OPINION: Turnovers are not Bills' problems, it's lack of big plays

There are several things the Bills need to improve upon under Joe Brady, and big play ability is one of them

Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) - In the 384 days since the Bills played the Green Bay Packers in Week 8 of the 2022 season, everyone has been trying to figure out what is wrong with the Buffalo offense.

Constant debates from whether Gabe Davis is good enough to be a No. 2 wide receiver, to how much the Bills are running the football, to which advanced stats say they're fine.

The new accepted truth by pretty much everyone is the biggest problem with the Bills offense, that helped cause offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey to lose his job this week, is turnovers.

It is true the Bills are turning the football over too much. Beyond the overused stat that quarterback Josh Allen has the most turnovers in football since he entered the NFL in 2018, the Bills are tied for second in the NFL in turnovers this season with 18.

In this bad stretch of six weeks, they lead the league with 13 turnovers.

However, you can surprisingly attribute most of the Bills' turnover problem to bad luck.

According to Pro Football Focus, Allen has just 10 turnover plays on the season. That's the 15th-most in the NFL. By percentage, Allen has the 29th highest turnover worthy play percentage in the NFL. This year has actually been the lowest turnover worthy play percentage of Allen's career.

Whether it's defensive backs catching everything thrown near them or his own receivers tipping it right to defenders, Allen is getting unlucky.

On top of Allen's interceptions being overtalked about, the Bills are getting unlucky with fumbles.

The Bills have the fifth-worst fumble luck in the NFL this season. They have fumbled eight times and lost seven of them. For comparison, the Miami Dolphins have fumbled 16 times and lost seven of them.

The turnovers will correct themselves, though.

I fear another category the Bills have struggled with that will not correct itself is the lack of big plays, especially in the pass game.

On the surface, the Bills don't look horrible when it comes to explosive plays (passes of 20-plus yards and runs of 10-plus yards,) ranking 11th on the season.

However, in explosive pass plays, the Bills rank 20th with 27.

Of those 27 pass plays, nine went for 30-plus, and only one went for 50-plus. That was Stefon Diggs' 55-yard touchdown in Week 4 against the Dolphins when broke away from tacklers and ran most of it himself.

In the last six weeks, the Bills rank 24th in the NFL in explosive pass plays. That's behind the New York Giants, and the same rate as the New York Jets.

Simply put, the Bills are not able to push the ball down the field, and you've got to know it's driving Allen nuts.

Why does Allen look like he's not having fun lately? Sure, losing at its core is a huge piece of it, but that dude deep down wants to rip the ball 70 yards down the field, because he knows he can throw a football further than any human being on planet Earth.

It is never there for him.

All of the Bills' problems stem back to their lack of ability to push the ball down the field, even turnovers. If you are an offense that cannot push the ball down the field, you have to put together long drives taking 5-10 yards play-to-play on a consistent basis to score a touchdown.

You usually have to put together 5-7 sets of downs without making three mistakes in-a-row to get to the end zone. It's why the numbers show, even hitting on one big play, significantly increases a team's odds of scoring a touchdown on that drive.

Hit on a 40-yard pass from your own 25-yard line, and suddenly you only have to go through three more sets of downs instead of potentially seven.

So we've established the value of big plays, especially passes, and the fact that the Bills don't hit on them.

But why?

There are better film analysts out there that can answer whether the answer to that question was Dorsey.

However, it doesn't seem like Dorsey was doing much to help. ESPN's Dan Orlovsky would be the first to tell you that:

You need one of two things to connect on deep passes. You either need a coordinator that is going to scheme guys open, or you need natural born separators with the speed necessary to blow by defensive backs.

Why do teams like Miami, the Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings and others hit on more big passes than the Bills? It's certainly not the quarterback. It's players/coaches like Tyreek Hill, Mike McDaniel, A.J. Brown, Justin Jefferson, and Kyle Shanahan.

OK, so the Bills didn't have a coordinator like that. Maybe they do now?

I've got no clue if Joe Brady can use his brain to get Bills receivers open down the field, but here's to hoping.

As for the Bills wideouts, Stefon Diggs historically has been more than capable of getting open down the field. Matt Harmon of ReceptionPerception.com charted Diggs as an above average to great receiver at all three of his deepest route concepts last season.

Matt Harmon on Stefon Diggs
Photo credit ReceptionPerception.com

The problem is Diggs can't do it himself, and it's possible another year, another tenth of a second off that 40-time for Diggs.

Receivers like Trent Sherfield and Khalil Shakir have just not been able to strike fear into any defensive backs this season, and run more underneath routes anyway.

This is where we turn our attention to Davis.

This is supposed to be what Davis is good at. From 2020-2022, Davis had the second-highest yards per-reception in the NFL, only behind Henry Ruggs.

A bomb 75-yard touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs. A 98-yard catch-and-run touchdown against the Pittsbrugh Steelers. Another 62-yard touchdown against the Steelers the same day, wrestling the ball away from Minkah Fitzpatrick.

These were the plays we thought of Davis for.

Where have those Davis plays gone? Why, especially in the last six weeks, does Davis have fewer explosive plays than Khalil Shakir, the Bills' slot receiver?

A multitude of reasons could be the culprit.

Teams are paying more respect to Davis as a threat, and make sure to have a safety over the top when he runs deep is the most likely.

Another is Davis does not have burner speed, and regression in his down-field game was always inevitable. In fact, Davis ran a 4.54 at the combine, which is in the 37th percentile for receivers.

A little of it is his fault, as when he gets that one chance to earn more chances, he's not helping his cause.

Allen should not have thrown this pass highlighted above, but it's a bad route by Harty. He's doing nothing to help the situation, rounding out his route, making it easy for the corner to read it and jump it.

A microcosm of all of the above is this interception Allen threw just before the half versus Denver.

You have a quarterback with a bazooka attached to his right shoulder that wants to push the envelope. He wants to go after the defense and take off big chunks at a time, because he can as well as anyone.

At the same time, you have a simplistic route design that presents no creativity thanks to a plain coordinator in Dorsey, and you have receivers that are not good at getting open deep.

It's not a coincidence that as the Bills' big plays have gone away, the turnovers have gone up and the point totals have gone down.

Bills head coach Sean McDermott can say until he's blue in the face that Allen needs to be smart and take what is given to him, but if you know Allen well enough, you know that is never going to happen.

The Bills have one choice to get back to the elite offense they once had: Get guys open down the field for Allen to throw to, because he'll do it anyway.

Do it by hiring a coordinator that can push safeties away and open up holes past 20 yards. Do it by drafting or signing speedy receivers that can get open themselves.

The only way it's happening this year is if Brady is to Dorsey, as Don Granato was to Ralph Krueger for you Buffalo Sabres fans.

However the Bills do it, they need to do it. Bring back the big play.

Photo credit Losi and Gangi
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