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Against Tennessee Titans’ stacked fronts, Buffalo Bills remained committed to run

The Buffalo Bills were determined to run the ball and protect Josh Allen

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Following a disastrous game against the Green Bay Packers last weekend, Brian Daboll developed a game plan that would keep Josh Allen from having to make too many risky decisions on the field. While there is some real concern with the lack of production out of the receivers and tight ends, their contributions in the running game have been a pleasant surprise—and something that often goes unnoticed during the live broadcast. This was especially the case against the Tennessee Titans. Without further ado, here is my in-depth review of the first and final drives from the Buffalo Bills’ game against the Titans.

Drive 1 (0-0)

1st and 10 (Incomplete pass to Kelvin Benjamin)

The Bills took over near midfield after Tremaine Edmunds forced a fumble and immediately took a shot on a flea-flicker to Benjamin. At the snap the Titans rushed five, and two linebackers moved toward the line of scrimmage (LOS) as Josh Allen handed off to LeSean McCoy. The deep safety started moving toward the LOS but he was at about the 25-yard line. As McCoy was flipping the ball to Allen, the deep safety stopped and honored his responsibility to two Buffalo receivers running deep routes. Allen overthrew the pass, which was all for the best as there were two defenders all over Benjamin. Dion Dawkins moved out to block a linebacker who cut inside him. Dawkins put a hand around the linebacker’s waist and held. Still, the linebacker was past him by the time McCoy flipped the ball back to Allen. Vladimir Ducasse came over and helped out to keep Allen clean. It was a heads-up play because Ducasse had been helping out Russell Bodine with the defensive tackle—and Bodine really needed the help. Seeing Ducasse and Dawkins struggling, McCoy moved that way to help. Reserve offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles came in as a tight end and took a defensive lineman on a wide circle around Allen. Jordan Mills and John Miller teamed up on another defensive lineman who easily split the double team. Mills wasn’t ever able to re-engage while Miller slammed into the defensive lineman’s right side to push him laterally. The only reason Allen had the time to get the pass off was that the Titans only sent five rushers. If they had sent more, the eight blockers wouldn’t have been enough to pick up the sixth or seventh defender.

2nd and 10 (LeSean McCoy rush for 4 yards)

The Titans had five on the line and five more within five yards of the LOS. The Bills only sent two receivers, but sending a tight end in the flat drew a linebacker in coverage—a linebacker who would have been in position to stop McCoy for no gain. The line moved to the left. Dawkins engaged a linebacker in space while Ducasse turned a defensive lineman. Bodine and Miller teamed up on a defensive tackle, with Bodine turning him away from Ducasse. It opened a hole but McCoy could see a linebacker heading down hill to fill it. Bodine left Miller to pick up that linebacker but by that point McCoy was already moving right. Mills stalemated a defensive lineman. It was for the best as Benjamin wasn’t able to catch a defensive back who came down to fill the hole. Jason Croom came across the formation to hit a LB and that opened the hole McCoy used. Mills’s guy was able to slide away from him to bring down McCoy. It was a well-blocked play as evidenced by the fact that the Bills gained four yards on a run with 10 defenders near the ball.

3rd and 6 (5-yard completion to Zay Jones)

The Titans sent five rushers but Allen had the ball out of his hands in about two seconds. Both tackles attempted cut blocks to give Allen a clear throwing lane to the left flat (McCoy) or right (Jones). Neither offensive tackle pulled it off, but both did at least keep defenders from getting their hands up. Bodine was badly beaten by the defensive tackle on a speed move (!), while Ducasse and Miller did well enough.

4th and 1 (Chris Ivory rush for 3 yards)

Instead of attempting a 55-yard field goal, McDermott took a chance...and it paid off. The Bills split Benjamin out wide and that took a defender away from the ball. A safety stayed eight yards off the ball due to Benjamin. At the snap, the Titans had four on the line and three moving up to fill in gaps. Dawkins pushed a defensive lineman to the left and opened a hole. Ducasse formed the other side of the hole along with Bodine and Miller as they blocked two defensive linemen between them. Mills pushed another defensive lineman into that scrum. DiMarco led the way into the hole and used great leverage to put a linebacker filling the hole on the ground. Another linebacker filled the hole and Ivory just bulled his way to a first down with the linebacker wrapped all over him.

