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

·10-min read

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.

Josh Allen explosive runs
Josh Allen explosive 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.

Josh Allen YAC
Josh Allen YAC

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.

Bills sacks AFC Championship
Bills sacks AFC Championship

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.