NFL

NFL 2022: After the 'four falls' and '13 seconds', how can Bills finally end their wait for glory?

By Sports Desk September 07, 2022

The Buffalo Bills are a team who have come to be defined by the agony they have suffered.

Though they are responsible for one of the most dominant stretches of offensive football in NFL history in the late 1980s and early 1990s and have more recently re-emerged as one of the most exciting teams in the league, the Bills are still yet to experience the ultimate glory of lifting the Vince Lombardi Trophy. 

Buffalo finished in the top seven for yards and points every year between 1989 and 1993 as the Bills' K-Gun offense illustrated just how devastating a no-huddle attack could be. Yet Marv Levy's star-studded group is best remembered for losing four successive Super Bowls between 90 and 93.

And Bills fans would be forgiven for pessimistically thinking the Josh Allen era is doomed to end without a first Super Bowl win in franchise history.

Allen has silenced critics who doubted his ability to improve his accuracy to become one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the modern NFL, and the Bills have been in the top five in offensive yards and points in each of the last two seasons.

However, those campaigns have both delivered heartbreaking playoff losses to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bills on the wrong end of one of arguably the finest postseason game in NFL history, losing 42-36 having allowed the Chiefs to drive for a game-tying field goal in the final 13 seconds of regulation.

The Four Falls of Buffalo, as they were labelled in a 30 for 30 documentary about the Super Bowl losses, and '13 seconds' will forever live in franchise infamy.

But the Bills head into 2022 with a case for being the strongest team in the league. So, as they prepare to face the defending Super Bowl-champion Los Angeles Rams in Thursday's mouth-watering season opener, how can Allen and Co. soothe the wounds of those missed opportunities by finally getting over the hump this season?
 

Taking the pressure off Allen

It may be a perplexing statement to read given Allen is fifth in passing yards (8,951) and fourth in passing touchdowns (73) over the past two seasons, but the Bills could maximise the impact of having the luxury of a quarterback of his talents by taking some of the pressure off his shoulders.

Buffalo's front office appeared to realise that this offseason, selecting running back James Cook in the second round of the draft.

Cook's burst through the running lane and up to the second level makes him an ideal fit for an offense that has found success with outside zone run concepts.

The Bills called outside zone on 21.26 per cent of their run plays last year, above the NFL average of 19.1. They put up 4.51 yards per play on such runs, again better than the league-wide average of 4.32.

Cook is a home-run hitter who can weaponise the threat of such runs in a way Devin Singletary and Zack Moss cannot. The Bills had 60 runs of 10 yards or more in 2021, the seventh-most in the NFL, but 28 of them came from QB Allen (Singletary had 20 while Moss delivered only six).

Should Cook's 4.4 speed translate to the pros, the Bills would have a back with the skill set to allow them to increase their menu of wide zone runs and make the zone-read more of a weapon. Despite the threat of Allen as a runner, the Bills averaged just 3.67 yards per play on zone-reads last season.

The Bills turned to run game on only 34.7 per cent of offensive snaps in 2021 and, when they did, the ball frequently remained in the hands of Allen, who has carried the ball 422 times since entering the NFL in 2018, a number second only to that of Lamar Jackson (615) among quarterbacks. Last season accounted for 122 of thsoe, with Jackson (133) and Jalen Hurts (139) the two signal-callers to attempt more runs.

Cook's arrival can take some of the onus off Allen as a runner, while the former Georgia back will hope to give his QB a few more easy buttons in the passing game.

His average of 10.9 yards per reception in a college career that spanned from 2018 to 2021 was seventh in the Power 5 in that time and first in the SEC, while Cook also racked up 11 receptions of at least 10 yards in 2021, tied for 12th among Power 5 backs.

Playing in an offense that has seen Allen consistently push the ball downfield -- Derek Carr (72) and Russell Wilson (70) were the only two quarterbacks to attempt more passes of at least 21 air yards last year than Allen's 68 -- Cook should have substantial space in underneath areas to exploit as a receiver.

