The topic of the Buffalo Bills’ rushing attack has been a focus of the 2021 offseason for both the team and the fans. After the run game struggled to find consistency in 2020, Brandon Beane was clear in saying that he did not want to blame Zack Moss and Devin Singletary for the lack of efficiency in that area. During his initial press conference before the team’s first training camp practice, Brandon Beane said that the approach to the running back position will be “similar to last year. Brian Daboll will go with the hot hand, maybe one guy this week, and the other guy next week.”
As Daboll has certainly preferred a committee approach to the running back position during his time with the Bills, this is not unexpected. In 2019, Buffalo’s backfield relied on Singletary and Frank Gore. In 2020, Moss shouldered a relatively heavy workload on offense The fact that they have different skillsets and styles of running helps Buffalo’s offense, as the two complement each other well. But it also requires some careful game planning and decision making in what plays to call for each one, and how that affects the offensive line – not just week to week, but potentially in how they determine the starting lineup, to begin with.
Beane and the Bills were understandably disappointed with Singletary’s regression in 2020. Beane said today, “Singletary, I thought he had a good rookie year, last year for whatever reason he didn’t have the same year, it wasn’t all bad either… he just expected more out of himself… had a good offseason.” Beane and the coaching staff seem to have faith in their third-round pick from 2019, and at the very least will provide insurance to Moss as he continues to come back from his knee injury.
On the topic of insurance, the Bills’ under-the-radar signing of Matt Brieda does create some questions as to how many running backs the Bills will carry in 2021. Breida brings an element of speed that is lacking from Buffalo’s running back room, but he also has had some trouble with some minor injuries that have hindered his availability. Brieda’s speed would be a welcome addition to change things up from Moss’s downhill style, and Singletary’s patient shiftiness.
That being said, Beane talked about how there are going to be tough decisions made with the roster given how deep they are at a lot of positions, and running back is no exception. This requires having players that may have had roles exclusively on special teams having to bring something to the table offensively or defensively. In that same vein, Beane made a point to single out Taiwan Jones, who he called “an elite gunner” on special teams. He also added that “It’s important for those guys who are not front-line starters to play 2, 3, 4 phases for us.”
Beane calling Jones “an elite gunner” seems to indicate that the Bills like Jones enough to keep him on the roster, even if he doesn’t bring something tangible to the offense. In Breida’s case, it seems like in order for him to stick on this team, he will have to show he can stay healthy, be consistent when he plays on offense, and probably add something to the special teams units. His speed would suggest a role as a returner, but Buffalo already has Isaiah McKenzie and Marquez Stevenson on the roster likely competing for that role.
All in all, the Bills’ rushing attack will be a focal point of the team’s attention during training camp. While this is certainly a pass-first offense, it was clear in the playoffs, particularly in the AFC Championship game against the Chiefs that the Bills needed to find the right balance between pass and run. As Beane said earlier in the offseason, this does not mean running the ball equally to passing the ball, but rather finding the right way to maximize the efficiency of running the ball when they choose to. Running the ball better does not mean running the ball more often.
Moss and Singletary are primed to share the major part of the workload, and after that, it’s some question marks. Will Breida find a role as a change-of-pace player? If he does, will the Bills commit to keeping four running backs on the roster with Taiwan Jones being purely a special teams contributor? Will someone unmentioned by Beane today, such as Antonio Williams, or 2019 preseason fan-favorite Christian Wade, emerge in training camp and usurp a role from someone else on the team? These are the questions heading into camp, and they’re questions that will soon be answered as the Bills return to football in 2021.