While most of you were stuck at work glued to your Twitter timeline, I was glued to the aluminum bleachers observing the first day of Buffalo Bills training camp. Okay, enough gloating lets get down to the nuts and bolts of what I saw at practice.
Red Zone Work
From the moment the team hit the turf, the tone was set. Everything the players were working on appeared to be geared towards the red zone. Just about every single snap on the first day of Buffalo Bills Training Camp took place inside the red zone. To me, this screams to just how unhappy the staff was with the production, or lack thereof, on both sides of the ball in that area last year. The offense ranked No. 29 overall in DVOA in the red zone and No. 31 in red zone passing, while the defense ranked No. 31 and No. 30 in passing, respectively. (Football Outsiders).
Last year, the theme in training camp was the 50-50, backs shoulder throws to the big targets at wide receiver. This year is much different. On day one, the team focused on throwing to spots in the end zone. Landmark throws, anyone? The quarterbacks came out early and were working on throws to the backline, front and back pylons. Which typically aligns with red zone, smash concept (high/low) concepts.
QBs working the nets. Backline, back and front pylon. pic.twitter.com/rXR6DMq0dM
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) July 25, 2019
Josh Allen and Matt Barkley nailed a lot of these throws, routinely changing ball speed. Rookie Tyree Jackson’s passes to the back pylon were a little flatter and slightly off, but as expected, he is work in progress. These pylon throws were practiced to the right side of the field for the majority of the time – another sign that these throws would show up later in practice and indeed they did.
During several of the team segments, the offense worked the sidelines with various “Smash” concepts. Early in practice, the team sent out 11 personnel with WR Cole Beasley out wide, WR John Brown on the line of scrimmage in the slot, TE Dawson Knox in-line to the right and WR Zay Jones out wide to the right (2×2 formation), with RB LeSean McCoy to the right of QB Josh Allen. Allen motioned Beasley into a stacked set right behind Brown, something that they did a ton of today. On the snap, Brown sped off to the back pylon with Beasley running an option route underneath. As the defender gained depth to pass Brown onto the defensive back, Beasley hooked it up inside the chalk where Allen hit him for a touchdown.
One specific personnel grouping was reminiscent of the Patriots in the Super Bowl was a heavy 22 personnel grouping. While it’s a heavy run set, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll spread the defense out and threw the ball. One particular play lined up FB Patrick Dimarco out wide to the left, TE/U Dawson Knox in the left slot, TE/Y Lee Smith motioned to the off-line tight end position to the left (3×1 formation) leaving WR Zay Jones in a tight nasty split on the line of scrimmage to the right and RB Devin Singletary in the backfield to Allen’s right.
On the snap, Jones worked to the second level and out wide with Singletary running a ‘Ram’ or ‘Texas’ route over the middle where Allen hit him for a touchdown.
Daboll had some other creative play call designs, another one that involved Singletary placed him in the slot with Allen in the gun. Allen motioned Singletary to the right in an ‘Orbit’ motion path (arcs behind the QB). Morse snapped the ball, Allen faked the run to Patrick Dimarco who was lined up to his right then threw a swing pass to Singletary out to the right with at least two blockers out in front. Just one way to get a slippery back out in space.
Later, Daboll used a similar concept but with Beasley in the slot running the ‘Orbit’ motion where Allen appeared to go through typical zone read steps, keeping it then swinging it to Beasley. It could really set up to be a triple option playcall.
But his most creative play put Beasley in the backfield. The concept was the old Chip Kelly Mesh concept (below). Just picture the defense in man coverage and a linebacker matched up with the primary receiver Beasley wheeling up the sideline. The amount of traffic he will need to work through if there isn’t a ‘Banjo’ or switch call.
If the defense sorts out the wheel, then the ‘Mesh’ routes over the middle will be the quarterback’s next read. Specifically, the route by the X shown below. After hitting Beasley early in the day on the wheel, it was taken away later and Brown who aligned in the slot as the X below, came open after the rub set by Knox for a touchdown. It’s a nice package that maximizes how much attention a defense will pay to Beasley and using Brown’s speed to separate horizontally not just vertically.
