Buffalo Bills 2013 Team Review: A Team in Transition

Was there any good to Buffalo's 2013 campaign?

The 2013 Buffalo Bills were truly a team in transition. They opened the season with a rookie quarterback, E.J. Manuel, as the Week 1 starter as a supposed new era began. Lacking identity on both offense and defense, the team finished 6-10 for the fourth time in five years.

As the Buffalo Bills look to a new year, what areas were actually encouraging in 2013? Which were disappointing? Where should they go from here?

The Good

It would be impossible for even the most pessimistic Bills fan to deny the fact that Buffalo has a true young stud linebacker in Kiko Alonso. The rookie finished third in the entire league in total tackles at 159.

He was also significantly cheaper than Paul Posluszny, who finished second in the league with two more tackles than Alonso to finish at 161. How much cheaper? Right around $7.5 million dollars cheaper. A great young linebacker who is also extremely inexpensive is a valuable asset for a team to have.

The second-round pick finished the season with four interceptions, five passes defended, a forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. All of this is amplified by the fact he played every single snap on defense this season. In turn, the Bills finished with the eighth-best defense according to our Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points (NEP) metric (adjusted for strength of schedule), a jump from being the 31st-ranked one a season ago. This includes the fifth-best pass defense in the entire NFL, which is led by safety Jairus Byrd.

While there was not much to be ecstatic about on the offensive side of the ball, there are a few reasons for optimism. Fred Jackson, for instance, was a pleasant surprise this year as he seemed to emerge from a fountain of youth as productive as ever.

PlayerRush NEPRankRush NEP/PRankSuccess Rate %Rank
Fred Jackson13.905th0.074th46.38%6th

Jackson finished in the top six in all major rushing numberFire metrics (read more about Net Expected Points here) for all 39 'high volume' running backs (the term 'high volume' simply means any back with over 125 carries). Jackson is indeed an aging veteran who seemed to have a little more left in the tank than we all suspected.

The Bad

On the opposite side of the age spectrum sits rookie quarterback EJ Manuel. Let's take a look at how he fared in terms of some advanced numberFire metrics:

PlayerPass NEPRankPass NEP/PRank
EJ Manuel-47.8444th-0.1442nd

It is important to note that there were only 45 quarterbacks who qualified (100 or more drop backs) for the rankings above. And Manuel finished second-worst in Passing Net Expected Points, and was more detrimental to his team over the course of this season than everyone with the exception of the one and only, Geno Smith.

In Manuel's 10 starts this past year, he led the team to a 4-6 record. It's unlikely the Bills pulls the panic cord after just one season, as they will likely look to give him some time to develop after his horrific rookie year.

Stevie Johnson's season can be classified as nothing other than disappointing as well. Offensively, there's not a player on the roster who makes more money than Johnson, but unfortunately, he was easily the worst value on the entire roster for the Bills this year.

His yards per reception, total yards, and touchdown numbers all decreased in 2013. A percentage of this can be attributed to the fact he missed four games, but only a small percentage.

PlayerRec. NEPRankRec. NEP/TargetRankCatch RateRank
Stevie Johnson42.5765th0.42107th51.49%92nd

The table above takes a look at Johnson's year from an advanced metrics standpoint. His total Reception NEP score tells us that he accumulated about 42.57 points for his team over the course of the season on receptions, which was only good for a paltry 65th out of all receivers with more than 25 receptions on the year (118). And in terms of Target Net Expected Points, which looks at how many points a receiver added for his team on every target, Johnson ranked in the bottom five among all NFL wide receivers in 2013.

But again, he didn't play 16 games, so perhaps his cumulative numbers look worse as a result of that. Nope. He finished with the 92nd-best catch rate and 107th-best Reception NEP per target in the entire league last year, something that's unheard of for a player as high-profile as Johnson.

What Should They Do?

It's obvious that the team needs to do a few things this offseason to transition from rebuilding to contending. The top priority would be resigning stud safety Jairus Byrd. A significant hit would be taken by their cap space, but they have a ton of room going into the off season ($28 million projected). Even if the Bills fail to actually resign Byrd to a new contract, Buffalo will likely just slap the franchise tag on him for a reasonable $8.3 million.

With Seattle recently dominating the Superbowl with a suffocating defense, the interest in Byrd and other impact safeties might be more inflated than it would have been otherwise, as teams try to mimic the Seahawks in the most copycat league in all of sports.

The most important thing the Bills should do this offseason though is begin to develop some consistency and a strong rapport between the new coaching staff and players. On the defensive side alone, the 2014 unit will be led by the fourth different defensive coordinator in as many years. That's not a good thing when you consider the significant jump they made from last year to this one under now Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine.

As the Bills look to the future, there are some bright spots on the roster. But it's hard to argue that they are any closer to contending than they were a year ago.