The Buffalo Bills left Nashville with a victory over the Tennessee Titans. It wasn’t without a few concerns, however. A close score plays second fiddle to injuries along the revamped offensive line. Mitch Morse and Cody Ford both exited, setting up Spencer Long and Ryan Bates to come off the bench. Let’s compare the first quarter (with healthy starters) with the fourth quarter (not-so-healthy starters) to see how the Bills were spurred on to victory in part due to the depth they created in the offseason.
The first play for the Bills’ offense set what would be the tone for the healthy line. Dawson Knox is in line like he might block, but slips out as a receiver. Frank Gore was either given the ball or also running a route. For the most part in the first quarter, the line was trusted to take care of business, giving Josh Allen five targets to try to get the ball out fast. Take note that Mitch Morse is often assigned to figure out who needs his help once the ball is snapped.
This was pretty common in the first quarter. There’s not even an illusion of extra blockers. The offensive line is being trusted to hold up long enough for a quick play and that’s it. They gave up two sacks in the first quarter, which was in part a result of this boom-or-bust style of play.
There’s wasn’t much of Lee Smith or Patrick DiMarco in the game if you followed this week’s snap-count notes. In the first quarter this was the lone play that featured a deliberate attempt to sell out helping the offensive line. Even as the exception, notice the pre-snap formation has some balance.
Now we’re in the fourth looking at the winning score. At this point Lee Smith has become a regular feature in the offense and usually on the right side next to Ryan Bates. Jon Feliciano has slid to center, Spencer Long is at right guard. Whereas Morse was helping others out, Feliciano is on an island. Long and Bates are asked to work together with Lee Smith essentially playing right tackle. Despite all the shuffling and chaos of the game, the Bills have made drastic changes to their assignments to shore up the new weak spots.
The Bills are continuing to sell out help on the right side for most of the quarter, and now are in position to secure a victory by extending this drive. The Titans are making adjustments of their own and see the three players all but surrounding Ryan Bates. Frank Gore has a choice of a brick wall made up of two teams or try to do something special to beat the one man coming in unchecked on the left side. It might be too early to tell, but I have a good feeling about this Frank Gore we picked up.
This was the play that sealed the game. The Titans and Bills are working to counter one another. Buffalo dials up what looks to be the same play. They’re ready to stop it cold, but Josh Allen has other plans.
If, like me, you were wondering why the Bills were able to close out the game successfully despite struggling most of the afternoon the answer is that they adjusted to the flow of the game incredibly well. Injuries piled up and left a vulnerable right side of the offensive line. Buffalo changed their offensive game plan to bring in support and called plays that worked from their updated formations to get the go ahead score.
Giving credit to the Titans’ defense, they continued to fight back and gave their offense more chances. But when push came to shove, Buffalo exploited their own weakness and turned it into a strength.