Warren Sharp is returning to his roots for the 2023 season, writing multiple weekly articles on Sharp Football Analysis including weekend recaps, game previews & much more.
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Can the Bills & Josh Allen Fix Their Goal Line Struggles?
Over the last two years, no matter what way you slice it, the top two offenses in the NFL are the Chiefs and Bills.
Chiefs and Bills offensive rankings:
- Top two in EPA/play.
- Top two in success rate.
- Top two on early downs.
- Top two on third down conversions.
- Top two in points scored per drive.
- Top two in yards gained per drive.
The list goes on and on and on.
Undeniably, they have been the best two offenses.
The result of such offensive performance has translated into both teams leading the NFL in wins over the last two years.
26 wins for the Chiefs and 24 wins for the Bills (despite Buffalo playing in one fewer regular season game).
Including the playoffs, these teams still rank top two, with the Chiefs posting 31 wins and the Bills 26 wins.
But despite the similarities in overall offensive efficiency and output, there is a stark difference not discussed by anyone and which might be the single largest factor that has held back the Bills and impacted their ability to achieve their ultimate goals:
Goal line offense.
Buffalo Bills Goal Line Struggles
The best offense in the NFL, the Chiefs, is one of the best offenses at the goal line.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise, but they are top five in EPA/play the last two years at the goal line and top 10 in success rate.
But the second-best offense in the NFL, the Bills, is the worst offense at the goal line.
And that does come as a major surprise.
Last year, the Bills scored touchdowns on just 58% of drives that included plays inside their opponent’s three-yard line. That was #31 in the NFL.
The Chiefs scored on 89% of such drives, which was #2 in the NFL.
A gap of over 30 percentage points.
The Bills averaged just 4.3 points per drive when getting the ball down to their opponent’s three-yard line. That, too, ranked #31.
The Chiefs averaged 6.5 points per drive, which ranked #2.
On a per play basis, the Bills ranked DEAD LAST on goal line plays last season (for the purpose of this analysis, we’re defining goal line plays as plays at or inside the opponent’s three-yard line).
Buffalo averaged -0.88 EPA/play.
Five-worst goal line offenses last year based on EPA/play:
- Bears, #28: -0.40
- Raiders, #29: -0.41
- Packers, #30: -0.56
- Colts, #31: -0.66
- Bills, #32: -0.88
The gap between the #32 Bills and the #31 Colts was enormous.
It’s not just one metric (EPA/play) that showcased how terrible the Bills were.
Only 41% of Buffalo’s plays at the goal line were successful (#30).
We know Bills fans aren’t happy with their RB-run game.
But they might be surprised to know RB runs haven’t been the primary problem. Indeed, Bills RB runs at the goal line average +0.22 EPA/play (#17) and produce a 64% success rate (#12).
Interestingly, the problem hinges on Josh Allen’s passing.
let’s watch some Josh Allen goal line attempts from 2022
beyond the lack of completions for touchdowns…
focus on play designs…
…Allen’s completion rate…
…and Allen’s time to throw pic.twitter.com/JyQUx92KDq
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) August 16, 2023
Removing scrambles over the last two years, out of 26 qualifying QBs, Josh Allen ranks near the bottom in several metrics.
Josh Allen goal line efficiency rankings:
- #26 in EPA/play (-0.95)
- #25 in success rate (31%)
- #25 in YPA (0.4)
- #23 in completion rate (35%)
What if we include scrambles?
Including scrambles, the only QB worse on an EPA/play basis at the goal line was Taylor Heinicke.
As a team, one of 32, the Bills rank near the bottom in several important metrics.
Bills goal line efficiency rankings:
- #30 in EPA/dropback, ahead of only the Commanders and Bears
- #30 in success rate, ahead of only the Commanders and Steelers
- #32 in early down EPA/dropback
So, what could be the issue? Could it be short yardage plays in general are a bug-a-boo for the Bills?
No, this is not a short-yardage offense problem, to be clear.
On third or fourth downs with one to three yards to go the last two years, the Bills offense ranked #12 in EPA/play, #1 in yards/play, #8 in EPA/pass, #3 in passing success, #16 in EPA/rush, and #13 in rushing success.
They were not below average in any single one of these metrics.
Looking specifically at last season, on these short-yardage plays, the Bills converted first downs at the #4 highest rate in the NFL (68%).
They were a pass-first team (64% pass, #4 highest) on these downs and received outstanding success through the air (63% success, #4) but still delivered surprisingly great success when running the ball (79% success, #2).
Josh Allen’s Time to Throw at the Goal Line
Two keys to improving the Bills’ passing efficiency near the goal line?
Reducing their time to throw the ball and focusing on increased completion rate.
At the goal line, Allen holds the ball for on average 3.1 seconds before throwing. That’s third-longest in the NFL.
Three of the four QBs who rank worst in goal line efficiency also rank top five in the longest time to throw.
Worst goal line quarterbacks:
- Taylor Heinicke (worst in efficiency, longest time to throw)
- Josh Allen (2nd worst in efficiency, 3rd longest time to throw)
- Sam Darnold (4th worst in efficiency, 5th longest time to throw)
The NFL average time to throw at the goal line is 2.41 seconds.
Patrick Mahomes is 2.22.
Tom Brady was at 2.04 (2nd fastest).
Matthew Stafford is 2.10 (5th fastest).
All of these QBs lead efficient goal line offenses.
Unsurprisingly, there is a correlation between goal line efficiency and time to throw the ball. Generally, the faster the ball comes out at the goal line, the more likely it results in a successful play.
We know Allen likes to make magic happen. But ironically, in all short-yardage situations, he only holds the ball slightly longer than average before attempting a pass (2.69 seconds vs. NFL average of 2.52).
However, at the goal line, he holds the ball for significantly longer on each attempt (3.14 seconds) while the NFL average decreases.
Allen’s completion rate at the goal line in the last two years is only 34.6%. That’s fourth-worst in the NFL.
Compare that to Mahomes, who ranks #1 in the NFL at 77.5%.
contrast what you’re seeing at the goal line for the Bills & Josh Allen…
with what you see at the goal line for the Chiefs & Patrick Mahomes
here are some of his goal line attempts from 2022
keep in mind, in 2021, Mahomes threw the ball even faster & with a higher comp % pic.twitter.com/WAIyvxXbdh
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) August 16, 2023
Despite the fact they’ve been one of the NFL’s worst goal line offenses, the Bills have been a top-two offense in the NFL and have won the second-most games over the last few years.
As a team that needs to take that next step, they need reliable goal line performance commensurate with their performance over the rest of the field, and that means they need more efficient play designs and Allen to make faster decisions with the football.
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