The start of the Buffalo Bills’ seasons saw some players with high hopes be left behind. Dawson Knox and James Cook factored in minimally over the first eight games, and as the Bills’ offense hit a lull, their lack of production became more apparent. In the second half of the season, Buffalo made a concerted effort to get both more involved, and both Knox and Cook’s recent production bodes well for the Bills’ offense entering the postseason
Expectations for Dawson Knox were high heading into the 2022 NFL season. Bills coaches and fans alike hoped the fourth-year tight end, fresh off a breakout season and contract extension, would take another jump toward being one of the best at his position in the NFL. Knox frustratingly fell short of the hype through the first half of the season. But of late, he’s turned his season around and is back to being a key cog in the Bills’ offense.
How much has Dawson Knox improved? Through the first half of the season (in which Knox played five games), he ranked 27th in total yards, 25th in receptions, and 19th in yards per game. Since week 8, Knox ranks 7th in total yards, 7th in receptions, and 12th in yards per game, jumping from 29.6 yards to 39.6 yards per game. The tight end has also racked up touchdowns in three straight games.
James Cook, like Knox, had some lofty expectations. The second-round running back had a skill set that Buffalo’s backfield has missed for much of McDermott’s tenure – speed. His career could not have gotten off to a worse start. Cook fumbled his first career carry on the league’s opening night. He remained largely inefficient through the first half of the season, ranking 69th in EPA per rush among running backs with at least ten carries through week 7.
In the 2nd half of the season, Cook has been among the league’s most efficient runners, improving to 18th in EPA per rush and 5th in yards per attempt among running backs with at least ten carries at 6 yards a carry. Among running backs that played at least 20% of their team’s snaps through the second half of the season, James Cook ranks 1st in PFF’s breakaway run percentage, which measures percentage runs of more than 15 yards.
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— Erik Turner (@ErikJTurner) December 28, 2022
Starting with Knox and the passing game, Josh Allen discussed the importance of “…utilizing all our weapons” and how the Bills are better when more players are involved in the passing game. Dawson Knox is a problematic match-up for defenses. His size and athleticism make him a challenging match-up for linebackers or slot corners. His blocking (9th ranked run blocker by pff) allows the Bills to line him up in line without telegraphing whether it is a run or pass because he can do both well.
For Cook, a running game that is not just serviceable but is above average opens up more opportunities for the Bills. Besides the Ravens, most of the AFC defenses the Bills may encounter in the playoffs, like the Bengals, Cheifs, Dolphins, Chargers, or Jaguars, all have defenses that fall outside the top 10 in rush defense EPA. Since week 8, Buffalo ranks 8th in running back EPA per attempt. To make a bad movie analogy, the Bills with a diverse running game is an “Uh oh, Happy learned how to putt” situation for opposing defenses.