NFL

Buffalo Bills: Emphasis must be on defensive difference-makers after Allen's year-three leap

By Sports Desk March 29, 2021

The Buffalo Bills will look back on the 2020 season as one in which the 2018 gamble they took on Josh Allen began paying the dividends they expected.

After signs of improvement in 2019, one of the most volatile quarterbacks in the NFL took a gigantic third-year leap, the Bills' faith in his remarkable athletic gifts paying off as he blossomed into one of the most prolific and devastating signal-callers in the league.

But Allen's jump to the league's elite at the game's most important position was still not enough to propel the Bills to their first Super Bowl title.

The Bills, like so many teams before them, were undone by the brilliance of the Kansas City Chiefs, losing 38-24 at Arrowhead Stadium as their quest for the Lombardi Trophy ended in an AFC Championship Game defeat.

What do the Bills need to do to finally get over the hump in 2021? We look at the key Stats Perform data from the 2020 campaign and their offseason moves to this point to determine what Buffalo's next steps should be ahead of another run at a maiden title.

Offense

The impact of Allen's development on Buffalo's offense is illustrated by the efficiency the Bills demonstrated in 2020.

Having finished 22nd in yards per play in 2019 with an average of 5.19, they improved to sixth with a jump to 6.13.

They were fourth in yards per passing play (7.42), while only the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers put up more touchdowns through the air than Buffalo's 40.

Buffalo's surge as a passing attack was fuelled by a huge uptick in accuracy from Allen.

Going into the 2020 season, Allen's highest completion percentage in his NFL career was 58.8, set in 2019.

Last year, Allen completed 69.2 per cent of his pass attempts, trailing only Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Deshaun Watson.

He was sixth in the league in touchdown to interception ratio, throwing 37 scores to 10 picks, and was fourth in completions of 20 yards or more with 62.

His passer rating of 107.4 on pass attempts of 21 air yards or more was ninth among quarterbacks to have at least 25 such attempts, with Allen's success on deep balls aided by the trade acquisition of Stefon Diggs.

Diggs led the NFL with 1,535 receiving yards after arriving from the Minnesota Vikings, becoming Allen's go-to target as he caught 73 receptions for a first down, a tally bettered by only Travis Kelce (79) and DeAndre Hopkins (75).

What the Bills offense lacked was balance. The running game struggled to get going throughout the year, with Buffalo finishing the year ranked 20th in yards per rush with 4.19.

Devin Singletary's 18 rushes for negative yards was the joint-ninth-highest number in the league, and while the Bills were 13th with 53 rushes of 10 yards or more, 16 of those came from Allen, with rookie third-round pick Zack Moss contributing only 12.

The Bills would have been in the league's bottom five in that category if not for Allen's contributions. While the emphasis was more on what their dual-threat signal-caller can do with his arm in 2020, he also did his best to elevate a running game that will hope to be much more efficient in 2021.

Defense

The Bills were far from the first team to fail to stop the Chiefs and they will not be the last.

But the porous nature of their defensive performance was reflective of a mediocre year on that side of the ball for Buffalo.

The Bills ranked 15th in opponent yards per play allowed (5.5). They were ninth against the pass (6.1) but a lowly 26th versus the run (4.62).

Opponents ran successful plays against the Bills' defense 51.8 per cent of the time, putting them 22nd in the NFL, while Buffalo were middle of the road (15th) in terms of opponent scoring efficiency, giving up either a field goal or a touchdown on 67 of 170 opponent drives.

Tied for 15th in sacks with 38, the Bills were underwhelming in converting their pressures. They had 163 quarterback hurries (17th) and 90 knockdowns (tied for 13th), indicating a need to find a pass rusher who can consistently finish his pass rushes in the offseason.

Where the Bills did excel was in taking the ball away. Their 26 turnovers ranked tied for third while they scored 90 points off takeaways, good for seventh in the NFL.

Cornerback Tre'Davious White led the way for Buffalo with five of those takeaways, three of which were interceptions, in another stellar season for the two-time Pro Bowler.

Buffalo possess talent at every level of the defense and, even though the Bills fell short at Arrowhead Stadium, there is plenty of reason to believe the addition of a game-changer up front can spark an upturn in defensive fortunes and put them over the top in 2021.

Offseason

The Bills have quietly enjoyed a productive and impressive offseason. Matt Milano signed a four-year, $41.5million contract that will likely look a bargain if and when Fred Warner signs his extension with the San Francisco 49ers later in the year.

Wide receiver John Brown and tight end Tyler Kroft both departed in free agency but were replaced by Emmanuel Sanders and Jacob Hollister respectively. 

Sanders should provide Allen with a dependable third-down option, as he moved the chains on 61.1 per cent of his third-down targets for the New Orleans Saints last year, putting him 10th among receivers with at least 10 such targets.

Buffalo also landed a capable backup for Allen at a palatable price, former second overall pick Mitchell Trubisky arriving on a one-year deal worth $2.5m.

Yet they head into the draft still with obvious needs to address.

The Bills brought back cornerback Levi Wallace on a one-year deal. However, he has been burnt for eight touchdowns over the last two seasons, meaning Buffalo could certainly benefit from an infusion of competition at the starting spot across from White.

However, secondary play is not what limited the ceiling of the Bills' defense in 2020. A lack of a dominant presence at edge rusher is what held Leslie Frazier's group back last year, and adding one should be their priority with the 30th pick in the first round.