If Allen takes advantage of those high-percentage throws when they come available, it will decrease the pressure on him to make the highlight reel passes to which the NFL universe has become accustomed, yet potential improvements in his accuracy could also have a massive bearing on his and the Bills' success in 2022.
 

Allen's extra 1%

Across the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, in which the Bills did not punt and scored a touchdown on every drive against the New England Patriots, and his equally remarkable performance in the '13 seconds game', Allen completed 77.4 per cent of his passes for 637 yards, nine touchdowns and zero interceptions.

He averaged 10.27 yards per attempt and had a passer rating of 149.0 in an incredible finale to a campaign that makes talk of finding areas for improvement seem bizarre.

Yet the best athletes are always striving to find that extra one per cent and Allen looks to have indentified where his potentially lies.

"I think, myself especially, making sure I'm on time, making the right reads and giving our guys good enough balls to get some some more RAC [run after catch]," Allen said during the offseason.

"That's one thing I think, on offense, run after catch was wasn't very high last year, but again, that's me putting the ball where it needs to be and allow our guys to catch in a good position to make a run after the catch.

"So working on that, that's been been one of my biggest takeaways in this offseason and trying to work on just ball placement and allowing our receivers to do that."

Allen's assessment is backed up by the numbers. Among 31 qualifying quarterbacks, Allen was last in yards after catch per reception with an average of just 4.5 in a season where his well-thrown percentage dropped significantly.

In his breakout 2020 season, Allen produced an accurate, well-thrown ball on 80.5 per cent of his pass attempts, the seventh-best ratio among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts. Last season, his well-thrown rate fell to 77.2, below the league average of 78.1 for signal-callers to reach three figures in attempts.

Though the difference in his YAC per reception was negligible -- Allen averaged 4.6 per completed pass in 2020 -- there is no doubt the Bills' offense would benefit from him rediscovering the accuracy of two seasons ago.

Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley have departed, but Stefon Diggs and the emerging Gabriel Davis represent two top two pass-catching weapons for Allen, and he also has two new targets for 2022 who should each thrive if he can do a better job leading his receivers.

Veteran Jamison Crowder has averaged 4.6 yards after catch per reception since 2019, almost a full yard more than Diggs (3.7) and rookie fifth-round pick Khalil Shakir possesses the vision, fluidity and love of contact to excel with the ball in his hands.

Allen improving his anticipation will go a long way to helping the Bills meet the expectations they face in 2022, but he could still use a helping hand from a loaded defense that was not without its own imperfections last year.
 

A more prolific pass rush

The Billls' headline addition of the offseason was that of Von Miller, the veteran edge rusher who arrived after displaying the plentiful amount of fuel he still has in the tank during a sojourn with the Los Angeles Rams that ended with his second Super Bowl title.

Miller finished the season with a stunt-adjusted pass rush win rate of 43.4 per cent, which was the fifth-highest among edge rushers with at least 100 one on one matchups.

Between Week 15 of the regular season and the Rams' Super Bowl triumph, Miller racked up nine sacks. Only in the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers did he fail to bring down the quarterback.

No surprise then, that Miller's acquisition sees the Bills pass rush enter the season fourth in Stats Perform's postional rankings.

Justifying that ranking is another matter, however.

The Bills did an excellent job of pressuring opposing quarterbacks last season, in which they were sixth in pass rush win rate. Yet there is clear room for improvement in converting those pressures into sacks. Buffalo registered 42 sacks in 2021, 39 of them for negative yardage - that latter number good enough for 12th in the NFL.

Buffalo will look for Miller to vastly improve the Bills' ability to turn pressures into negative plays, though the former Denver Bronco cannot do it alone. Gregory Rousseau, Carlos 'Boogie Basham' and A.J. Epenesa all had pressure rates below 17 per cent last season as the trio of edge rushers selected highly by the Bills over the course of the last two years struggled to justify their respective draft statuses. On the interior, Ed Oliver has never had more than five sacks since being picked in the top 10 in 2019.

