Well, before we get started, let’s make one thing very clear: the Buffalo Bills offense is great. they arrange Second at DVOA. They are second in expected added points. They are ranked second in points for each command (Which is kinda crazy, since they’re 31st in terms of turnover per drive). If it weren’t for those annoying Kansas City leaders, the Bills would have the best offense in the NFL.
Now that we’ve established: The Bills have a bit of an offensive problem.
I know what you’re thinking: it can’t be also Big problem, given how well the Bills offense has fared this season – and you’d be right. We don’t want to make mountains out of hills just because there are only eight teams left in the playoffs. Just because members of soccer’s elite class face off against each other in a do-or-die tournament, even the tiniest of weaknesses can be exploited and lead to defeat.
But the Bills have a bit of an offensive problem. And with a very tough divisional round opponent in the Cincinnati Bengals on the agenda this Sunday (and those pesky Chiefs a potential opponent for the conference championship next week), we’ll have to talk about the Bills’ offensive problem, in small measure. .
Over the past several weeks, the Bills offense has become more reliant on deep passing. These are passes that are hard to complete, even for a talented quarterback like Josh Allen (whose accurate throw rate on deep passes was tied for third-best in the league this year, according to TruMedia). These are passes that take time to develop, forcing the quarterback to stay in the pocket longer. And these passes, because they are so difficult to complete, often put the offense behind the sticks when they fall incompletely.
Here’s a graph of Josh Allen’s air yards per pass attempt per game since the start of the 2020 season — that’s three years’ worth of data. With a rolling average of Allen’s 10 most recent games, Allen has never thrown a football more often than he does now.
Of course, deep passes have a reward for all of these risks. When complete, they do more than just move sticks—they sculpt leaked Cutting from the defense, flipping field position, and immediately putting offense into scoring range, even scoring on occasion. Explosive plays are the most valuable thing an offense can generate other than results; It’s hard to blame the Bills for looking out for these plays.
However, the Bills’ offensive proficiency this season—again, second only to the Chiefs—doesn’t benefit from an aggressive focus on the field. get hurt by it.
Here’s a graph of Allen’s projected points added per touchdown, again over the past three years of football, again with a rolling average of the last 10 games. Allen’s efficiency peaked at the end of the 2021 season and the beginning of 2022, but has been on the decline this season. His turnover rate is now the lowest compared to the past three seasons.
Before anyone freaks out, please revisit the top paragraph. More reassurance: Allen’s EPA may be the lowest it has been in a while, but it’s still where it’s been throughout 2020 and into 2021. Most importantly, the offense isn’t bad — not at all! It’s a little worse than it could and probably should be.
This apparent poor achievement led some Bills fans to vent their frustration with new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, who replaced Brian Dabol when Dabol left to become the Giants’ head coach. It’s an understandable, easy connection: Dorsey is the new thing on the Bills’ offense, one that largely carries many of the same offensive linemen, offensive weapons, and philosophy from last season. But as ringerDorsey’s offense was actually better than Daboll’s offense last year, Stephen Ruiz noted this week – at least during this season.
Compared to 2021, Bills offense is better at…
Environmental Protection Agency
Chain success rate (turning a group of dips into the first down)
While Allen’s accuracy rate is pretty low, and he’s only scrambled three times this year, so it’s not like he’s making any more.
– Stephen Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) January 16, 2023
We also can’t attribute the increase in shots on the field to Dorsey’s offense. Depending on the path density, the Bills send their receivers to the same general areas of the field at the same frequency. Compare these heat maps of the routes the Bills offense has run over the past three seasons: Dorsey gets a few mail-ordered routes to deep midfield, but other than that, Dorsey and Daboll’s offense is very similar.
So the burden of focusing on the Bells’ crimes doesn’t fall on Dorsey: it does on Allen. When you rip through the film of these last few months of Allen’s game, you see a desperate player chasing the deep putt, even when it isn’t ideal. Nowhere was this more evident than in last week’s Bills-Dolphins game, where Allen’s field goal north averaged 16 yards — the highest individual mark of any game he’s played in the past three years. Once again, the Bills are fine – they scored 34 points! — but they weren’t nearly as good, and Allen’s reckless play is a big part of the reason.
