Groy did a great job filling in for Wood, while Kouandjio, whose career has started slowly, could be an option to win Mills’ job next year. GM Doug Whaley seems to be a proponent of constant roster turnover during the season, with an eye for finding gems to help the team in future years. Center Patrick Lewis and tackle Michael Ola are two examples of this. Neither one did anything to help the team this year. A big question mark for next year is big tackle Seantrel Henderson, who has battled Crohn’s disease and drug suspensions for 2 years. He is a talented player when he’s available to play but he has been like a lot of players who have been with the Bills in recent seasons – not very reliable.