Ken Dorsey was promoted to offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills in 2022, bringing with him a wealth of experience as a player and but very little as a coordinator. He was tasked with leading an already talented offensive unit, led by quarterback Josh Allen, who had established himself as one of the top young signal-callers in the league. Dorsey and his offensive staff faced several challenges as he attempted to maintain the level of play of the offense while attempting to integrate his offensive philosophies into a scheme that had been in place for the previous four years.
I thought one of Dorsey’s strengths was his ability to establish a strong run game. Now, maybe this was due to the Bills adding offensive line guru Aaron Kromer back to the staff, but bringing it all together fell on Dorsey’s doorstep. Dorsey and Kromer worked well together at marrying their core concepts to the personnel they had along the offensive line, and at running back.
Over the course of the season, the Bills developed run concepts that they could hang their hat on. Concepts such as the Mid-Zone and Tackle Wrap, which helped the Bills to average 4.9 yards per carry in 2022, good for 8th in the league (RBs only). This wasn’t always the case under Brian Daboll. On a week to week basis, the run concepts seemed to almost always change. Which sounds great, but it can create issues because you aren’t truly majoring in anything. Which means the very little practice time you spend on the run game is spent teaching or repping different run checks and adjustments each week. Dorsey and Kromer want that sort of stuff streamlined so the linemen can play faster.
I don't hear Kromer complaining about the lack of practice/contact.— Cover 1 (@Cover1) January 9, 2019
*Progression to teaching
*We are kicking airs ass!
*No contact is the "best thing to happen to us"
*Feel the movement before contact
*Create muscle memory on air
One of these guys @EWood70 ?? pic.twitter.com/6rgxomAlff
Some of the Bills’ core run concepts ran were the correct path, given the offensive guards the Bills had on the roster and Kromer’s expertise. Mid-Zone was one of my favorite run concepts because of how many explosive runs the Bills got out of it.
James Cook made some house calls on several Mid-Zone calls, early in the year it was with Allen under center and Cook on the dot.
Then later in the year, the Bills dialed it up out of Shotgun, and we saw similar results with the ball in Cook’s hands. Here’s a Mid-Zone run tied to Buffalo’s Run Pass Option game.
Dorsey’s emphasis on the run game also tied in well with their Tackle Wrap Concepts. Tackle Wrap or ‘Dart’ is a Gap run, so a concept with a puller, but the pullers were Tackles Dion Dawkins or Spencer Brown. It’s an amazing concept because those two hog mollies are very good pullers but tackle pulls aren’t common so they catch defenses off-guard. Linebackers aren’t used to keying tackles as pullers, so it can slow their processing down a half a click which can lead to nice gains.
The Bills have had success running this Dart/Tackle Wrap Concept all season. It pairs so well with their Mid Zone Read rushing concept and passing game as a whole. pic.twitter.com/6hBuPMN4Pv— Cover 1 (@Cover1) December 28, 2022
But the other reason this concept impressed me was because Dorsey and Kromer made the play look similar to Mid-Zone. They did this by incorporating similar running back footwork prior to the handoff, which is what linebackers key in on post-snap. But as you can see, the footwork between Mid-Zone and Dart (Tackle Wrap) may look the same, but the landmarks where the running back enters the line of scrimmage are drastically different, which can cause linebackers to process slower.
Play 1 Dart - The Bills have LOVED running Dart. Watch aiming point/footwork of Motor.— Erik Turner (@ErikJTurner) December 11, 2022
Play 2 Mid Zone - They have added what I'm calling Mid Zone to make it look like Dart. It looks & feels like Dart. Watch the footwork of Motor but also the LB - he thinks Dart is coming! pic.twitter.com/KbVtsVdMV3
The Bills’ staff took it to another level, by not only making the two run concepts look similar, but they tied it into their Run Pass Option portion of the playbook. Dorsey built in passing concepts or options for Allen to read the box numbers or a specific defender to get the offense in an advantageous play. Late in the season, the Bills execute this strategy by calling a Slant – Flat pass concept along with a Mid-Zone run against the Dolphins. The threat of pass holds the backside linebacker and gives Cook an angle to rip off a chunk play.
The further into the season we get, the more I’m liking the run game. Look at how the Conflict defender pauses for a second and it gives Cook just enough space to scoot by. pic.twitter.com/hNVhi9hCby— Erik Turner (@ErikJTurner) December 29, 2022
The Bills’ run game finished 7th in rushing overall, and 2nd in rushing yards per play at 5.19. I know a lot of you are saying, “But yeah, that includes runs by Allen.”
If you isolate just the running back attempts, they averaged 4.9 yards per attempt – which was 8th overall. This was a significant improvement over the previous two seasons, where the team averaged 4.3 and 4.5 yards per carry, respectively. Exactly the direction this organization wanted to head. They aren’t ever going to be a run-heavy offense with Allen at the helm, so when they do run it, they need to have concepts they can hang their hat on so that they can maximize those touches. And that’s exactly what the Bills did. Even with some of the offensive line struggles, the Bills’ line got their running backs into the 2nd levels and into the open field, ranking 7th and 3rd respectively.
This is a GREAT thing— Erik Turner (@ErikJTurner) February 9, 2023
They don't run often, but when they do, they better MAXIMIZE those opportunities
4th in Power Success rank
7th in 2nd level rank
3rd in Open Field rank https://t.co/YFwJJtzsQe pic.twitter.com/M5Jtl4MsFo
The integration and emphasis of some of these run concepts allowed running backs Devin Singletary and James Cook to flourish. Cook led the league in PFF’s Breakaway Percentage stat at 44.1%, which is the measurement of a running back’s big play ability by taking the yards gained on 15+ yard runs and dividing it by their total rushing yards. Cook finished the season with 11 runs of 15 yards or more and his running mate Singletary finished with 13. So the two of them combined bested the leader in that category Nick Chubb, by one in just about the same amount of rushing attempts.
Dorsey and the Bills’ offense has had their struggles, but their run game strategy was assuredly a success and something they should look to carry with them going into the 2023 season.