The Bills closed out the Cowboys with crucial runs by Tyrod Taylor, Mike Gillislee and Karlos Williams.
The Bills and Cowboys game wasn’t a match-up of two high scoring offenses. It was a match-up of two non playoff teams that were just fighting to win. Players from both teams just wanted to get a win, each coach just wanted to get a win. The weather and injuries to key players led both coaches to call very conservative game-plans. Coordinators for both teams did not want to give up the big play by being overly aggressive.
The Cowboys, with Kellen Moore starting his first ever NFL game leaned on their run game. Darren Mcfadden averaged 5.2 yards/carry and ended the game with 99 yards. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan called a total of 31 passes for Kellen Moore, 13 of which were completed. Moore only averaged 6 yards an attempt and he ended the game with 186 yards through the air. The Bills blitzed Moore 13 out of 31 passes. He completed four of those passes for 86 yards and 0 TDs and 1 INT according to Pro Football Focus. The Bills defense gave up a couple big plays but then shut the Cowboys down, holding them to just two field goals.
The Bills had a similar game-plan. Control the tempo of the game by running the ball and take advantage of 3rd and short situations. The Bills finished the game with 236 rushing yards, averaged 5.9 yards a carry and converted on two TDs. Shifty Mike Gillislee led the Bills with 93 yards on 9 carries and a 50 touchdown to close the game out in the 4th quarter. The Cowboys decided to play coverage and make Tyrod beat them with his arm and not his legs. The Cowboys only blitzed him four times. But the Cowboys were able to get pressure without blitzing, T-Mobile was under pressure 12 times in all according to PFF. But Tyrod was efficient, in his own way. He finished the game with only 18 attempts but completed 13 of his passes. Taylor’s arm has yet to really clinch a win for the Bills, but his legs have. That was readily apparent late in the fourth quarter.
Score: Bills 9 Cowboys 6 Time left 5:35
The Bills are backed up. Faced with 3rd and 6 they bring in 11 personnel. Taylor drops back and looks for Sammy Watkins to his left. Cowboys defensive ends do a pretty good job of muddle rushing; they didn’t rush deeper than Tyrod’s drop. Taylor feels pressure so he spins to his left. WR Lewis is running a crossing route as TE Oleary is running a 10 yard in. The route concept is commonly referred to as a drive concept. But the Cowboys DBs hold up well, the spin to the left causes DE Lawrence #90 to deepen his rush route to get past RT Mills. That little adjustment gives Taylor the opening to run take off and convert on the 3rd down.
The very next play, the Bills go back to their power run game. They bring in an extra lineman, a tight end and the FB Felton. They align in a split back formation out of the shotgun. TE Gragg motions and settles at the off-line TE position. Tackle Kouandjo and tackle Mills double team the DE, RG Urbik blocks down and Richie and Felton lead the power run to the right. Karlos follows behind Richie and powers up inside for 7 yards. Great 1st down yardage. The Bills really missed the big running back. He showed how valuable he was on this drive. Dallas did not want to tackle him at all.
On second down the Bills keep it simple with the same play. This time the LB Mcclain fills and stops Williams for only a gain of two yards.
On 3rd down and short, Buffalo Brings in 11 personnel and they run it up the middle. The offensive line blocks zone left and the play puts Karlos one on one vs Sean Lee. Karlos wins this battle and gets the first down. Williams is a load to bring down, the smaller quicker Dallas defenders had their hands full throughout the day.
With 3:25 left the Cowboys are forced to use their timeout and gather their defensive approach versus an obvious run play. Greg Roman stays in a passing set with 11 personnel and RB Gillislee in the game. TE Gragg motions into a split backfield. The offensive line runs zone right. DE Hardy and LB Mcclain run a gap exchange. Hardy attempts to get across Glenn’s face into the B Gap, Mcclain fills the C gap. Gap exchanges are a typical counter to the zone read play, the Cowboys expected T-mobile to possibly keep the ball here. The maneuver creates the perfect blocking angles once Gragg picks up the LB. Give Gragg some credit here, this is a heady play for a young TE. Gillislee runs an inside zone track, attacks the RGs outside foot but then he cuts it back for a 15 yard gain and another 1st down.
Cowboys have to use their 2nd timeout of the half after that run by Gillislee.
The Bills have 1st down and 10 from their 45 yard line and need to get another set of first downs to possibly close out the game. The Bills align in trips right, with Gillislee to Tyrod’s left in the shotgun. Taylor takes the snap and Richie and Urbik pull left on a designed QB keeper. DE Greg Hardy fights through two blocks to limit the play to 5 yards.
The 2nd and 5 play is the nail in the coffin. The Bills bring Kouandjo in with Felton. Roman keeps it simple. He runs a power run play to the right with their best blocker Incognito leading. Kouandjo and Mills work overpower the DE on the double team. Felton takes Lee out of the play. The ILB Mcclain and weakside LB fast flow to the ball. Richie cleans up Mcclain and Gillislee just runs the ladder to the outside. Gillislee takes the perfect angle off of the WR Hogan who is blocking the DB. Look at how the weakside LB hesitates as he is flowing to the defenses left. It looks like he loses the RB in the wash, that little hesitation gives the RB the edge and real estate to take it to the house.. Game Over!
The Bills go up 16-6 and recover a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Five plays later they close the game out and get their 7th win. They did it in a fashion that were are accustomed to. They ran the ball 40 times to secure the win at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Back-ups Mike Gillislee and Karlos Williams had runs that discouraged the Cowboys defense. But the difference maker in the run game was truly Tyrod Taylor. His 14 carries for 67 yards extended drives at crucial times. Taylor’s legs and the Bills’ workhorse backfield closed out the Cowboys in week 16.