Overall, I thought Josh Allen’s decision making on this red zone heavy practice were quick. He looked in command, comfortable and understood where to begin his reads. Throughout practice, he showed the ability to take some heat off of throws when needing to drop it into the deep area over a defender. The speed outside really helped Allen in his decision making.
Where Allen seemed to struggle with his ball placement was when the offense moved the pocket with rollout or semi-rollout throws to his right with a receiver attacking the front pylon. On at least three occasions Allen rolled right and targeted Beasley at the front pylon. The second-year player threw the ball incomplete two times out ahead of Beasley. On the one completion, the pass was slightly behind the newly signed receiver and he was unable to catch it and reach for the pylon.
Based on what Ken Dorsey and his unit were working on early in practice, it was clear throwing to his right is not only a work in progress but something they are focusing on.
Without pads and or hitting I mainly focused on the offensive side of the ball. The three players that stood out were WR John Brown, RB Devin Singletary and TE Dawson Knox.
Brown’s speed is obviously going to be a threat deep but as WGR’s Sal Capaccio said to me – he isn’t just a motherf$$%$%^ deep threat.
His ability to separate is the exact trait that got him a three-year $27 million dollar contract. Brown’s 4.34 speed in the red zone area made Allen’s decision to throw it to him on crossing routes or to the back pylon quite easy. When matched up versus a corner, he showed that he could sell an inside route then plant and drive to the back of the end zone like he did for a touchdown. But he also was running away from zone defenders underneath.
Allen hits Brown with a touch throw to back pylon for a TD. Wide open. He separated like whoa.
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) July 25, 2019
An interesting dynamic that I noticed was the amount of beef the Bills have along the offensive line on day one. The line from left to right was as follows: Dion Dawkins, Quinton Spain, Mitch Morse, Jon Feliciano and Cody Ford. That’s a mauling set of offensive linemen to line up in the red zone, but then the Bills trotted fast and quick receivers outside. How do you use their speed yet diminutive size in the red zone? Condensed formations and tight splits.
A lot of condensed formations in RZ. Some pistol, some jet action, zone read, but speed still at WR.
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) July 25, 2019
If they want to run the ball, they can conceivably control the line of scrimmage, but if they want to pass, Allen has receivers that can separate.
Devin Singletary stood out mainly because he got the pass catching reps ahead of TJ Yeldon. The rookie from Florida Atlantic isn’t known for catching balls out of the backfield, having only caught 51 passes for 397 yards and one touchdown during his collegiate career. But it’s clear that the lack of targets in the passing game may have been more a product of the offense than an indictment of his skill in that department. He ran some nice, crisp routes out of the backfield on nub tight end sets and didn’t appear to fight the ball regardless of spin on it.
Given the high praise Singletary received during OTAs and from what I saw on day one, I am extremely excited to see how his touches are manufactured.
I think it’s safe to say that rookie tight end Dawson Knox is Daboll’s new toy.
Daboll lined the nearly 6-foot-4 254 pound tight end everywhere. By my recollection, Knox lined up out wide, in the slot, in-line and off-line. The primary focus in the red zone were nub tight end sets like the images above. How a defense will look to defend the backside of trips looks with Knox as the target will be interesting. Today he ran a lot of seam routes in 2×2 sets, corner routes on ‘Snag’ concepts and hooks over the middle.
On the play below you will see the offense send out 21 personnel, but align DiMarco in an off-line tight end position. The defense sends both corners to the twins WR side. The motion by DiMarco out wide helps Allen identify the defense as zone coverage as they settle into a 3×1 nub TE set. On the snap, Allen scans left to right and knows that there will be a nice window opening up for Knox over the middle as the outside linebacker screams wide to cover the running back running an option route. Allen threads it through a tight window but Poyer broke the play up. But a very nice use of personnel, formation and scheme.
Video courtesy of Matt Bartolotta
Day one was super exciting from the standpoint of the regime knows their weaknesses from last year and that was the red zone. So the team decided to come out and make that the only focus. The offensive staff inserted their new weapons into the lineup and put their skills to work. Young players like Knox and Singletary were able to get a lot of action in the passing game, and the play speed of Beasley and Brown showed on lookers how much of a difference they could be for Allen and the offense.