The Buffalo Bills: 2014 Final Report Card
It is an understatement to say that this unit was disappointing. The Bills' 2013 first-round pick, E.J. Manuel, was benched after just four games in favor of Kyle Orton, who did not fare too well himself. Manuel's completion percentage and yards per attempt both went down through his four games, finishing with five touchdowns, three interceptions, and a passer rating of 80.3. Orton started off strong, but ultimately ended with 18 touchdowns, ten interceptions, and a passer rating of 87.8.
Due to the game manager-esk play at quarterback, the receivers did not get much of a chance to shine. First-round pick Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods had a decent years, but both could have done much better.
The biggest disappointment within this offense was their run game. In 2013, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller combined for 1,823 rushing yards, another 572 through the air, and 12 total touchdowns. However, both backs missed time this year with injuries and neither one averaged more than four yards a carry.
The Bills ranked 18th in scoring, with 21.4 points per game. While that initially seems like a respectable number, it is not nearly enough when you consider that they must compete with the likes of New England if they are to become playoff contenders.
With many young players with plenty of potential, this unit looked to shine in upcoming years. However, Kiko Alonso suffered a season-ending injury while Jairus Byrd left the team and signed with the Saints. Despite that, this defense was among the best in 2014.
The Bills' run defense started off the season strong, ranking in the top five for most of it, but let go a little bit towards the end. The Bills ended up ranking 11th in run defense allowing 106.4 yards per game and 4.1 yards per carry. With three pro bowlers up front, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, and Mario Williams, as well as another productive player, Jerry Hughes, they had the league's best front four. They also received contributions from their linebacking corps, who did not seem to miss Kiko Alonso too much, with Preston Brown filling in quite nicely.
While their secondary seems to be one of the lower-tier units in the league, their pass defense was pretty good this year. Their aforementioned front four consistently pressured the quarterback, as the team led the league in sacks with 54. The Bills allowed just 16 touchdowns through the air and recorded 19 interceptions.
Perhaps the only reason that this team was able to hang on and finish 9-7 was that their defense was able to hold opponents to just 18.1 points per game, which is good for fourth in the league.
Dan Carpenter had a good year, finishing second in the league with 34 field goals and ranking seventh in percentage with 89.5. The lone concern is that Carpenter attempted a lot of kicks, second to just Nick Folk, and missed a couple within 49 yards.
Colton Schmidt had a bit of a rough season, recording a 38.7 net average, which is good for 23rd. Though, he did do a good job pinning opponents deep in their own territory, tying for fourth with 31 punts inside the 20.
The Bills did not really have a designated kick returner, with no one recording more than ten returns, but they all did a fairly good job. The Bills as a whole averaged 23.3 yards per kick return while C.J. Spiller took one to the house. Leodis McKelvin did not have a great year returning punts, ranking 12th with an 8.7 average, but he did okay. Marcus Thigpen, who notched in 12 punt returns, had a touchdown on one.
The Bills still look to be one year from actually becoming playoff contenders, but they took a huge leap forward this year. If their coaching situation does not stall the team's progression and everyone remains healthy, they may be able to slither their way into the postseason in the near future.