The Buffalo Bills capped off their 2017 draft last week, and they’re now in the process of solidifying their roster for the upcoming season. During this offseason the Bills’ offense has undergone a considerable overhaul. It improved on a weak wide receiver group with the key additions of Zay Jones, Philly Brown, and Andre Holmes. The offensive line gained strong depth with the retention of Ryan Groy, the signing of Vladimir Ducasse, and the drafting of a potential starter in Dion Dawkins. However, the primary change for the Bills’ offense is a new offensive coordinator. Rick Dennison comes to the Bills after spending the past two seasons with Denver Broncos in the same role. His play calling revolves around a zone-run scheme with a heavy amount of play-action and deep drop backs. Dennison ran the majority of his plays out of four main personnel groupings: 21, 10, 11, and 12. Looking at the Bills’ current roster, I will explain to you which players are expected to be seen on the field, depending on the personnel grouping called.
11 personnel is the most commonly used personnel group in today’s pass happy NFL. With three wide receivers on the field and a tight end, most teams smartly play nickel coverage against this offensive package. Rick Dennison ran 53 percent (539/1019) of his offensive play calls out of 11 personnel in 2016. In 2017, I’d expect to see this number increase. With LeSean McCoy at running back and a capable run blocker in Charles Clay, the Bills could have lots of success running the football against a defense lined up in nickel. Dennison’s offense utilized 11 personnel 200 times on first down and ten. This could be a smart and effective way for the Bills to get positive yards on first down, making second and third downs more manageable.
21 personnel is more often than not the base personnel grouping of any offense. It offers the ability to call a multitude of run plays, while also offering opportunities in the passing game. Rick Dennison utilized 21 personnel on 19 percent (194/1019) of the plays he called last season. In 2017, expect to see a running back, fullback, tight end, and two receivers on the field quite often. This will allow Dennison to remain balanced between the run game and pass game, while not giving away any significant keys to an opponent’s defense.
10 personnel puts four receivers on the field with one running back, most likely in the backfield. The 2016 Denver Broncos’ offense, under Rick Dennison, employed this personnel set 11 percent of the time, most often in passing situations. When the Bills send out their 10 personnel in 2017, expect it to include Sammy Watkins, Zay Jones, Andre Holmes, and Philly Brown. If the play call involves the running back in the quarterback’s progression, expect it to be LeSean McCoy. However, if the running back is assigned to block, expect it to be Jonathan Williams or Mike Tolbert, as LeSean McCoy struggles in pass protection.
12 personnel can be ever so dangerous in the NFL if you have the right players for it. A pass catching tight end and a blocking tight end make this personnel group effective. Defenses have two choices when they are presented with 12 personnel. They can: 1) choose to stay in their base defense, or 2) elect to play a nickel coverage, bringing an extra defensive back on the field. If a defense stays in base, a mismatch is created with the pass catching tight end. If a defense decides to bring on an extra defensive back to cover the pass catching tight end, a run strength is created with the blocking tight end. Coach Dennison utilized 12 personnel 10 percent of the time last season. With the Bills, he may not have the luxury of having a pure blocking tight end on the roster. Nonetheless, he could potentially have success with Clay, O’Leary, and possibly Logan Thomas.
The Buffalo Bills have a talented offensive roster that can be utilized in many different ways. With Coach Dennison known for his zone scheme and play action pass, I would expect to see the 2017 Bills in a lot of 21 and 11 personnel sets. Looking at the roster, the players the Bills have on offense can be very successful in these two sets. I fully expect OC Rick Dennison to put the Bills’ offense in a position to succeed each Sunday.