All of us know that the Buffalo Bills are a passing offense, but they haven’t necessarily targeted the running backs in the passing game over the past few years. In 2021, the Bills only targeted their running backs 16% of the time, which ranked 27th in the NFL.
Things may be set to change.
Throughout Buffalo’s first training camp practice session on Sunday, the running backs were a prime weapon in the passing game. James Cook and Raheem Blackshear ran a multitude of “ram” routes out of the backfield.
Even when they weren’t the primary option on the play, the quarterbacks still were able to find them. On one of these occasions, Allen quickly moved past his first two options in his progression to find Cook over the middle. I will say, Cook looked much quicker in person than on film. This will allow him to separate in the short area, but the Bills will need to be selective on when they are using him on those routes over the middle because he can get “bodied” and knocked off of his route by a linebacker.
Cover 1 Glossary
In the red zone, the running backs were the most targeted position. Early in practice, Buffalo came out in several heavy personnel groupings, including 22-personnel with Jake Kumerow, Dawson Knox, OJ Howard, Reggie Gilliam, and Cook. On this first play of the initial red zone segment, the Bills sent Knox, Howard, and Gilliam out wide to the right with Kumerow the solo wide receiver to the left and Cook in the backfield with Josh Allen. Allen then sent Cook in motion into the left slot. Linebacker Matt Milano followed him to the slot, signifying man coverage. On the snap, Kumerow ran a post route with Cook running a slot fade. Milano had fantastic coverage on the back and forced a very difficult throw, a throw that Allen wasn’t able to complete.
Red Zone work. 22 personnel.
Cook motioned to the slot and was the fade target.
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) July 24, 2022
The use of heavy personnel groupings, but in wide/spread alignments will create a dilemma for the defense. The 22-personnel grouping that the Bills used on that slot fade to Cook put the Bills in base defense with three linebackers on the field. It’s that type of chess match new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey wants to play with opposing defensive coordinators. The defense will be forced to shift to the passing strength, which can open up solo routes to the X-wide receiver and/or the running back.
The running backs were moved around a bunch. On a series of plays, Cook was aligned out wide and then motioned into a stacked look behind a wide receiver. As the ball was snapped, Cook was given the option route below. On both occasions, Cook was given the slant route and was open, but the ball had gone elsewhere.
Blackshear may have run the nastiest route by a running back. He was aligned in the backfield and released outside of the tackle box and up the field as if he was running a “ram” route, but then transitioned into a whip-like route because the linebacker walled him off. His route running and agility were on full display but unfortunately, the outside corner stayed home and forced the incompletion.
The running back position is one of the least guarded positions in the NFL. If Dorsey can use personnel groupings and formations to get their running backs in advantageous situations, the Bills’ offense will be even more difficult to stop.