Crunching Numbers: QB Derek Anderson Stepping into Heaping Mess with Bills

Veteran quarterback claims he's ready, but fans should keep expectations low when Buffalo visits Indianapolis

The Bills will turn to their fourth option at quarterback when they play the Colts on Sunday while praying veteran Derek Anderson can rescue their offense from the abyss. He’s the latest source of optimism in an otherwise hopeless exercise.

Anderson is 35 years old. He has made four starts since the 2010 season while backing up Cam Newton for seven years. He has 60 touchdown passes and 60 interceptions in his career. He hasn’t started since 2016, when he threw five picks in five games.

You could confidently conclude Anderson was the worst backup in the league when he signed a contract last week to serve as a mentor for Josh Allen. Thirty-two teams didn’t believe he was worth signing in the offseason before the Bills summoned him from street.

Evidently, the Bills didn’t think much of Anderson, either. They opened training camp with Allen, Nathan Peterman and A.J. McCarron on the roster. But they were desperate for a starter after Allen sprained his elbow and Peterman flopped again, leading GM Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott to an old friend fro Carolina.

The Bills aren’t expecting miracles from Anderson. Hell, they should be thrilled if he’s slightly below average. He would still be considerably better than any quarterback who has suited up for Buffalo this season. The passing numbers outlining their futility are staggering.

“You’ve got be ready at all times,” Anderson said this week. “I was fully aware of what I was getting myself into coming here. Obviously, not ideal. We’re going to do what we can.”

Not ideal? Sure, and it was a tad chilly during the Ice Age.

Here’s hoping Anderson has a sense of humor. He’ll need one Sunday afternoon when he steps into a heaping mess.

The Bills have the 31st-ranked offense in the league, just ahead of Arizona. The Cardinals are only other team that failed to generate 300 yards of offense in a game this season. You don’t see the Cards pulling quarterbacks off beach chairs to start the following week.

Buffalo has the worst passing attack in the league, averaging just 123 net yards per game. If that’s not embarrassing enough, the Bills aren’t even close to the second-worst passing offense. Arizona was averaging 33 net yards per game more than the Bills going into its home matchup Thursday night against Denver.

Only Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh have a greater disparity between two teams one spot apart. The Bucs passed for 39.4 yards per game more than the Steelers. Of course, we’re talking about the top two passing attacks in the NFL. Pittsburgh is throwing for 329 yards per game.

Buffalo has passed for 295 yards in the past three games combined. Eight teams are averaging more than 295 yards passing per game. The NFL average is 256 yards passing, or 48 yards more than the Bills produced in their past two games.

The Bills haven’t averaged 123 yards passing since 1974, when Richard Nixon was in the White House. And that was only because the Bills were forced to unleash their passing attack after O.J. Simpson rushed for a 2,003 yards in 14 games the previous season.

Joe Ferguson was a second-year quarterback in ’74. He was throwing to Ahmad Rashad, J.D. Hill, Bobby Chandler and Paul Seymour. And people thought that was bad. The Bills’ were ranked 23rd among 26 teams in passing that year. You might say football has made a few advancements over the past four decades.

Passing has never been easier in the NFL, which tightened roughing-the-passer rules. If defensive players look at quarterbacks the wrong way, it’s a penalty. And if that quarterback is Tom Brady, well, some linebacker or defensive end might wind up in prison.

Twenty teams are on pace for 4,000 yards passing this season. Of the dozen teams that are not on pace for 4,000 yards passing, eight are among the top 12 teams in rushing. Four of them – Dallas, San Francisco, Carolina and Cleveland – are in the top five in rushing.

The Bills are 20th in rushing.

Seventeen teams have thrown for at least 10 touchdowns. Patrick Mahomes, selected 10th overall last season with the pick the Bills traded to Kansas City, threw six TDs in one game this season. He leads the NFL with 18 touchdown passes. Buffalo has three.

All but five teams are averaging 200 yards passing per game. All but three teams are averaging one touchdown pass per game: Tennessee, Arizona and Buffalo. Depending on your perspective, the Bills are atop the NFL in two passing categories: Most interceptions (nine, tied with Tampa Bay) and most sacks allowed (26).

Twenty teams have a passer rating of 90 or above. The Bills are dead last at 50.5, well behind Arizona and the biggest disparity in the league between teams that were one spot apart.

Anderson doesn’t even need to be average. He could throw for 250 yards and one touchdown against Indy, both below NFL standards, and still double Buffalo’s average in each category. Allen and Peterman haven’t been that productive in a game all season.

Asking for more would be asking for something that hasn’t happened in more than a decade. The last time Anderson threw for 250 yards and more than one touchdown in the same game was Oct. 13, 2008, when he had 310 yards and two TDs to beat the Giants.

Anderson said he understood what he was getting into when he signed with the Bills. We’ll see if he’s ready. Obviously, it’s not an ideal situation. If you’re not sure, check the numbers.

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