1st and 10 (McCoy rush for 5 yards)

This was a fun play to re-watch. The line basically created a reverse pocket with Mills and Miller gaining little ground, both guards gaining about two yards, and Bodine about three yards. As McCoy approached the “pocket” he had two or three free yards because no one was anywhere near him when he crossed the LOS. Bodine and Ducasse doubled a defensive tackle before Bodine left to hit a linebacker. Miller drove his guy back and right. McCoy could have run to either side of Bodine and probably chose the wrong side—though running to Bodine’s right probably wouldn’t have gotten him much more yardage.

2nd and 5 (McCoy rush for 3 yards)

The Titans had eight in the box. The entire line moved to the right with Dawkins unable to catch the linebacker who had been across from him. Ducasse went to the second level and didn’t get enough of a linebacker to keep him out of the play. Bodine rode the defensive tackle down the line and kept him from turning to chase McCoy. Miller helped Mills with a defensive lineman, and peeled off to block a linebacker. McCoy squeezed between Miller and Mills and fell forward to set up third-and-short.

3rd and 2 (3-yard completion to Jones)

The Titans only sent four rushers and Buffalo used a rub-route to get Jones wide open for a short gain. Allen was going to Jones all the way and rolled left, making a good throw on the move. The line moved to the left, suggesting it was a designed rollout. Mills wasn’t nearly fast enough off the snap and his defender shot through the line. The quick throw kept Allen from getting crushed.

1st and 10 (7-yard completion to Jason Croom)

This was a play-action bootleg pass. Croom came across the formation with a linebacker trying to shadow him, crashing into a defensive back in the process. The line blocked to the left and that let a defender slip behind Mills to chase Allen. Clay did a good job of maintaining his block.

2nd and 3 (McCoy rush for 3 yards)

The Titans were lined up in a standard 4-3 alignment. Dawkins went to the second level and kept a linebacker away from McCoy’s side of the field. Ducasse cut behind Dawkins to pick up a linebacker and keep him well away from the play. Bodine chipped a defensive lineman and wasn’t fast enough to engage a linebacker who got in on the tackle. Clay picked up the defensive tackle and kept him from hitting McCoy at the LOS. Miller moved left to block a defensive lineman who had been in front of Bodine. Mills turned right and locked up a linebacker until McCoy was past. Andre Holmes crashed into a defensive back hard enough to throw the guy off balance and knock him backward.

1st and 10 (McCoy rush for no gain)

The Titans again had eight in the box and Buffalo ran it again, with the entire line moving right. Ducasse tried to slow down a defender for Dawkins to no avail, as Dawkins still wasn’t fast enough to get in front of him. Ducasse engaged a linebacker at the second level and threw him to the ground. Bodine was driven back and his defender got around him, but McCoy had gone around Bodine’s other side so the defender just took himself out of the play. Miller, Mills, and Clay together formed a wall that caught up three defenders. Ultimately, it was Dawkins’s defender who made the tackle.

2nd and 10 (Josh Allen rush for 14-yard TD)

The line blocked to the right with a play-fake helping to complete the illusion. It looks like he was going to try to get the ball to Zay Jones heading to the corner of the end zone but Jones was well covered. The Bills let a defensive back have a free run at Allen and expected him to either beat that man or that the play fake would keep him from going after Allen on the bootleg. Allen picked his way through the defense to get the score.

Final Drive 10-12

1st and 10 (McCoy rush for 1 yard)

The Titans had eight in the box and the line blocked to the left. Dawkins got some push as he moved left, but his defender was able to get free and get in on the tackle. Ducasse also got push at the second level but his defender was also able to get free and get in on the tackle as well. Bodine was riding the defensive tackle down the line, but he couldn’t keep him from also getting free and in on the tackle. Miller and Mills both executed cut blocks while on the move!

2nd and 9 (McCoy rush for 6 yards)

The Titans were coming with a defensive back blitz and the Bills blocked to the right, directly into the path of that defensive back. Dawkins didn’t get much of a block, but it didn’t matter as McCoy was going the other way. Ducasse never managed to block anyone in space, and Bodine wasn’t able to catch anyone either. Miller got just enough of the defensive back—without holding him—to spring McCoy. Mills pulled around Holmes with Holmes getting a very good block on a linebacker to seal him away from McCoy. Croom and Mills led the play with each of them getting a defensive back. Jones came against the flow of the offense and took on a linebacker, giving a lot of ground but keeping the guy off McCoy.