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    Ash Barty is a class above her peers right now – and 2022 is hers to dominate even further on the grand slam stage.

    Barty ended Australia's wait for a singles champion in Melbourne after a 6-3 7-6 (7-2) win over Danielle Collins in the final on Saturday.

    The world number one dealt with the pressure of such high expectations to become the first local Australian Open singles champion in 44 years.

    Barty had already ended another drought – becoming the first Australian women's singles finalist in 42 years.

    The composure she showed during that semi-final win over Madison Keys was again prevalent in the decider against Collins, who predictably threatened and looked certain to force a deciding set on Rod Laver Arena.

    Despite the expectations, there was a constant sense of calm and almost inevitability to Barty's success in Melbourne in 2022.

    In every moment, Barty seemed unfazed by everything around her, in a zone of her own, even at 5-1 down in the second set in front of an electric home crowd. Barty would have been excused for some panic, the fear of letting down the masses awaiting and anticipating a local Australian Open singles champion. But she didn't, and her calmness was mostly mirrored by those in the stands, who eventually got what they came for.

    And Barty's confidence was well-founded. She was far too good for each of her opponents, losing just 21 games on her way to the decider before facing a tougher test against Collins.

    Barty became the second active women's singles player to win a grand slam on every surface after adding the Australian Open to her 2019 French Open and 2021 Wimbledon titles, joining the great Serena Williams.

    Her coach, Craig Tyzzer, warned on Australia Day that Barty had "played better at times" in her career. But there was a steely resolve about Barty, whose focus and concentration was even more impenetrable than her serve throughout the fortnight. The emotions were released after championship point was converted with a cross-court forehand pass.

    The fact there could be more to come from Barty is a warning to the rest of the WTA Tour. That she managed all the pressure and expectation to win an Australian Open without dropping a set says a lot.

    "She seems very focused, but she's playing very within herself, and it just seems like everything is really working for her right now without playing unbelievable tennis for her," said Keys after being crushed in the last four. "I think the rest of us are watching it thinking, 'Wow, this is incredible', but when you watch her, she seems completely in control of all of it."

    Conquered by Barty in the quarter-finals, Jessica Pegula admitted the Australian was simply better than everyone else.

    "Just to do it two out of three sets for somebody to beat her is tough because she just makes you play so much and does everything so well," she said. "Yeah, I think she's definitely living in everyone's head a little bit. I don't think anyone is going to feel great going out to play her because they know they have to play really well."

    Barty has made history and delivered one of the iconic moments in Australian sport. She is a step above her opponents right now, and more history could await in 2022.

  • Australian Open: Barty claims maiden Melbourne triumph after thrilling second-set fightback Australian Open: Barty claims maiden Melbourne triumph after thrilling second-set fightback

    Ash Barty defeated Danielle Collins in an enthralling final to cap a supreme Australian Open campaign with a maiden title in her home grand slam.

    Barty was made to work hard for her success by unlikely finalist Collins and had to come from 5-1 down in the second set to prevail 6-3 7-6 (7-2) on Rod Laver Arena.

    It was to the delight of a partisan Melbourne crowd, who saw an Australian triumph in a singles event at the season's first major for the first time since Chris O'Neil in 1978.

    Barty, who has now won 11 matches in a row in 2022, clinched her third grand slam title at the first opportunity, a sublime cross-court forehand sealing a sensational triumph.

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    Yet she turned the tables in the next game, Collins tensing up and conceding the first break when she sent two serves long.

    With the crowd behind her, Barty got into her groove, holding with ease before two fantastic forehands paved the way for her to serve out the set.

    Barty seemed primed to take the match away from Collins in the second set, yet the top seed was stunned as she slumped to a 3-0 deficit.

    Having conceded serve for just the second time in the tournament, Barty squandered two immediate chances to break back, Collins coming out on top in a thrilling rally.

    There were more fist pumps from Collins as she held to go 4-1 up. A brilliant passing shot gave Barty hope in the next game, but she rushed a volley and followed with a double fault to hand her opponent two break points.

    Collins took the first to put herself on the brink of restoring parity, only for Barty to rally back with a break of her own and start a quite sensational comeback.

    Having held for 6-3, Barty appeared to have left herself too much to do when she went 30-0 down on Collins' next serve but reeled off four straight points to send the crowd into raptures before levelling the set with a fine hold.

    Collins needed to regain her composure and did so to reach the tie-break, but a foreland long put Barty in control, and the crowd were on their feet after a volleyed winner made it 4-0.

    Collins struck the net and then missed the court to grand Barty four championship points, and the comeback was complete with her slick forehand.

    DATA SLAM: Barty's home run

    The first Australian woman since 1980 to reach the final of this major, Barty became the first woman to win a grand slam title in her home country since Sloane Stephens triumphed at the 2017 US Open.

    She is also the first woman ranked world number one to lift the trophy since Serena Williams in 2015, ending a run of top-ranked players losing the Australian Open final, after Simona Halep in 2018 and Serena Williams in 2016.

    WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
    Barty – 30/22
    Collins – 17/22

    ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
    Barty – 10/3
    Collins – 1/2

    BREAK POINTS WON
    Barty – 3/5
    Collins – 2/4

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    "I'm glad he was able to come out and perform today, because I imagine there's lots of things to think about, thinking about all the work you put in to get to this point.

    "It's really cool to see. We kind of figured, but you just don't know until it happens. I know he was super geeked about it.

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