Finding a silver lining in a game in which the Bills lost 54-24 is very difficult, but not all of the plays executed were negative. For as bad as QB Nathan Peterman played in the first quarter, the Bills were still in the game at this point, primarily due to the run game, an area that Bills fans have sorely missed after being spoiled for the past two years.
It was odd to see, but RB LeSean McCoy and the Bills’ offensive line got some movement on outside zone runs early in the game. On the snap, LT Dion Dawkins uses his power to stun OLB Melvin Ingram, allowing LG Richie Incognito to get into position to take over the block, while Dawkins climbed to the next level. McCoy sets up the reach block by Wood and bounces it for 8 yards.
At the 9:50 mark of the 1st quarter Dennison sends out 21 personnel and runs a pin-and-pull run concept with Incognito and Dawkins pulling. This concept is a combination of gap and zone schemes. The key block is by tight end Khari Lee; his down block is what allows Dawkins to short trap to kick out the force player, and for fullback Patrick DiMarco and Incognito to lead through the hole. Richie picks up the inside linebacker Korey Toomer, and DiMarco the safety Adrian Phillips, springing McCoy for a 37-yard gain. This concept was run numerous times in the game for big chunks of yardage.
On the very next play, the Bills tie the game with a 27-yard run by McCoy. Dennison calls a crack toss play with a little eye candy in the form of Jet motion by WR Zay Jones. The motion catches the attention of several Chargers defenders, and their eye discipline wavers. As the ball is snapped, the down/crack back block is executed by WR Andre Holmes, which frees up Dawkins and Incognito and puts them on the perimeter as they pull. Once they are in the open field they are a two man wrecking crew, demolishing anything that comes in their way, and they lead McCoy all the way into the end zone.
The 2nd quarter offensive output consisted of nine plays, two of which were interceptions thrown by Peterman, and the Bills finished the quarter with 30 total yards and down 37-7.
With the game out of reach and their rookie QB struggling, head coach Sean McDermott put Tyrod Taylor into the game. But the game plan didn’t change; Buffalo wanted to run the ball, and they did it again with Incognito leading. Dennison sends out 21 personnel and runs pin-and-pull again. But the Chargers are in more of a 4-3 defense, so the blocking assignments change. Instead of Dawkins and Incognito pulling, Dawkins blocks down on the 3tech DT, while Lee works play side to seal off the edge player.
Center Eric Wood scoops to the second level, and right guard Vladimir Ducasse takes over the nose tackle. Both do a great job of keeping their feet moving and staying with their defenders. Incognito and DiMarco both lead and kick out their assignments, which puts McCoy into the secondary for a 32-yard gain.
In the fourth quarter I thought that Dennison had some really nice play designs in place for this game, including this zone read that Taylor keeps. With the team in the red zone, Dennison expects man coverage, so he arc releases TE Charles Clay.
This release brings his defender with him while leaving the ‘read’ man as Joey Bosa.
So rather than try to block Bosa, he attempts to use his aggressiveness against him. Bosa plays it flat, doesn’t crash hard on McCoy, and makes the decision for Taylor difficult. Taylor keeps it and gains four yards. It was a small wrinkle, but one that shows the staff has an idea about tendencies in this area.
Later in that drive on 4th-and-12, the Bills align in a 2×2 formation with McCoy to Taylor’s left. The Chargers have seven defensive backs on the field and rush four. Dennison sends in a ‘Sail’ concept. The #1 wide receiver is Andre Holmes, who runs a deep in-breaking route meant to clear and pull the deep half safety with him. Typically, this high/low concept has Clay running the corner route and McCoy the flat route, but Dennison swaps them. Clay runs a flat route and McCoy runs a corner route from the backfield. The backside routes are an in route by WR Jones and a 9 route by Thompson.
On the snap, Holmes gets vertical and his defender carries him up the field, and as Holmes breaks inside he catches the attention of the split field safety, Tre Boston. Safety Rayshawn Jenkins (#25) is aligned over Clay, and he sticks to him into the flat. Strong safety Phillips is lost on the play and, as McCoy shoots wide, Phillips runs with Clay. With Phillips turned around Shady sharply plants for the pylon.
Watch it unfold from the tight camera angle. Pre-snap, it appears to be cover 2 man, which is an advantageous matchup with McCoy vs. Phillips.
As Taylor is taking his drop he finds the deep safety, Boston. Taylor uses his eyes to hold Boston while Shady gains the necessary depth.
As Shady breaks for the end zone Taylor hits him in stride for the touchdown.
The turnovers in the first half, on top of the injury to WR Kelvin Benjamin, really put the Bills’ offense behind the eight ball. It would have been interesting to see how well this team would have played without all of the turnovers, because there appeared to be several matchups that could have been exploited. Instead, the move to start Peterman led to a 37-7 halftime deficit and a full-blown QB controversy, and it has only added to the lost identity of this offensive unit.