The offensive struggles of the Buffalo Bills have been well documented over the course of 2018. Midway through the season, the Bills rank last or next to last in ten offensive categories, including points scored, total yardage, passing yardage, passing touchdowns, interceptions, yards per passing attempt, scoring percentage on drives, and points per drive, according to Pro Football Reference. Quarterback play has been a thorn in their side for years, and 2018 is no different, as injuries, inexperience, and ineffectiveness have plagued the trio of quarterbacks who have taken the reigns of the offense this season. While many teams have suffered these same maladies, the Bills may be historically bad given the context of their time.
A quarterback’s touchdown-to-interception ratio has often been used as a shorthand measure of quarterback effectiveness. The average touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2018 is just over 2:1. This measure has steadily increased over time, as league rules have progressively aided passing offenses. Forty years ago, the ratio was near 1:1. Before that, interceptions were more frequent than touchdown passes. In 2018, the Buffalo Bills have three touchdown passes and 13 interceptions, making them on pace for a meager six touchdown passes and 26 interceptions during the greatest passing era in NFL history. To create some context, the record for the fewest touchdown passes for a team with 450+ pass attempts is 9 by the 2001 St. Louis Rams. The Bills are on pace to shatter that mark.
The Bills’ touchdown pass percentage is a meager 1.2%, or 24% of the league average, while their interception ratio is 5.4%, or 225% of the league average. The NFL has not seen a comparably poor passing performance since 1942, when Bud Schwenk of the Chicago Cardinals threw a whopping 27 interceptions while completing only six touchdown passes. Backup quarterback Joe Bukant contributed another two interceptions to raise the team total to 29. Even so, the Schwenk-Bukant tandem still had a touchdown percentage of 1.9%, which was 40% of the league average, and their interception percentage was actually 5% better than the league. It was hard to pass the ball in 1942. The Detroit Lions threw one touchdown pass to 33 interceptions that season. It is nowhere near that difficult to pass the ball in 2018.
Yet there is hope for the Bills. The team’s first-round draft pick this season, Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, is a prototype NFL quarterback — big, strong, with an arm that can make all the throws. The team hopes that he can develop into the their first legitimate quarterback since the days of Jim Kelly (keeping in mind that some fans have strong feelings about Doug Flutie.) A similar quarterback was once drafted with the first overall pick, and proceeded to throw six touchdown passes and a mind-boggling 24 interceptions in only 218 pass attempts in 1970. He threw 22 interceptions the next year. His name was Terry Bradshaw, and he is now in the NFL Hall of Fame.