It was in the Divisional Round where the Bills need for extra pass-rush help was encapsulated. Buffalo pressured Patrick Mahomes 23 times but registered just two sacks.

Any kind of disruption is production when it comes to the pass rush. Pressure often leads to critical mistakes, but the likes of Mahomes and his contemporaries have grown so adept at dealing with it - Mahomes threw just five interceptable passes on 194 attempts under duress last season - that is simply not enough to get into the backfield and expect bad results for the offense.

Simply put, the Bills must do a better job of ensuring their successful pass rushes pay dividends and consistently put opposing aerial attacks in disadvantageous situations

Success in doing so would improve the odds of an extremely talented secondary surviving cornerback Tre'Davious White's early-season absence and create more chances for an opportunistic defense to produce turnovers going up against offenses working from behind the chains.

The Bills' inconsistency in turning pressure into sacks, their need for more YAC and perhaps a less Allen-centric run game are all minor blemishes for arguably the most complete team in the NFL.

Yet small issues can quickly become significant problems in the spotlight of the postseason, and it would grealy behove the Bills to iron out the imperfections that could impact their hopes of finally ending their tortuous wait for a title.

Related items

  • St. Louis City v Colorado Rapids: Carnell desperate for response as winless run persists St. Louis City v Colorado Rapids: Carnell desperate for response as winless run persists

    St. Louis City will be desperate to snap a record six-game winless run in MLS when they host Colorado Rapids at CityPark Stadium on Thursday.

    The Missouri-based side have just three wins from their 17 league matches this term, falling down to 11th in the Western Conference standings.

    Bradley Carnell's men have not triumphed in MLS action since a 3-1 win over Chicago Fire in the middle of May, and were defeated 2-0 by FC Dallas last time out.

    St. Louis coach Carnell referenced injury struggles, however, as his side continue to battle through a troubling period.

    "Obviously, it doesn’t take a genius to look at the roster and see where we are. We're not the first team to struggle with this.

    "Now we get challenged and now get to prove what we are as a group, team, organisation and unit – sticking together.

    "We have a plethora of young players who are performing [for our academy] and we will keep some of those guys with us through the week."

    The Rapids have enjoyed a better season, sitting sixth in the West table after returning to winning ways with a 2-0 victory over Austin FC at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.

    That ended a four-game winless streak for Colorado, who secured a much-needed victory after a rocketed finish from Cole Bassett before Rafael Navarro netted his 10th goal of the season.

    The next challenge for the Rapids is to secure back-to-back victories for the first time since April, though they have lost three straight on the road.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    St. Louis City – Jared Stroud

    Jared Stroud was involved in a goal in both matches (one goal, one assist) against the Rapids last season.

    The St. Louis man has eight assists to his name in MLS this season, too, and will hope to deliver once more when Colorado come to town.

    Colorado Rapids – Djordje Mihailovic

    Djordje Mihailovic has scored in each of the Rapids' last three away matches.

    He is the first Rapids player to score in three straight away from home in a single regular season since Shkelzen Gashi scored in five straight on the road from June-October 2016.

    MATCH PREDICTION – ST. LOUIS CITY WIN

    St. Louis are the heavy favourites for victory in this encounter, considering their record against the Rapids.

    Carnell's side collected four points from their two matches against Colorado last season, including a 2-0 win at home last July.

    Colorado have lost their last three road matches, conceding 10 goals in those games, and that run of form comes as no surprise.

    Indeed, the Rapids have lost 15 of their last 21 away from home in all competitions (W3 D3), dating back to last May.

    Yet a home win is by no means a foregone conclusion.

    St. Louis are winless in six straight matches (D2 L4) for the first time in club history. They have just three wins so far, tied for the fewest in MLS this season, though all three have come at home.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    St. Louis City win – 48.8%

    Colorado Rapids win – 25.5%

    Draw – 25.7%

  • Portugal 2-1 Czechia: Conceicao's last-gasp heroics salvage Selecao on Ronaldo's landmark outing Portugal 2-1 Czechia: Conceicao's last-gasp heroics salvage Selecao on Ronaldo's landmark outing

    Francisco Conceicao proved the hero on his first competitive appearance for Portugal after his stoppage-time winner snatched a 2-1 victory over Czechia in their Euro 2024 opener.

