The Buffalo Bills running game is having major problems. Whose fault are they? Has LeSean McCoy lost a step? Did the offensive line regress? Is Rick Dennison’s scheme and/or playcalling to blame? Let’s dive in.
I want to start this out by saying I am not a professional football coach, everything I am saying the coaches inside One Bills Drive already know. The purpose of this article is just to simplify things a little bit and illustrate where the team is having problems.
The first example is from the game against the Carolina Panthers and it is a good example of the variety of issues that the run game is having. This is the outside zone running play that was made famous by Denver and is a core run of the Dennison offense. I don’t want to get into the exact jobs of every lineman in great detail, but on the play side, if there is a defensive lineman lined up over you, you try and pin him inside, and if not you try and get to a linebacker. On the backside of the play, this is generally where you will see cut blocks to try and get the defensive linemen on the ground to allow for cut backs. The running back will aim for the tight end and then read the end man on the line of scrimmage, if he is pinned inside, then he goes outside. If the end man is outside, then you look for the next defensive lineman to make your one cut off of him. This play thrives off of getting the defense to move horizontally to create seams and gaps for the running back to hit. The defense obviously wants to set the edge hard to the outside and then keep gap integrity to the backside, like a set of jaws clamping down, leaving the back with nowhere to go.
Let’s take a look at what happened on this play. The first thing to notice is the miscommunication between the tight end and left tackle. Next looking at the left guard, he gets driven back two yards and is unable to reach the defensive tackle. All of this, however can be okay, if the backside has done its job. The center, climbs to the 2nd level, but is unable to engage with the linebacker and the right guard tries to cut the defensive tackle but can’t get him on the ground. The right tackle does seal the defensive end on his side. The video also illustrates the huge holes that can occur with the outside zone run play. You could make the argument that even with all that went wrong on this play, if the linebacker gets blocked it could’ve been a decent gain. It also illustrates the multitude of possible causes for the poor performance.
Another example here, this time from game against the Denver Broncos. Same problems occur; the front side is shut down and the backside defenders aren’t cut and/or blocked, leaving nowhere for the running back to go.
It is not all outside zone either, even on other run plays, the Bills offensive line is just getting beaten. On this play there is little movement playside and the linebacker shoots the gap and gets into the backfield. At the end of the play there are three Bills linemen on the ground.
Finally, sometimes it is playcalling. I think we all remember this 4th down call vs the Panthers.
The main thing I wanted to illustrate with this article was that it is a total team effort on the run game. The run scheme is a drastic switch from what the team ran last year; as drastic of a switch as the defense went through from Jim Schwartz to Rex Ryan. There isn’t one player or coach you can point to and say that it is all their fault. Everyone up front is struggling right now and need to get better. Will the coaches go back to more of a 2016 run game is an interesting question because they did it last week with the passing game. However, I do think a lot of this run game is here to stay as a lot of the play action passing game is based off of it. Atlanta will be a tough test, the offense will need to score points to compete and without any type of success on the ground, scoring points will be a difficult task.