Bills Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll Giving Josh Allen More Answers

10/26/2020
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The NFL season is a marathon, and the team you watch early in the season rarely resembles the team you will see the final quarter of the season. Players and coaches are paid handsomely to play this game, but it’s a game that is in constant flux. It’s a week-to-week league, and as Bills fans we are seeing that firsthand.

The theme of how to defend Josh Allen has had many turns, and defenses are constantly forcing him to adjust. Last year, it was playing tight man coverage and forcing tight-window throws — force Allen to make throws down the field, up and over the coverage. He failed, and failed miserably.

Teams quickly realized after the first month of the 2020 season that they couldn’t use the same approach with the weapons the Bills now have, most notably Stefon Diggs.

After lighting up the league the first month of the season, the Brian Daboll offense hit a cold streak. The Tennessee Titans put a very good blueprint on tape on how to stymy the Bills’ potent offense, and it was pretty simple: play two-high safety looks to minimize the explosive plays and attempt to stop the run with six and seven defenders.

The Titans’ plan worked. Allen was looking for home runs the entire first half instead of taking what the defense gave him, which was the underneath stuff. Allen began then looking to Beasley in the short area throughout the second half, with much success. How did they do it? Pay close attention to the Titans’ slot defender below, and how he becomes the extra run defender with the boundary safety dropping deep as the ball is snapped. This is important because it’s a strategy to help protect deep but still have that seventh run defender.

So how would the Bills’ staff adjust for the long haul? The easy answer is giving Allen more two-high safety beater concepts, and they absolutely have. They also had to create plays that not only beat “two-shell” looks via the passing game, but they also have to do some things on the ground because you have to be able to run and pass the ball efficiently.

When defenses play zone against the Bills, Beasley can steal yards on option routes, which is why you saw him go off against the Jets. But option routes are already built into the offense. What I loved about what the Bills did with him yesterday was with the run game still struggling, they used the running backs, and Beasley and Diggs to a lesser extent, as an extension of the run game.

Defenses are choosing to drop their safeties deep and use their slot defender as the seventh man to defend the run, which is exactly why Daboll dialed up these run/pass options. Are they true run/pass options? No, probably not, because while Allen is reading a conflict defender (slot defender), he isn’t really riding the mesh then pulling and throwing. But don’t get caught up in the semantics of run/pass options vs. run/pass tags, because they work in the same fashion. Ultimately, these are plays where Allen has the choice to hand it off or pull and throw a bubble screen to Beasley, depending on the leverage of the slot corner. As you saw in the clip from the Titans game, if the defense wants to blitz that slot defender or simply have him trigger run, then this play design is the answer.

Run – Pass Option (RPO)

The Bills used a two-high safety beater RPO on early downs to give the offense options and advantageous leverage. On this play, you will see the back-side guard and tight end pull because the Bills run a counter trey run paired with a bubble screen. Allen sees the deep safety capping the slot defender, and post-snap that defender blitzes, so Allen pulls it and throws the bubble screen to Beasley for an easy six-yard gain on first down.

Later in the game, the Bills run a similar play, this time an inside zone run paired with a bubble screen. On the snap, Allen checks the slot defender, and that defender is playing run, which gives Beasley horizontal leverage on the defender, and the Bills a hat on a hat out wide.

On the Bills’ final scoring drive, Allen reads the defense like a book as the Bills once again run their counter trey – bubble RPO. Allen checks the slot defender pre-snap, notices that he is slightly inside, and even checks the safety’s alignment to see if there’s a chance a run blitz with the slot defender is called. That safety is “capping” the slot defender, which just means he’s in a position to replace him. On the snap, the slot defender blitzes, so Allen fires it out to Beasley for a four-yard gain. While it was only a four-yard gain, a play like this is the extension of the run game. The play call was executed, it was completed, the Bills stay on-schedule, and the clock runs with the Bills in their four-minute offense.

QB Draws

 

The most successful play the Bills ran on the ground against those two-high looks was their QB draw. Daboll used them on 2nd-and-medium situations against the Jets’ light box. Pay attention to the slot defender to the top of the screen. He’s playing with outside leverage and is backpedaling on Beasley’s release, so the Bills get a true six-man box; they don’t have to deal with a fringe-box defender like they saw most of the day. Having Allen carry the rock allows the Bills to get a hat on a hat with Zack Moss leading him inside, which results in a first down.

Remember that last RPO the Bills ran in their four-minute drill? Well, that set the Bills up with a 2nd-and-6 situation, and Daboll dialed up the QB draw again. But on this play, watch how the force defenders read their keys. Their keys spell pass, so they widen to their zones.

This means the Bills really only have to block up five defenders. Allen sells pass and gets upfield to move the chains. Left tackle Dion Dawkins’ clubbing of the Jets’ edge defender is a metaphor for the entire game. The Bills’ staff and players dominated the Jets.

These weren’t the only answers that Daboll gave Allen and the offense, but they were the key pieces to the Bills’ ball control game plan. Daboll added some new wrinkles to the Bills’ offense to help Allen be successful vs. two-high safety looks, but also gave him options to execute the run called or throw a short pass to keep the offense on-schedule. Allen was more patient this week, played small-ball, and even made some timely scrambles and runs that kept the Bills moving the chains, something they did 26 times against the Jets. If the Bills can continue to execute with this type of efficiency with the tools Daboll has given them, then defenses will not be able to play as much two-deep shell as we have seen over the last few weeks. That will put them back in the driver’s seat and hopefully allow them to open up the offense once again.

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