Last weekend, the Buffalo Bills got their seventh win of the season, their best start in 20 years. Much of the credit needs to go to the offensive staff and players as they were able to put up 37 points on the road.
A lot is being made of Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll being up in the coaches’ booth, but I believe his ability to communicate with QB Josh Allen via the headset is overblown. “When you have good game plans, when the players take ownership of those game plans,” Head Coach Sean McDermott stated on Monday, “the mentality of the football team comes to light and the execution was at a high level yesterday, and that’s really the key week to week.”
The game plan appeared to be somewhat narrow in scope and the offense seemed to respond. The offense was able to execute at a high level through the use of limited personnel groupings, tempo, and good audibles. This was a plan that closely resembled what Rams Head Coach Sean McVay does on a weekly basis.
Flashback from camp https://t.co/QehWOnj80G
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) November 19, 2019
One of the main passing concepts the Bills used was the Spot concept. This is a three-level triangle passing concept meant to attack half of the field. The play puts three receivers at nearly different depths of the field. This is a very good play to throw versus zone coverage.
On the first drive, the Dolphins showed a single-high zone look, which Allen likely perceived to be Cover 3. Post-snap, he was looking to get it to Beasley, but the hook-to-curl defender’s alignment and read after the snap took it away, so Allen hit TE Dawson Knox in the flats for a 9-yard gain.
Near the top of the second quarter, Allen and the offense go to a no-huddle approach, something they did on 12 plays in this game. When the offense used no-huddle and passed the ball, Allen went 8-for-12 for 105 yards and two touchdowns. On this play, the Bills were in the same trips alignment as above, but this time Beasley was the point man in the trips. Allen audibled to the very same Spot concept they ran earlier because the second-year QB saw the same coverage. So Beasley and WR Isaiah McKenzie trade spots, making Beasley the #1 outside. On the snap, the defense drops into Cover 3, but middle linebacker Jerome Baker drops to the same landmark that safety Eric Rowe does. With the flats defender widening with Knox and Baker out of the picture, the read is simple for Allen, so he fires it to Beasley for a 7-yard gain.
Two plays later, out of the no-huddle, Allen again notices the vanilla coverage. He gets to the line of scrimmage and audibles to the Spot concept, and this time fans can hear him yelling out “Dalmation,” which is a good title to use for the play, seeing as how it is a Spot concept. Everyone talks about how going no-huddle helps Allen get into rhythm and see the field better at the line of scrimmage, but tempo also forces the defense to have a plan against it. The defense must have coverage checks to defend the offense, and if they don’t — if they go to these vanilla coverages — Allen has shown that he can pick apart a defense out of the very same concept. The other interesting thing about this 3×1 alignment is that it isolates wide receiver John Brown. So if the defense plays man coverage, Allen and Brown can work several routes to win one-on-one. But with the Tampa 2 coverage on this play, Brown converted his route to a go route. All Allen had to do post-snap was hold the backside safety to Brown’s side with his eyes and deliver the pass in the soft spot of the zone. As expected, the pump fake and eye discipline by Allen gets the safety to open to the middle of the field. Brown then tight-ropes the sideline and looks the ball in, breaks the tackle, and trots into the end zone to put the away team up 13-0.
Answers to the Test
Allen excelled on early downs against the division foes. He went 10-for-10 on first down for 121 yards and two touchdowns. A large portion of that can be attributed to the no-huddle and the audibles Allen and the offense had in their arsenal. But the staff also gets a pat on the back because the Dolphins tested Allen on several occasions, but it seemed like he had the answers to the test.
One of the trends around the league, especially against young quarterbacks, is to call Cover 0 blitzes. Send an all out rush at the quarterback and force him to make a quick decision on where to go with the ball. The Browns tested Allen in week 10 and things didn’t go so well. But the staff made adjustments during the week and appeared to give Allen outlets when these situations arose.
On the first play of the second quarter, the Dolphins stack the box. The Bills have what appears to be a run called, specifically a ‘Duo’ run. Luckily, the staff had an answer to this Cover 0 look by having a back-side route tagged for Brown. Allen takes the snap as the Dolphins roll into Cover 0, but the ball is out of his hands immediately. Brown takes the slant for 24 yards and the Bills are in business near mid-field.
Later in the second quarter, Daboll dials up a run-pass option out of a 2×2 set. The Bills pull left guard Quinton Spain to the weak side to influence LB Baker, and he takes the cheese and vacates the middle of the field. Typically, Baker would have been the read or ‘conflict defender’ but because Rowe drops down after the snap, Allen is reading him instead. Allen opens to the furthest target, TE Knox, who is running the flats route of this slant-flat combination. Rowe reads Allen’s body language and screams to the flats, even though Knox is covered by the flats defender, Reshad Jones. This allows Allen to reset his feet and fire the ball into Brown in the secondary window for a 17-yard gain.
Two plays later, Allen and the offense align in the trips set of the day, but the signal-caller switches up the formation. Allen shifts the offense into a 2×2 set and calls out “Grease,” which is ‘duo.’ So on the snap, the offensive linemen will be blocking down, to their left. The Dolphins execute a run blitz, but somehow Motor finds a crease. The weak-side defensive tackle, who is in a 3-technique, dives into the B-gap with the 7-technique edge defender looping into the A-gap. The unblocked defender, Jones, is blitzing but has bootleg, counter, reverse responsibilities. So he has to attack Allen’s outside shoulder in case he keeps it and rolls out. Left tackle Dawkins recognizes the defender looping inside, so he attacks him and pins him inside while center Mitch Morse widens the 3-tech defensive tackle before climbing to the inside linebacker. Singletary finds a crease right in between the blocks by Dawkins and Spain, who rode the 3-tech defensive tackle to the ground, thanks to Morse. Finally, the little bubble screen run by slot receiver McKenzie pulled a defender out of the box and the Bills are able to gain 21 yards on the play. The rookie running back fumbled it at the end of the play but, fortunately for Buffalo, Brown was there to scoop it up to continue the drive.
Three plays later, Allen and Knox connect for a touchdown on what appeared to be another Cover 0 blitz. Daboll gave credit to the young tight end: “he’s smart guy, they actually brought one more than we could block, but he kind of quickened-up his route, got his head around quickly, which is really important for a quarterback in the body language, that he can see him and deliver [the pass] on time.”
While this game was not against a premier defense, I think the staff has found a recipe for success: limited personnel groupings, but specifically, heavy use of 11 personnel with Brown, Beasley, McKenzie, Knox, and Singletary. This grouping puts speed on the field to stress man or zone defenses, while still having McKenzie on the field to run jet sweeps and swing screens. Using that grouping in the trips set I outlined earlier also makes it easier to detect how the defense is going to defend the plays called, which of course makes in-game adjustments that much easier for the staff and for Allen, as described by Brown on the 40-yard touchdown. Using one primary group can also allow the offense to use tempo at any given moment, which forces the defense to have checks and audibles in place. If they don’t, and the opponent plays vanilla coverage like the Dolphins did, Allen can then slice and dice the defense. The other key ingredient was RPOs. These quick-read types of plays were easy completions for Allen, and the answers he needed to get the Bills their seventh win.