One Play: Impact of the Bills’ Tight Ends in 12 Personnel

09/20/2023
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Entering the 2023 NFL season, there were a lot of signs pointing to the Buffalo Bills using more 12 (one running back, two tight ends) and 13 (one RB, three TE) personnel groups. They had tried to bring in more tight ends over the last few years but it never really played out the way we think they had hoped. The next indicator they wanted to modify the offense this way was investing a first-round pick in Dalton Kincaid. Most of the early returns suggest the Bills’ front office and coaching staff found what they wanted in Kincaid to make the transition to 12.

It is way too early in the season to make definitive declarations about what the Bills are now on offense, but through two weeks, they lead the league in snaps out of 12. They have run 12 personnel on 50% of their offensive snaps. It has been working too: the Bills also lead the NFL in 10+ yds plays from that grouping with 13. The Bills have 74 dropbacks (40) + rush attempts (34) through two games. The next highest on the list is the Pats with 54 (SIS). So, they’re using more TEs more often. What does that look like?

The Play

Personnel

The Bills come out in 13: one RB, three TEs, and one WR.  Josh Allen is under center with James Cook in the I behind him. Trent Sherfield is the WR positioned at the numbers to the boundary side. Dalton Kincaid is in line as the TE to the boundary. The other two TEs are Dawson Knox in-line and Quinton Morris offset to the field side. Knox and Morris make the strength of the formation to the right.

Sherfield will motion in and then back out a couple of steps before running a go route. It looks like Kincaid wants to run a 10-yard out but Vegas LB Divine Deablo is in the way, and Kincaid takes the route deeper. It appears that this was Sail, but it’s hard to say for certain when Deablo forces that change. Cook takes a play-action fake from Allen, comes up to the line, hesitates for a fraction of a second, then goes into the flat. Knox and Morris block.

The Raiders appear to be in Cover 3. CB Jakorian Bennett takes Sherfield deep, and Trevon Moehrig drops to the deep middle. Robert Spillane drops into the hook/curl area and has to keep deep enough to make it difficult to hit Kincaid over him. This will matter in a second.

The Snap

The Bills have all three TEs in line or tight. Vegas is in Nickel with four down linemen in an over front.

When Mitch Morse hikes to Allen, Dawkins passes behind Kincaid to lock up Malcolm Koonce. The rest of the line blocks to the right: McGovern blocks Jenkins, Torrence and Morse combo block Nichols, Brown engages with Crosby, but Crosby begins a stunt around Nichols. Morse pulls off Nichols to pick up Crosby, but Crosby swings even wider around Jenkins as well. It looks like Crosby considered the A gap but thought he might be able to get around McGovern as well and have a straight shot at Allen.

Knox initially prepares to help Brown with Crosby, but since Crosby went on the stunt, Knox assists Morris with Hobbs.

The Coverage

Epps and Peters have to respect the possibility that Knox and/or Morris might run a route and have to hold to confirm they are blocking and not chipping and releasing. Bennett and Deablo have picked up Sherfield and Kincaid respectively. Moehrig has the deep responsibility and shifts to that side. Spillane has to drop to make sure Kincaid can’t just sit down behind him. He drops all the way back to the 25.

After the play action, when Cook approaches the line of scrimmage, he pauses like he might have a blocking responsibility. That lets Spillane stay in his dropback for two or three more steps, which keeps the flat wide open for Cook. The coverage and the route combinations have cleared out a section of the field.

Note Crosby. If he had taken his stunt up the A gap or had Allen held the ball longer, he might have created some pressure. The long loop essentially takes him out of this play.

The Result

Allen makes the easy pass to Cook, who turns around to find wide-open spaces to burn the jets. Cook’s burst gets him past Spillane. Sherfield keeps Bennett occupied deep, and Deablo fails to turn around. When he finally does, Kincaid seals him off. Moehrig comes up from deep, but at this point, it’s a 26-yard gain down to the Raiders’ eight for first and goal.

The change in personnel has allowed the Bills to be more of a ball control offense. Allen now has weapons that can help in pass protection so that guys like Cook can become assets to the passing game instead of being relegated to block. But Knox, Kincaid, and even Morris can also leak out and be major weapons in the passing game, especially on passes underneath where they can pitch in some run-after-the-catch ability much like Cook on this play.

You can find Chris on Twitter (@lowbuffa), getting dirty in #MafiaGardens, or watching football. Go Bills!

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