It has been five weeks since the Buffalo Bills fired Ken Dorsey and promoted quarterbacks coach Joe Brady to interim offensive coordinator and play-caller. It was a move seen by many as an opportunity for embattled Bills head coach Sean McDermott to pass the blame for his struggling team. Others saw it as the last gasp of an aging team whose Super Bowl window was slamming shut right in front of them. Champion teams surely don’t fire coaches midseason.
Since that move, the Bills are 3-1, with the one loss coming in overtime against the defending NFC champion Philadephia Eagles where they put up 34 points. The Bills still sit just outside the playoff picture, but their recent success has seen their odds skyrocket, and they reentered the Super Bowl conversation.
So, what has Brady tapped into over the past month that has the Bills humming again?
Let’s start with the man of the hour, James Cook. Since taking over play-calling duties, Brady has made it a priority to get the ball in the running back’s hand. Cook has been involved in every facet of the Bills offense over the last four games. Since Week 11, Cook has led all running backs in receiving yards and ranks seventh in rushing yards (with five of the six players ahead of him playing five games to Cook’s four). Brady has ways to find Cook mismatches in the passing game and a commitment to run the ball when teams cannot stop it.
Josh Allen’s Legs
Since Brady has taken over, Josh Allen has found his ground game again. Over the first ten games of the season, Josh Allen put up 189 rushing yards. A number that was good for fifth among quarterbacks over that timeframe, but far behind his 2022 ten-game total which sat at 476 yards. Under Brady, Allen has put up 161 rushing yards in just four games.
It is not just scrambles either. According to SIS, Brady has already exceeded the number of quarterback-designed run calls over four games (10) than Ken Dorsey did over nine games. These runs have been effective as well. On quarterback-designed runs and draws, Allen leads all quarterbacks on EPA per attempt with .56, up from .48 under Dorsey. Brady is forcing teams to account for Allen as a runner in ways Dorsey didn’t.
There is a certain quality to play calling that can be truly quantified (though I will try). Call it feeling, vibes, or intuition; all play callers can pull the right levers at the right time. Said more simply, you know good playing calling when you see it. Dorsey, despite his positive underlying numbers, seemed to press the wrong button constantly in high-leverage situations. On the other hand, Brady has tapped into something that goes beyond the numbers. Under Brady, the Bills have the fourth-best success rate at attacking lightboxes.
Another example that highlights Brady’s feel for the game is the personnel packages he uses in critical moments. Under Dorsey, the Bills used 11 (one tight end, one running back) personnel on third down at the tenth-lowest rate despite having the second-best success rate out of the grouping on first and second down. With Brady, the Bills have leaned into their 11 personal grouping, using it at the 12th highest rate in the league on third down.
Just take the Bills’ latest game, a dominant win over the Dallas Cowboys, as an example of this feel. How easy would it have been for the Bills to get bored with running the ball? By their own admission, the Bills didn’t plan on running it THAT much. But as Joe Brady said when asked about it, “Don’t fix what isn’t broken.” The discipline to stick to a plan so out of character for the offense shows a feel for the game the Bills lacked with Dorsey.
Much of this article has focused on the running game and the emergence of Cook. But as his stock rises, others in the Bills offense still need to click with Brady. Stefon Diggs has not had a 100-yard game since Week 6. Gabe Davis has only put up production in one of the four games Brady and has been a coordinator for (granted, it was an impressive six receptions for 105 yards and should have been seven with a game-winning touchdown if Allen throws the correct choice route). As the Bills enter the last three games and hopefully the playoffs, teams will undoubtedly try to take away Cook and the Bills run game. The last remaining question for Brady is whether he can reengage the Bills top pass catchers. Can he consistently use the Bills’ talented rookie tight end, Dalton Kincaid?
Luckily for Brady, the Bills get to play one of the NFL’s worst defenses in the Los Angeles Chargers and the emotionally checked-out New England Patriots over the next two weeks. Hopefully, these are opportunities for Brady to answer these remaining questions.