Genius is a word that gets thrown around frivolously in football.
A genius isn’t a coach who concocts a new play or scheme never seen before, but rather one who can utilize players and scenarios based on what’s available. The Buffalo Bills fell short of that in their 24-18 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday.
While some Bills players have suggested publicly that offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey should simplify the offense, particularly by using up-tempo play, he may have overcorrected against the Bengals. Buffalo was often too simple and too vanilla, failing too often to use basic concepts to manipulate the defense.
One of those concepts is the use of motion before the snap. Not only does motion give an offense free information because the defense typically tips its hand when an offensive player moves from one side of the formation to the other, but it also can create mismatches before the ball is even snapped.
The Bills used motion on just 17 of their 55 offensive snaps, compared to the Bengals, who motioned on 31 of 67 plays. More puzzling is that the Bills were more successful when they used pre-snap motion.
Buffalo averaged 8.3 yards per play when using motion, compared to 4.6 without. Josh Allen also went 8 of 9 for 117 yards and a touchdown on motion plays, averaging 13 yards per attempt, nearly triple the 5.2 he had without motion.
One of the big plays the Bills created off of motion was on the first drive of the game. Stefon Diggs initially lined up to the right side, but was motioned to the left and the defense never adjusted.
By moving to the left slot, the only player who could get to him was a Bengals safety. He got a running start and Allen threw a simple swing pass. By time it left Allen’s hand the safety was 14 yards away and still in his backpedal, so Diggs picked up an easy first down and then turned it into a 34-yard gain by breaking a tackle.
A simple motion also led to the final touchdown of the game. Khalil Shakir started on the right and motioned to the left. The Bengals had two linebackers and two safeties in the box and the all shifted in the directions of Shakir’s motion.
That gave Diggs a one-on-one opportunity outside on cornerback D.J. Turner. Allen correctly noted the safety in the middle of the field wouldn’t be able to help over the top in time on a throw up the sideline and he hit Diggs for a 17-yard score.
The Bengals were masterful with motion at times, with five of their nine passing plays of 15 yards or more coming on plays with pre-snap motion.
On Cincinnati’s second touchdown drive, receiver Tyler Boyd motioned from the left to the right slot, getting a matchup on safety Micah Hyde. Boyd had a 10-yard cushion at the snap and was able to use his leverage on a 15-yard out on third and 10.
Burrow burns Buffalo’s blitz
While the offense wasn’t aggressive enough, the Buffalo defense was often too aggressive and Joe Burrow made them pay severely.
Whether it was fear the secondary couldn’t hold up against Cincinnati’s dynamic receivers or concern they couldn’t get to Burrow with four rushers, the Bills blitzed 16 times and it didn’t produce any sacks.
Burrow, who was sacked just once in total, went 11 of 16 when the Bills sent more than four rushers in the game and he racked up 180 of his 348 yards on those plays. The blitz didn’t seem to make Burrow uncomfortable at all, as he averaged 11.3 yards per attempt, compared to 6 against four rushers. Eight of his 11 completions went for at least 10 yards, including a pair of 32-yard passes, one that set up a field goal and one on the final drive of the game when the Bills desperately needed a stop.
What appeared to be a mistake or miscommunication on a blitz also cost the Bills a touchdown on a third-and-7 play at the end of the first half. Hyde came on a blitz and it appeared defensive end Leonard Floyd was supposed to drop in coverage or be a spy.
Whether it was Hyde or Floyd who made the mistake — a play Sean McDermott called “greedy” in his opening remarks following the game — it allowed tight end Drew Sample to disengage from a block to pop open for a 22-yard touchdown and wasn’t touchdown until he neared the goal line.
It’s not the first time the Bills have been burned by the blitz, as Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence withstood 16 blitzes and went 6 of 8 in the second half. Meanwhile, Mac Jones went 8 of 9 for 102 yards in New England’s 29-25 win over the Bills, which included two touchdown passes.