20 Years Later, How Far Off are the 2013 Buffalo Bills from the 1993 AFC Champions?

Wide Receiver

The wide receiver position is another one where memory seems to suggest the 1993 Bills had a distinct advantage. Closer examination reveals that the 1993 team, much like the current formation of the Bills receiving corps, was really a collection of players accumulating stats, as opposed to one star carrying the burden.

Although Andre Reed was the big name, the Bills’ leading receiver finished 1993 with 854 yards and six touchdowns, which wasn’t enough to crack the top ten that year in either category. While Reed made seven consecutive Pro Bowl appearances from 1988-94, his 1993 numbers were his lowest in that span.

Reed was aided by a solid second receiving option, as Bill Brooks had 714 yards and five touchdowns. The Bills also had a strong receiving tight end in Pete Metzelaars, who had 609 yards and four TDs, in an era before every tight end in the league could be counted on as a factor in the receiving game.

In 2012, Stevie Johnson led the Bills with 1,046 receiving yards and six touchdowns, while Scott Chandler provided a reliable tight end target with 571 yards and five touchdowns. However, the Bills lacked a solid second wide receiver option, with their next-best statistical performance being Donald Jones’ 443 yards and four receiving touchdowns.

The Bills’ lack of supporting talent at wide receiver should change in 2013. The Bills added a number of talented rookie wideouts in the 2013 NFL draft, including second-round pick Robert Woods and third-round pick Marquise Goodwin.

Return Game

This is one area where the current iteration of the Bills has a clear advantage. In 1993, Russell Copeland averaged 8.8 yards per punt return and 18.2 yards per kick return, and scored one punt return touchdown. In 2012, Leodis McKelvin averaged 28.3 per kick return and 18.7 per punt return, while bringing two punts back for touchdowns.

Linebackers

Now we get to the heart of what makes these two teams so different. In 2012, the Bills had very poor linebacker play. Nick Barnett finished second on the team with 72 tackles and Kelvin Sheppard was third with 53. Neither played picked off a pass and they had only four sacks between them.

In 1993, the defense was led by its linebackers. Darryl Talley paced the team with 136 tackles and three interceptions. Marvcus Patton added 118 tackles and two interceptions of his own, while Cornelius Bennett finished with 102 tackles and five sacks. Those three players were all over the field, finishing as three of the team’s top four tacklers, recording eight combined sacks, picking off six passes and forcing eight fumbles. That doesn’t even include the rotation of Mark Maddox and Keith Goganious, who had 117 tackles between them, at right inside linebacker.

Defensive Line and Secondary

I’m lumping these two positions together, because in both cases, each team really just had one player at each spot and then a collection of also-rans.

For the 1993 Bills, those players were Bruce Smith and Nate Odomes. Smith was arguably the top defensive end in the game and finished the season with 108 tackles and 14 sacks, while nobody else on the entire Bills defense had more than five sacks. In the secondary, that one dominant player was Nate Odomes, who picked off nine passes and made 47 tackles from the right cornerback spot.

The 2012 Bills had a somewhat similar statistical breakdown at those positions. After a slow start, Mario Williams finished the season with 10.5 sacks, while the next highest number came from defensive tackle Marcell Dareus with 5.5 sacks. In the secondary, free safety Jairus Byrd paced the team with five interceptions.

That said, both teams featured some talented players who didn’t jump out on the stat sheet. Strong safety Henry Jones  made 83 tackles in 1993, while cornerback Stephon Gilmore finished his rookie season in 2012 with 51 tackles and appeared to show shut down corner skills as the year went on.

Like Bruce Smith in 1993, pass-rushing defensive end Mario Williams is a key piece of the 2013 Bills’ success. (Photo: USA Today Sports Images)

Comparison Overview

There are four places where the difference between the 1993 AFC championship team and the current Buffalo Bills is incredibly apparent: second receiving option, turnovers created, linebacker play and overall leadership.

If the 2013 Bills want to push to become competitive, they need to find the second receiving option that the 1993 Bills had. That said, Bill Brooks was not a star by the time he got to the Bills for his first season in 1993. The 2013 Bills don’t need to find a stud to line up opposite Stevie Johnson, they just need to find a reliable option. Heading into training camp, it appears as though rookie Robert Woods and second-year option TJ Graham are the leading candidates to fill that role.

The next improvement that the 2013 Bills need to make is in turnover accumulation. The league-leading turnover numbers that the 1993 Bills earned helped them cover up overall average defensive play. When the 2012 Bills weren’t able to make those plays, they were unable to cover up those flaws. However, there is some hope that new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s more aggressive defensive scheme will help create more turnover opportunities for the defense.

Another area Pettine needs to help improve is overall linebacker play. The 2013 Bills overhauled their linebacker corps by releasing Nick Barnett, trading Kelvin Sheppard for Jerry Hughes, and drafting Kiko Alonso in the second round. A strong linebacker corps can help curtail opposing running games and also add more pressure on the quarterback.

If the Bills are able to improve their linebacker play, it would go a long way towards helping their defense take pressure off the offense. Obviously, it’s a lot to ask a team to find Bennett, Talley and Patton, but closing the gap would be a good start.

Lastly, the 1993 Bills had a leadership factor that the current team doesn’t have. A lot of that has to do with age and experience, but the 1993 Bills had veterans like Smith, Kelly, Thomas, Reed, Talley and Bennett to help the team push their average performances and win close games; they won five games in the regular season by three points or less. The 2013 version of the Bills are going to need to find those leaders in order to take a largely inexperienced group and help them win.

With a similarly dynamic and versatile running back, a dominant pass-rusher, a playmaker in the secondary, a top-notch return threat and a solid top receiver, the 2013 Bills aren’t too far behind their 1993 counterparts. With a few improvements in key areas, fans in Buffalo may be able to watch competitive football again.

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Tags: 1993 Buffalo Bills, AFC Championship, Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, C.J. Spiller, Cornelius Bennett, Darryl Talley, EJ Manuel, Henry Jones, Jim Kelly, Leodis McKelvin, Marcell Dareus, Mario Williams, Marvcus Patton, Mike Pettine, Nate Odomes, Russell Copeland, Stephon Gilmore, Stevie Johnson, Super Bowl, Thurman Thomas

4 Responses to “20 Years Later, How Far Off are the 2013 Buffalo Bills from the 1993 AFC Champions?”

  1. Ryan Talbot says:

    Really enjoyed reading this piece.

  2. Glenn Gifford says:

    Nice work here Eric! Well done!




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