Sunday, January 23, 2022

How does this season’s Josh Allen-led Bills offense compare to the Jim Kelly attacks in the 1990s?

A year ago, as the Bills made their triumphant run to 13-3 to capture their first AFC East crown in 25 years, many comparisons were drawn to the 1990s golden era of football in Buffalo spearheaded by Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, and Bruce Smith. And before their playoff game against the Colts last January, I wrote a piece comparing the 2020 Bills offense to the 1990 Bills, Buffalo’s first Super Bowl bound club. It’s time to update it with the 2021 Bills. 

Before I begin, for as good as the Bills offense was at times this season, across the board it doesn’t stack up to the 1991 attack, which remains the most efficient offense in team history. Believe me, I checked. That year, Kelly and backup Frank Reich combined for 39 passing touchdowns and running back Thurman Thomas was MVP of the entire league. Buffalo was loaded.

Therefore, comparing this year’s iteration of the Bills to that club is essentially pointless. How about the squad from 1990, the first year the Bills advanced to a Super Bowl? After all, the Allen-led Bills are still looking for that trip back to the Super Bowl. 

Here’s how the two offenses compare on a percentage basis relative to the rest of the NFL in those respective seasons:

1990

+11.7%

+14.2% +2.5%

+6.3%

+18.3%

+32.9%

2021

+5.5%

+12.7% +10.3%

+17.2%

+1.6%

+23.6%

That 1990 offense was a juggernaut, too — slightly ahead of this season’s Bills in yards per play and notably ahead in net yards per attempt and points scored relative to the rest of the NFL. 

But notice how much more efficiently this season’s Bills moved the chains. Also, how about the current-day Bills out-of-seemingly-nowhere run prowess? Buffalo finished this regular season with nearly 13% more rushing yards than the NFL average despite entering the season dubbed as a team that would have problems running if it even attempted to run at all. And, of course, Allen’s scrambling and designed-run capabilities are a big part of Buffalo’s ground game. 

Coupled with that is a passing-yard total more than 10% higher than league average while the 1990 Bills were just north of league average. There’s your difference in offensive philosophies over 30 years of NFL football.

While not quite as squeaky clean as last year’s Bills or the impossibly effective 1991 Buffalo, these Bills enter the postseason with one of their best and most balanced offenses in team history.

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