Buffalo Bills 2021 Team Study

Part 2 of my 32-part series breaking down every team’s performance in 2021. Check out part 1 here: New England Patriots. Part 3 is now available here: New York Jets.

Offense

Eff. Rating Adj. Rating Rank
5.67 +0.64 2nd


Offensive Eff. Rating (blue and red) v. opponent average allowed (grey).

Pass EPA Rush EPA Adj. Pass Rate
8th 12th 3rd


The Bills offense was elite again in 2021. They did just about everything well and succeeded in almost all situations. Josh Allen led a versatile and dangerous passing attack that was complemented by an improved ground game. They could press the lead when ahead and they proved they could mount a comeback against a strong defense when they erased a 21-point deficit to force overtime against Tampa Bay. They played their best football in the biggest spots, scoring at least 27 points against every playoff team they faced (other than the bad weather game against New England), including 83 points in two playoff games.

Their only real struggle involved inconsistency completing passes. Their 36 drops ranked 2nd-highest in the NFL, up from 27 drops in 2020. And Josh Allen’s on-target percentage fell to 75% after a strong 78.4% in 2020, despite a lower average depth of target (8.2 yards from 8.6 yards in 2020). Many analysts called for regression by Allen this year and I suppose that’s what regression looks like. Still, drops are generally fluky in the NFL and Allen’s inaccurate passes looked more like random mistakes than true problems with his mechanics or decision-making. As noted above, he played his best games in the biggest spots and might have taken some inferior opponents too lightly. That’s an easy problem to fix.  

Arguably no quarterback matches Allen’s unique blend of elusiveness and toughness. He gave up a sack on only 19.3% of quarterback pressures, lowest in the NFL. His ability to turn pressures into positive plays separates him into the highest tier of quarterbacks because he can turn negative plays into positive plays. This translates to greater relative success when more is put on his plate. The Bills played their best offensive football against the toughest defenses, including the top pass defenses. Chart A tracks the Bills’ relative offensive effectiveness against each opponent ranked by its overall pass defense EPA/play on the season.

Chart A

Chart A: Adjusted Eff. Rating by opponent pass defense in EPA/play.
*Omitted Week 12 v. NE due to significant weather impact on offense.

Their three best offensive performances on the season came against the Saints (+1.35 Adj. Rating) and Patriots (+1.49 and +3.89), who were the 3rd and 4th best defenses versus the pass. As noted above, their mistakes were usually their own. Drops and inaccurate passes tend to be opponent-agnostic. If anything, they played their best football when most focused. They utilized a variety of weapons in the passing game, getting at least 540 yards from five different receivers. And particularly once they started featuring Devin Singletary, they ran the ball effectively on both handoffs and designed runs for Allen. Trying to stop the Bills offense was like playing whack-a-mole; if you managed to shut down one option they just found another way. This made them particularly dangerous in the playoffs when the stakes were highest.

Of course, like any offense, they suffered a setback when they were not at full strength on the offensive line. They had a stretch of games in the middle of the season where they were banged up, most importantly against Jacksonville. Playing without Joe Feliciano, Spencer Brown, and Dawson Knox, they unsurprisingly played their worst offensive game of the season in a mystifying 9-6 loss. Once they were back to full strength on the offensive line they hit their stride again.

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