3rd and 3 (13-yard completion to McCoy)

The Titans only rushed three, with another waiting near the line for Clay to go out for a pass. A defensive back rushed late but Allen was already throwing the ball before he even got to the LOS. It looks like Allen had been eyeing Benjamin, who was running a shallow in-route, which worked as a rub-route for McCoy. The pass to McCoy was about three yards behind the line-to-gain, but Allen hit him in such a way that he could have driven for the sticks and possibly made it or spun around and gotten more yards. Unnoticed was that Bodine saw McCoy catch the pass and turn upfield, which he then started running after McCoy. Bodine got a block on a defensive back. Miller had caught up by that point and hit another defensive back. Dawkins and Ducasse made it just a bit too late. Mills was picking himself up out of a pile of bodies and was the only lineman not to get to the area—13 yards from the LOS.

1st and 10 (Ivory rush for 2 yards)

With Ivory on the field, the Titan had five on the line and five within five yards of the LOS. Dawkins got an arm in front of a linebacker to keep him from chasing the play. Ducasse and Bodine took on a defensive tackle, while Miller got a little bit of a push. Clay and Mills teamed up on a defensive lineman. Mills attempted to get to the second level but was held by the defensive lineman, which let the linebacker he was targeting have a free run at the hole. Logan Thomas tried a cut block but it didn’t work and the defender went around him and got in on the tackle.

2nd and 8 (Ivory rush for 9 yards)

The Bills pulled to the right and Ivory was able to break a tackle by a defensive back roughly five yards from the line-to-gain, picking up the first down. Dawkins executed a second-level cut block. Ducasse tried but it didn’t work, and the defensive lineman was able to chase the play after a brief delay. Bodine and Mills pulled with Miller turning to the left to help seal defenders away from the play. Holmes again had a very good block on a linebacker to keep him away from Ivory’s run lane. Jones again managed to keep a linebacker from closing the hole. Mills crushed a defensive back and Bodine never caught anyone to block. Benjamin stayed with a block on a defensive back until the play was over.

1st and 10 (Ivory rush for 4 yards)

The Titans again had eight in the box and Bodine was driven backwards far enough that Ivory nearly tripped over his feet. Dawkins got a little help from Ducasse in the form of a chip but then held his own against a defensive lineman. Ducasse picked up a linebacker who was filling, but was close enough to Dawkins that there was no hole there. Miller helped Bodine but had to leave him to pick up another defender. Mills turned his man but couldn’t get any push.

2nd and 6 (7-yard completion to Ray Ray McCloud III)

It’s a good thing it was a wide receiver screen-type route. The Titans sent seven and one came free right up the middle. McCoy was there but somehow didn’t see him. The ball was gone before the linebacker could hit Allen but, yikes, that was a real breakdown in pass protection by McCoy. With the ball away, Dawkins ran to the left flat where he tossed a defensive back. Ducasse tried to get out there but wasn’t fast enough.

1st and 10 (Ivory rush for 7 yards)

The Titans had eight in the box. Dawkins popped a defensive lineman and then hit a defensive back. Ducasse helped Bodine with a defensive tackle but came off of him to pick up a linebacker. Miller helped Mills and also left to pick up a linebacker. Jeremiah Sirles and Clay blocked a defensive lineman together with Sirles leaving to take out another linebacker. Ivory ran between Sirles and Mills, picking up important yards and bleeding clock.

2nd and 3 (McCoy rush for 1 yard)

The Titans had ten in the box, knowing Buffalo was playing for the FG attempt. Croom ran past a defensive back instead of blocking him. Had he gotten the block, McCoy may have gone around the left end and picked up a few more yards. Dawkins got a nice push on a defensive lineman, aided by a chip from Sirles. Sirles tried (and failed) to catch a linebacker at the second level. Ducasse held his own, and Bodine let a defensive lineman run in a circle away from McCoy. Miller and Mills stopped a pair of defenders well away from the play.

3rd and 2 (Allen “run” for -3 yards)

Allen took the ball and moved to his left and slid down. I didn’t like this play at all as it cost them three yards. It probably was the smart thing since it eliminated any chance of a fumble. However, if the FG had been missed this play would have been pointed to as the reason why the team would have ultimately lost.

Some Final Thoughts

It was surprising to see how much Andre Holmes stood out on run plays. He had several key blocks against much larger defenders. Charles Clay had a number of good blocks himself. Even Zay Jones showed that he was willing to mix it up with guys who had 50+ pounds on him. The receivers and tight ends were a big part of the reason that the Bills were able to run against defensive fronts with eight or more guys in the box.

After a bad outing against the Green Bay Packers, it was clear the Bills were protecting Allen with a lot of short throws and quicker reads. The downside was that it eliminated big plays. The Bills went max-protect when they were going to take a shot deep downfield. It certainly doesn’t help matters that Buffalo doesn’t have a burner to threaten defenses.