As the season progresses and the Bills’ young receiving corps gets more reps, they keep getting better. Josh Allen has developed an affinity for receivers Robert Foster and Isaiah McKenzie, and the staff has done a good job of scheming plays to their skills.
In the first half against the Lions, the Bills got the ball to McKenzie early and often. The former Georgia Bulldog has done most of his damage from the slot, having lined up there 73.5% of the time, per Pro Football Focus, and has been targeted 24% of those snaps.
All six of McKenzie’s receptions against the Lions came when he was in the slot, and we are going to examine five of them.
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll schemed up some easy pitch-and-catches for the offense. The Bills align in an empty set and key linebacker Jarrad Davis. This was a theme in the first half, and it was executed cleanly. McKenzie and Allen are on the same page on the play and are able to steal some easy yardage underneath.
On 3rd-and-4, Daboll comes back to the zero running back, zero tight end set and give McKenzie another easy route. But the young receiver gets most of the credit here as he throttles down in the Tampa 2 coverage window.
There’s a reason general manager Brandon Beane attempted to snag McKenzie off the Broncos practice squad a couple times this year, and that’s because he is a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands. Daboll dials up a Run-Pass Option on 1st-and-10 consisting of a power run paired with a WR screen. The pull-and-run action by right guard John Miller splits the defense in half.
You may remember a similar play run earlier in the year against the Vikings by Allen and WR Ray-Ray McCloud.
But McKenzie’s speed is the difference against the Lions.
Near the top of the second stanza, Daboll dials up a shallow cross concept from a condensed set. This is a concept Allen has struggled to throw this season, often going through his progressions but failing to pull the trigger on schedule.
But against the Lions, he smoothly goes through his progressions and hits McKenzie, who is running the hook route.
On the final play of this mini-breakdown, the threat of McKenzie running the deep over route really opened up another opportunity over the middle of the field. The coverage shows as Cover 3 match, Cover 6, or some sort of combo coverage with both safeties working against McKenzie, but either way, what McKenzie and Robert Foster have put on film helped. Rather than running the deep over route, McKenzie smartly hooks it up and brings in the pass from Allen.
The Bills’ pro scouts have done a tremendous job over the last two seasons of finding role players for the organization. As soon as he was signed to the squad, Daboll and the staff immediately began drawing up plays for him. The speedy receiver seems to have gained the trust of Allen and Daboll and is a weapon that the team can carry into next season’s campaign.