First year offensive coordinator Rick Dennison has struggled to put together a consistent offense this season. His patented zone blocking scheme has yet to be executed at the level it requires to be successful. The passing game has also struggled and really lacked creativity, but what is readily apparent on a weekly basis is that Dennison will show some creativity within his initial play script.
Most coaches like to script a certain amount of plays to start the game. This typically consists of multiple personnel packages and play concepts in order to get a feel for how the opposing coordinator is going to defend the offense.
In Dennison’s play script from week 12 he called a play that many of us have been hoping to see, given the talent of Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy. It’s a concept called a Run-Pass Option, or RPO. This means that QB Taylor will get to the line of scrimmage with a run play called, but that play also has a passing concept attached to it. Once the ball is snapped, the offensive line will block the run concept up and Taylor will read an underneath defender, known as a ‘conflict defender’. That defender’s actions will determine if it is a pass or run. If he fast-flows toward the run, then Taylor will pull it and throw a pass to the vacated area.
So, let’s take a look at how the Bills ran it in week 12.
Against the Chiefs and with the ball on the left hash, Dennison sends out 11 personnel and aligns them in a 2×2 set. The run is an outside zone run out of a shotgun formation to RB Travaris Cadet. The conflict defender is inside linebacker Derrick Johnson. He is the perfect type of defender to attack, given his tendency to fast flow toward runs.
If Johnson flows in the direction of the run by Cadet, this will open a big lane for speedy WR Thompson into the area vacated by Johnson, as he and TE Clay are running a simple slant/flat combination.
Unfortunately, much like the offense as a whole this season, it doesn’t go according to plan. On the snap, Taylor gets his eyes on Johnson, but Johnson doesn’t flow with Cadet. Instead, due to the formation, Johnson reads the play as a zone read where Taylor would either hand it off to Cadet or keep it and run wide, at which point Taylor is Johnson’s responsibility.
Given Johnson’s reaction to the play fake, Taylor should hand it off to Cadet, at which time Cadet could press the line of scrimmage and cut it back for a considerable gain. Taylor doesn’t give it to Cadet. Instead, he keeps it and attempts to hit Thompson on the slant. But Taylor is unable to hit Thompson on time and in the initial window, as there are two defenders in the passing lane.
So Taylor must then hold on to it for a split second longer and attempt to hit Thompson in the secondary window. By then, big defensive tackle Chris Jones is able to beat left guard Richie Incognito and get his hands up in the passing lane to bat it down.
Decisions on RPOs must be quick and on time, given that the offensive line is blocking run. Plays on which the pass can’t be thrown on schedule typically end with an illegal man downfield penalty. Luckily, the Bills were able to avoid a penalty on Eric Wood.
The play was one of the more creative ones that we have seen from Rick Dennison, but it was blatantly clear that it isn’t one that they practice enough. Taylor read the conflict defender incorrectly and, due to how the Chiefs wanted to defend the zone read, it put LB Johnson in the initial passing window. Taylor tries to make the best out of the play, but the timing is off and Jones bats the pass down as Tyrod attempts to get it into the secondary window.
The attempt to run an RPO was nice to see, but maybe there is a reason we haven’t seen many of these plays from Taylor over the years.
Check out a breakdown of a Run-Pass option (RPO) that I did for the BillsWire last season.