The Buffalo Bills are 4-1 and there’s a ton to be excited about... well, maybe, but let’s not mistakenly use the first five games as a full endorsement of what they’ll be come the end of December.
This five-game start has unequivocally been manufactured and carried out by the steady, elite level play the Bills have gotten out of Leslie Frazier’s defense. Full stop. Most of you are familiar with the pain of "BILLieving," but some people do need some reminding.
Through five weeks, the Bills rank 32nd in special teams DVOA (Football Outsiders' efficiency rating). The offense is ranked 28th; just slightly ahead of the Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, and the New York Jets. Yikes.
On top of that, the Bills are currently sitting 27th in the league, near all the crappy teams I just rattled off, in points per-game with 18. Whereas the defense, they find themselves right at the top of the league at fourth in defensive DVOA, behind only the New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, and Chicago Bears.
Two-thirds of the ship are sinking, but they’re being bailed out by Herculean efforts defensively. Some might call that 4-1 start hallow or a “paper tiger," as my Twitter pal Michael Kist put it, but could you see why there might be some truth to that statement?
Of course, we can argue about analytics, and what story they’re trying to tell. At the end of the day, the good teams – heck, the great teams don’t have two units at the bottom of the league. Our collective defense of “you don’t watch the games” and implying your inside knowledge of why those efficiency numbers are so low and subsequently don’t matter is… kind of hallow too.
Bills fans – and I include myself in this cluster of optimists – are banking that the underlying issues surrounding the offense are correctable and will even out as the season progresses, easing some of the pressure off the defense. That their 12th ranking in yardage output through five games suggests the Bills are moving the ball, they’re just not capitalizing.
Where we can all agree, though, is that it will need to be corrected if they’re looking for anything more than a Wild Card round exit. But that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone needs to believe it’ll actually happen.
The offense isn’t playing well, it’s true. Josh Allen has had an up and down start to 2019, it’s true. The offense can be considered miles and miles ahead of the offense they trotted out in 2018, that’s true. Which is why when you start to think about why someone like me would bank on the offense turning it around, a lot of it has to do with my belief that Allen has already taken a considerable step this season – because he has.
However, if you’re banking on the offense being better than what is was on Sunday at some point this season, we’re all taking a collective risk and banking that Allen will take his game to an even higher level after the bye week and for the rest of the season. Risky business, I know.
The problem is, we all have to come to terms with the fact that the Allen we’ve all seen through five weeks is both a significant upgrade from the player we saw at the beginning of 2018, but is also a player who needs to be better than he is right now if the Bills truly want to shake the “fake” label from their 4-1 record. I think most people want to say he’s great or he stinks – and honestly, both takes might be right, in their own way.
Either way, I’m confident that offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and Allen are headed in the right direction as a pair after the bye week. This hasn’t been the vertical passing attack everyone predicted we’d be seeing this season, but it’s a diverse and disguise-heavy passing scheme, and it hasn’t been executed at nearly the level I think it’s capable of.
For that, I have hope. It’s given me the confidence to bet on the Bills as a real, good football team, not a hallow paper tiger. But holy heck, they better figure out special teams or it’s going to drag the whole ship down.