One of Allen’s two objections last week was the result of this unnecessary aggression. On this play, the Bills run the flood concept, attacking all three levels for one sideline. They’re in dense personnel with wide receiver John Brown on the field going deep clearing, so that’s the look of a tailored play. The Browns are technically in the lead for Allen, but just in case he has an immediate advantage—otherwise, Allen must look for the middle space created for tight end Dawson Knox on corner road.
At the moment, as Allen approaches the pocket and prepares to throw, Brown is clearly covered: The corner back in man coverage over Brown has the perfect position to pop a deep bomb into the sideline. There is no opportunity to open this way.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of options for Allen to check out the football below — and if Allen is still feeling aggressive, FB hole back Reggie Gilliam unfolds in a tight window.
During the play, he watches as Allen refuses to take his eyes off Brown, hits the press, and unleashes a bomb that is eventually intercepted. This was a reckless play.
This is a particularly terrible decision, and an example of Allen just doing a bad job. However, there are more examples of plays that are in a gray area – and this is where real improvement from Allen can come in.
Here’s the first and 10th look at the Bills game – at this point the Dolphins had cut the lead to three with just under 11 minutes remaining. It would be nice if the Bills scored for sure – but it’s even better if you score at the end of a long, methodical run. The Dorsey dial up concept hopes to create star WR Stefon Diggs intermediate space on a crossing pattern, with multiple runs underneath that pull defenders out of the area toward the line of scrimmage, and an clearance route from WR Gabriel Davis that pulls cornerback and safety deep.
This is exactly the look Allen gets. Here is the image at the top of Allen’s drop:
Diggs is clearly about to storm space, while Davis slings a small fake header his way. Allen sets his eyes on Davis, to see if the double action will catch up a sleeping corner and create a break for a downfield shot.
Davis gets Some Separation – surely enough to justify throwing a football. But again, this throw has a high degree of difficulty, while the forward to Diggs couldn’t be more open – and also has great playability! Diggs hit a stride and he can swing high and make huge gains. But Allen hits a throw at Davis, who is fumbled, and breaks up the fairway. second and 10.
Allen might repeat it in the movie room and say, “Davis got enough breakaways that I liked the pitch – and I still do. I just need to field a better ball.” And he is not mistaken. Dorsey might say, “We love our heavily armed quarterback and giant speed receiver in any head-look versus man-covering angle.” And he will not be mistaken. Bills fans might say, “We need Josh Allen to try these super throws in order to beat Joe Burrow, the Bengals, Patrick Mahomes, and the Chiefs” — and there’s a good chance they’re not wrong either.
But an NFL quarterback is not cut and dry. There is not one right choice among countless wrong ones in any given game; No style of play is better than the rest. Playing quarterback—especially at the highest level—is an exercise in small adjustments. In recognizing when to pay, and knowing when to let crime work for you. Knowing when to be Superman and when to be Clark Kent.
Allen’s last stint has been great among quarterbacks in general – but it wasn’t the best ball he could have played, nor the best ball he’d played, over the past few years. Ironically, the problem is that he plays every time as if he had returned in the second half of the legendary penalty shootout against Chiefs in the AFC League round just a year ago. He plays the same thing pattern-Only he went too far around the bend. It’s too much. It’s time to fight back.
I have every confidence in it can. Allen, while still generally an aggressive and risk-tolerant player, is also a very talented quarterback. His offensive coordinator is the same guy who’s been his quarterbacking coach for the past few years. The man who originally nurtured him into being the great quarterback, this rival of Mahomes and Burrow. But the time has come now – not next week against Mahomes, not in the Super Bowl, but now. The Bills may have eluded Skylar Thompson and the Dolphins, but more chaotic offensive performances like those in the wild-card round would leave the Bills in place last season: thinking about how close they were to watching the stars. AFC Stadium they can’t beat.