It’s crazy to think the 2023 NFL regular season is almost halfway over. The Buffalo Bills sit at 5-3 after eight games that have provided fans with both reasons for hope and frustration. Here, we will look at some different areas of the team and see if we can assess a fair grade.
Josh Allen is a tough grade as we sit eight games in. 2023 has seen Allen’s usual flashes of brilliance. In terms of production, Allen leads the NFL in total touchdowns with 22. He has also been uncommonly efficient, completing a league-best 71.7% of his passes. Allen also sits third in passing yards with 2,165. He has also had some incredibly low moments. Allen is tied for the league lead in interceptions with eight, including a four-turnover night in the season debut. And though dispersing blame for the recent bout of slow starts has been a challenge, Allen has had a role in not being able to find open pass catchers. But in all, Josh Allen continues to be one of the two or three best quarterbacks in the NFL, and for that, he deserves at least an 8.
Offensive Line: B+
Brandon Beane and Aaron Kromer deserve much credit for how this position group has stepped up their game this year. After ranking 20th as a unit in Pro Football Focus’s pass-blocking efficiency metric in 2022, the unit ranks third in 2023. After Rodger Saffold and Ryan Bates finished 36th and 27th in pass-blocking efficiency in 2022, new guards Conner McGovern and O’Cyrus Torrence rank fourth and 22nd. Dion Dawkins’s dominance shouldn’t be surprising, as he has only allowed one sack so far. But perhaps the most impressive is Spencer Brown rocketing up to the 17th most efficient pass blocker in 2023 after ranking 49th in 2022. The Bills’ offensive line has been transformed from a weakness to a strength.
Wide Receivers: B
The variance in performance throughout the season makes this position room an interesting grade. If we were to grade Stefon Diggs, it would be an A+. Diggs is on pace for his second 1,500-yard season as a Bill. The rest of the room has seen ups and downs. Gabe Davis remains a productive receiver but has had games where he disappeared. Deonte Harty has yet to flash the efficiency he had as a Saint. On the bright side, Khalil Shakir appears to be on an upswing, recently posting the best game of his young career, and has been earning more snaps as the season progresses. For the Bills to succeed late into the season, the Bills need the other wide receivers (who aren’t Stefon Diggs) to be consistent contributors.
Tight Ends: C+
Tight ends are another room with a slow start but appear on an upswing. In his seven games, Dawson Knox has only mustered 102 yards on 15 catches. Even when considering his wrist injury, fans would hope for more from a tight end who is being paid among the top at his position. On the other hand, after a slow start, Dalton Kincaid is starting to flash why he was a first-round pick and the first tight end off the board. The rookie ranks 11th among all tight ends in yards and 7th in receptions. His two best games have come in the last two weeks, with a 75-yard performance against New England and 65 yards against Tampa Bay. If Kincaid continues to ascend, he has the potential to move the Bills tight end room from a relative weakness in the Bills offense to a strength.
Running backs: B+
James Cook headlines a room that is having a strong year for the Bills’ running backs. Cook is on pace for 1400 yards from scrimmage. He is 14th out of 71 running backs with at least 20 carries in positive run rate. And despite the increased workload, Cook is averaging 4.7 yards a carry, ranking 11th among running backs with at least 20% of their team’s carries. In addition to Cook, both Latavius Murarry and Damien Harris, before his injury, have provided meaningful contributions.
Defensive Line: A-
The Bills’ defensive line has been excellent this year and dominated in stretches. The Bills currently rank second in sack rate at 9% and fifth in pressure rate at 39.2%. Since losing DaQuan Jones, they have dropped to 17th and 11th in that same metric. But help is on the way as Von Miller’s workload continues to grow. There have been some phenomenal individual performances. Ed Oliver is having a career year with five sacks already. He and Javon Hardgrave of the 49ers are the only two defensive tackles ranking in the top 10 in both ESPN’s run stop win rate and pass rush win rate. At the same time, Leonard Floyd leads the teams with 6.5 sacks and ranks 7th among edge rushers in pass rush win rate. Still, the hole left by Daquan Jones will continue to pop up throughout the year until someone steps up to take over the one-technique role.
This grade may be a cop-out, but the Bills linebacker has been too fluid to provide an accurate grade. Matt Milano started the season playing like, well, Matt Milano. Terrel Bernard has been one of the biggest surprises of the Bills’ season so far. Bernard currently ranks fourth among linebackers in passer rating against and ranks 12th in run stop rate. But with Milano gone, the outside linebacker spot has been a question mark for the Bills. Tyrel Dodson and Dorian William have been yo-yoed in and out of the lineup as their performance has dictated. The best linebacker outside of Bernard has been when the Bills play safety Jordan Poyer, in the box and play Taylor Rapp behind him, allowing the Bills to play dime defense.
Defensive backs: B
Like the linebacker spot, the defensive back room has faced some adversity. Whether that is losing Tre’Davious White to another season injury or first-round pick Kaiir Elam failing to take control of a starting job. But even with those factors, the Bills pass defense has some encouraging numbers. They are the seventh-best defense in EPA per play against the pass and hold teams to the tenth-lowest “boom” play rate. Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde remain solid contributors in the back end. And Chrisitan Benford has developed into a solid starter, forcing incompletions at the second-highest rate in the NFL. They have also had some problematic performances, from allowing Mac Jones to move up and down the field with relative ease to allowing the Giants to stick around with Tyrod Taylor and a previously unworkable offense. The addition of Rasul Douglas should allow the Bills to play at a more consistent level.
Coaching: Eye of the beholder
Few topics have been as polarizing as the coaching this year. And because of that, I will let you be the grader here. On the one hand, you have a team with the largest point differential. A team that shut down one of the best offenses of the century in the Miami Dolphins. On the other hand, you have a team that has lost to Zach Wilson and Mac Jones and played down to the Tyrod Taylor Giants. The Bills have tried new things on offense this year, such as going from one of the lowest rates of 12 personnel to one of the highest, with varying success. At times, the offense has looked easy; at others, it seems to boil down to “Josh go do something.” The discourse around Ken Dorsey shifts by the quarter. Ultimately, what matters is the Bills sit one game out of the one seed, with everything they want well within reach.