    Cristiano Ronaldo became the first player in the European Championship's 64-year history to appear in six editions, but his landmark moment was overshadowed by a glimpse into Portugal's future.

    Conceicao was introduced after 90 minutes and scored just two minutes later, capitalising on a loose ball to send Portugal level on points with leaders Turkiye, who beat Georgia 3-1 earlier on Tuesday in Group F.

    Robin Hranac's unavoidable own-goal had earlier cancelled out Lukas Provod's rocketed second-half opener before Conceicao announced himself on the international stage at the Leipzig Stadium.

    Roberto Martinez's team were the only side to win every qualifying game for this tournament, with a perfect 10 wins from as many matches, and dominated the first half of their opener without reward.

    Ronaldo almost marked his landmark appearance with a goal just eight minutes in but rushed an unmarked header in uncharacteristic fashion from Rafael Leao's whipped cross.

    Bruno Fernandes angled a deflected long-range effort narrowly over as the one-way traffic persisted, before the Manchester United midfielder's teasing ball just evaded the lunging Leao.

    Fernandes was again the architect when his delicate throughball found Ronaldo, who was denied by Jindrich Stanek's fantastic stop from point-blank range.

    The Czechia goalkeeper was on hand once more before the interval, parrying away another fizzing Ronaldo strike as these two sides were the first to be goalless at half-time at Euro 2024.

    Portugal completed 368 passes in that first-half onslaught, their most on record in a single half at the European Championships since records began in 1980, and little changed after the break.

    Ronaldo tested the hands of Stanek with a dipping free-kick just before the hour, though Portugal were stunned soon after when Provod cannoned into the top-left corner from the perimeter of Diogo Costa's area.

    Yet a response swiftly followed as Stanek parried Leao's downwards back-post header against Hranac, who could only deflect into his own net to level proceedings.

    Diogo Jota had a late finish ruled out by VAR after Ronaldo was adjudged offside before his rebounded strike, though Conceicao pounced from Pedro Neto's half-cleared left-wing cross to snatch all three points.

    Substitute heroics save Ronaldo's landmark appearance

    Ronaldo already holds the record for the most appearances in European Championship history (26), though this outing marked another historic moment for the 39-year-old.

    Having featured at every Euros since his 2004 debut, Ronaldo is the first to go to six editions of the tournament, where his 14 goals make him the leading scorer in history.

    The former Manchester United attacker could not add to his tally here, and it was a familiar tale at the Euros for Ronaldo, who missed the 2016 final victory over France after his gut-wrenching injury.

    Eder stepped up as the extra-time hero on that occasion, and he was the last Portugal substitute to score at the Euros before Conceicao did so here.

    Conceicao's goal came just 111 seconds after being introduced and marks the fastest such goal since Ferran Torres for Spain against Slovakia in June 2021 (41 seconds) – what an introduction for the Porto man.

    Czech need more from Schick

    Patrik Schick scored five of Czechia's six goals at Euro 2020, becoming only the second Czech player to be the sole or joint-top scorer at a European Championship tournament – after Milan Baros at the 2004 edition (five goals).

    The forward has since lifted the Bundesliga title with Bayer Leverkusen last term, helping Xabi Alonso's side to an unbeaten league season with seven top-flight goals.

    Considering his record at the Euros and the 2023-24 trophy-winning campaign, Czechia may want more from their star striker – who was withdrawn on the hour after being cautioned and failing to manage a single shot.

    Yet with or without Schick, Czechia could have never prepared for Conceicao's late intervention. Ivan Hasek's side have now lost five straight games against Portugal and must bounce back when they face Georgia on Saturday.

