ORCHARD PARK — The red in Sean McDermott’s beard has gradually turned gray over the last few seasons. Perhaps it’s aging or perhaps it’s due to Buffalo Bills’s propensity to abandon the running game at times.
McDermott loves a good ground-and-pound game, but there are times the Bills move away from it when it’s not successful early because they can rely upon Josh Allen to pull them out of jams. Bills running backs average 25.7 carries in wins, compared to 14.4 in losses.
Some of that is due to the Bills playing from behind, having limited opportunities with the ball or grinding the clock out in a win. But Buffalo has also outright skipped the running game in losses as well.
Interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady didn’t do that in a 32-6 win over the New York Jets the way his predecessor Ken Dorsey did in Week 1 when he called five designed runs in the second half despite having a 10-point halftime lead. The Bills had four drives in the first game in which they didn’t hand the ball to a running back at all.
The Bills averaged 4.4 yards per carry on designed runs in the first half Sunday, but they continued to run the ball in the second half, despite averaging 3.4 yards per carry in the game. But James Cook had 4.3 — tying a career-high with 17 carries — and they ran it 38 times.
“In order to have success running the football, there’s going to be some bloody runs,” Brady said. “There’s going to be some 2-yard runs, there’s gonna be 3-yard runs, but in the third quarter, in the fourth quarter, you hope that those 2-yard runs wear on the defense a little bit. … There’s gonna be some negative plays in the passing game, but you’re not going to go away from the passing game, so why is it any different from the run game?”
Brady wasn’t going to trot out a brand new offense in the 11th game of the season, especially on a short practice week.
The Bills didn’t look a whole lot different under Brady than they did under Dorsey. The formations and concepts were the same, but Brady also added some tweaks.
Mostly, though, where Brady was most effective was using what worked until the Jets stopped them. Or tossing in a swerve just as the Jets thought they had it solved.
A perfect example came on the second drive. Cook ripped off a 7-yard run on first down, and the Bills came back with the same formation, flipped to the other side and ran a different version of the same play for 5 yards. On the third play, the Bills went no-huddle with the same formation and Cook ran for 6 yards.
Brady came back to the formation — with tight ends Dalton Kincaid and Quintin Morris on the same side of the field — multiple times throughout the game and it proved successful. Eventually a defense will catch on, but it also gives Brady a chance to run play-action out of it in the future.
“You could tell (Cook) was running with a purpose,” McDermott said. “He had his pads down and I just saw signs, I won’t go into the details here, but I saw signs of him developing which I know he’s been working on so that was good to see.”
Motion to create commotion
At times the Bills have been allergic to motion, and when they use it, it’s not in a productive way. Motion creates free information for Allen pre-snap. Under Brady, the Bills motioned 18 times and averaged nearly 8 yards per play.
Buffalo still predominantly used two receivers on each side of the formation, but it often used motion to get to the formation. Brady also mixed in some different looks, using an empty set on Allen’s 81-yard touchdown pass to Khalil Shakir and going under center and throwing to Ty Johnson on a bootleg that resulted in a touchdown.
“There’s got to be intention and reason for why we’re motioning, we’re not just motioning just to motion, we’re not going to shift just to shift,” Brady said. “So whether it’s for Josh, whether it’s for the offensive line or from a receiver IDing something, there’s got to be an intent behind it. So I hope whatever we did yesterday helped from that standpoint. I think anytime you can slow it down for the quarterback or trying to paint a clearer picture, I hope that that can help.”
Stretching the field: Shakir’s 81-yard touchdown was Buffalo’s longest play since Week 4, but it was just the fourth 30-yard play since Week 6. The Bills have just three fewer 30-yard plays and two 40-yard plays through 11 games than last year, but they had four more touchdowns longer than 30 yards at this juncture of the season.
The Jets defense is built to limit big plays and bait quarterbacks into silly decisions, something Allen did in Week 1. But Allen took what was given to him without trying to put on his cape too often.
But the Bills can’t make a living playing in a condensed field, so eventually Brady must come up with a plan to let Allen throw downfield a few times per game.
“They played a patient style of game,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “Josh didn’t play as much hero ball as we’re used to seeing. He was much more decisive. So give them credit. They had a really good game plan.”
The David Edwards experiment: Since Week 3, the Bills have been using guard David Edwards as a tight end. It initially worked, providing a sixth lineman to block and Buffalo accumulated 91 yards on six plays against the Washington Commanders.
Since then, it has not provided the Bills with much success. They used Edwards a season-high 11 times against the Jets, but netted just 43 yards. Buffalo is averaging 5.2 yards per play with Edwards on the field, but most of that is in the passing game.
The Bills have mustered 2.4 yards per carry with Edwards as a sixth lineman, compared to 11.8 yards per pass. The only problem is, Allen attempted two passes for 16 yards Sunday, which means the nine runs netted 3 yards per attempt.