Analyzing the Buffalo Bills Red-Zone Offense in 2014

Brandon Croce@@BrandonCroceAnalyst ISeptember 15, 2014

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 14:  Sammy Watkins #14 of the Buffalo Bills scores a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins during the second half at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 14, 2014 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills have played nearly perfect football over the first two weeks and have been rewarded with a 2-0 record and first place in the AFC East. The Bills started off the season with an overtime victory over the Chicago Bears and followed it up with an emotional win over divisional foe, the Miami Dolphins.

On the surface, the Bills offense looks to be much improved from a season ago, averaging 26 points and 337.5 yards per game. One area that has not improved, is their ability to score touchdowns in the red zone.

According to TeamRankings.com, the Bills only converted 47.73 percent of their red-zone opportunities last year and finished 29th in the NFL. So far this season, the Bills have made 10 trips to the red zone and have only three touchdowns to show for it, compared to six field goals.

One of those trips came in overtime against Chicago after Fred Jackson's long run and with the team only needing a field goal to win, it ran one play to line up kicker Dan Carpenter. I did not include that red-zone trip in the following stats.

So far this season, the Bills have scored points on eight of their nine trips to the red zone but only have scored a touchdown on 33 percent of those trips. Since converting their first two red-zone trips into touchdowns, they have fallen into a 1 of 7 slump.

Red Zone Trips in 2014
TripsRun PlaysPass PlaysTotal PlaysResult
1st Qtr. vs. Bears415Touchdown
2nd Qtr. vs. Bears011Touchdown
4th Qtr. vs. Bears123Field Goal
1st Qtr. vs. Dolphins213Field Goal
1st Qtr. vs. Dolphins123Field Goal
2nd Qtr. vs. Dolphins022Field Goal
3rd Qtr. vs. Dolphins213Touchdown
4th Qtr. vs. Dolphins202Field Goal
4th Qtr. vs. Dolphins213Missed Field Goal
Stats Compiled Using ESPN.com Play-by-Play

The first assumption for the Bills' lack of success is that the play-calling becomes too predictable in the red zone. However the chart below shows that Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett seem to call a good balance between run and pass, even on first down. 

Run vs. Pass in Red Zone
Total PlaysCalled on First Down
Run Plays145
Pass Plays113
Stats Compiled Using ESPN.com Play-by-Play

If it isn't predictable play-calling, then it comes down to a matter of executing the plays better. EJ Manuel through the first two games is 5-of-11 passing for 36 yards and two touchdown passes. The one play that sticks out the most came against Miami when he threw a pass over the middle just out of the reach of a wide-open Sammy Watkins.

While Manuel has struggled at times in the red zone, the running game has done him no favors to this point in the season. On the 14 run plays called this year, the Bills have picked up only 18 yards or 1.28 yards per attempt. If Manuel's two runs are taken away, that number drops to only one yard per carry by the Bills running backs.

It hasn't been all bad for the Bills offense, and the coaching staff should be pleased with the fact that they have yet to turn the ball over in the red zone. These types of mistakes can be huge momentum swings and usually are the plays that decide close games. While the Bills hope to score a touchdown every time they get the ball, the fact that they have been able to convert 90 percent of their trips inside the 20 into points is still productive.

There is a lot to like about this Bills offense early in the season with the biggest being that they have already made 10 trips to the red zone this season. They are moving the ball very effectively down the field, but the team becomes stagnant once it crosses that 20-yard line. If this young offense is able to improve in this one area, the Bills are going to be a tough team to beat in 2014.