Chan Gailey is an old-school head coach. The Buffalo Bills have a throwback interior offensive line and a high degree of investment in their running back position - including a contract extension that they just gave to their starting fullback. They spoke all off-season about being physically and mentally tougher. Gailey was touted as a head coach that tailored his scheme to fit the strengths of his players.
Then why in the name of Turk Schonert did the Bills operate out of the shotgun on a whopping 78.8% of their offensive snaps in Sunday's season-opening loss to the Miami Dolphins?
If I may be pointed for a second: Gailey's decision to have Trent Edwards in the shotgun for 41 of 52 snaps was, by a very wide margin, the most bizarre game plan I've seen a Bills coach produce in years. Perhaps the idea was to make Miami's not-overly-complex defense easier for Edwards to decipher. Maybe the plan was to use all three running backs in a way that the Dolphins might not have expected.
One thing is certain: Miami was in no way caught off-guard by what Gailey threw at them. On those 41 shotgun snaps - which includes Buffalo's lone touchdown drive, by the way - the Bills netted just 141 yards.
The numbers get worse when you take out the two-minute offense that Gailey turned to on the team's final three possessions. Prior to that moment in the fourth quarter, the Bills had operated out of the shotgun on 25 of 35 offensive plays (71.4%, including 17 of 21 in the first half), gaining a pathetic 47 yards on those 25 plays. For the mathematically challenged, yes, that is an average of less than two yards per play.
Buffalo didn't even attempt to run out of the shotgun formation frequently, either. Bills running backs toted the rock just eight times out of the formation, gaining 28 yards on those rushes. Of course, they didn't try to run much, period, with Buffalo's vaunted running back trio carrying the ball just 14 times between them. They gained 38 yards on those runs. Edwards, meanwhile, finished the game completing 18 of 34 passes for 139 yards (4.09 yards per attempt) with one touchdown and no major mistakes. He was sacked three times.
The screen game was a disaster, with Dolphins defenders quick to read their keys on every attempt. When a Miami outside linebacker didn't bat down the attempted screen pass, the Dolphins swarmed behind it for minimal or often negative yardage.
Gailey used two running backs frequently out of the shotgun, particularly when employing the Pistol formation. Those backs didn't have a lot of room to operate, run or pass, as Buffalo's front five struggled to open up rushing lanes out of their pass sets. Show of hands: who is surprised by this?
Buffalo's offensive ineptitude on Sunday cost the team a very winnable game at home against a fairly overrated opponent. It overshadowed a strong performance by the team's new 3-4 defense, and an especially excellent showing by the team's much-maligned special teams units.
The good news here is that if Gailey has any sense whatsoever, he'll make the adjustment that needs to be made: get back to basics. The strength of your front five is run blocking. The strength of your offensive talent pool is at the running back position. The strength of your quarterback is not costing you games. Get that pro set on the field, Chan. Run the football. You can be creative and imaginative out of a base offensive set - and hey, that set might actually better disguise your intentions than a constant shotgun formation. Trent can play from under center. C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch can pick up yardage on their own with even only slightly better run blocking. Your line won't look nearly as foolish.
It's a simple adjustment, coach. The sooner it's made, the better.