  • Portugal 2-1 Czechia: Conceicao's last-gasp heroics salvage Seleaco on Ronaldo's landmark outing Portugal 2-1 Czechia: Conceicao's last-gasp heroics salvage Seleaco on Ronaldo's landmark outing

    Francisco Conceicao proved the hero on his first competitive start for Portugal after his stoppage-time winner snatched a 2-1 victory over Czechia in their Euro 2024 opener.

    Cristiano Ronaldo became the first player in the European Championship's 64-year history to appear in six editions, but his landmark moment was overshadowed by a glimpse into Portugal's future.

    Conceicao was introduced after 90 minutes and scored just two minutes later, capitalising on a rebound to send Portugal level on points with leaders Turkiye, who beat Georgia 3-1 earlier on Tuesday in Group F.

    Robin Hranac's unavoidable own-goal had earlier cancelled out Lukas Provod's rocketed second-half opener before Conceicao announced himself on the international stage at the Leipzig Stadium.

    Roberto Martinez's team were the only side to win every qualifying game for this tournament, with a perfect 10 wins from as many matches, and dominated the first half of their opener without reward.

    Ronaldo almost marked his landmark appearance with a goal just eight minutes in but rushed an unmarked header in uncharacteristic fashion from Rafael Leao's whipped cross.

    Bruno Fernandes angled a deflected long-range effort narrowly over as the one-way traffic persisted, before the Manchester United midfielder's teasing ball just evaded the lunging Leao.

    Fernandes was again the architect when his delicate throughball found Ronaldo, who was denied by Jindrich Stanek's fantastic stop from point-blank range.

    The Czechia goalkeeper was on hand once more before the interval, parrying away another fizzing Ronaldo strike as these two sides were the first to be goalless at half-time at Euro 2024.

    Portugal completed 368 passes in that first-half onslaught, their most on record in a single half at the European Championships since records began in 1980, and little changed after the break.

    Ronaldo tested the hands of Stanek with a dipping free-kick just before the hour, though Portugal were stunned soon after when Provod cannoned into the top-left corner from the perimeter of Diogo Costa's area.

    Yet a response swiftly followed as Stanek parried Leao's downwards back-post header against Hranac, who could only deflect into his own net to level proceedings.

    Diogo Jota had a late finish ruled out by VAR after Ronaldo was adjudged offside before his rebounded finish, though Conceicao pounced from Pedro Neto's left-wing cross to snatch all three points.

    Substitute heroics save Ronaldo's landmark appearance

    Ronaldo already holds the record for the most appearances in European Championship history (26), though this outing marked another historic moment for the 39-year-old.

    Having featured at every Euros since his 2004 debut, Ronaldo is the first to go to six editions of the tournament, where his 14 goals make him the leading scorer in history.

    The former Manchester United attacker could not add to his tally here, and it was a familiar tale at the Euros for Ronaldo, who missed the 2016 final victory over France after his gut-wrenching injury.

    Eder stepped up as the extra-time hero on that occasion, and he was the last Portugal substitute to score at the Euros before Conceicao did so here.

    Conceicao's goal came just 111 seconds after being introduced and marks the fastest such goal since Ferran Torres for Spain against Slovakia in June 2021 (41 seconds) – what an introduction for the Porto man.

    Czech need more from Schick

    Patrik Schick scored five of Czechia's six goals at Euro 2020, becoming only the second Czech player to be the sole or joint-top scorer at a European Championship tournament – after Milan Baros at the 2004 edition (five goals).

    The forward has since lifted the Bundesliga title with Bayer Leverkusen last term, helping Xabi Alonso's side to an unbeaten league season with seven top-flight goals.

    Considering his record at the Euros and the 2023-24 trophy-winning campaign, Czechia may want more from their star striker – who was withdrawn on the hour after being cautioned and failing to manage a single shot.

    Yet with or without Schick, Czechia could have never prepared for Conceicao's late intervention. Ivan Hasek's side have now lost five straight games against Portugal and must bounce back when they face Georgia on Saturday.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.