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Buffalo Bills’ run game succeeded thanks to New England Patriots’ personnel choices

New England made strange choices.

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

It was great to see the Buffalo Bills’ running game get back on track against the New England Patriots. It was by far their most rushing yards of the season, clocking in at 190 on the ground, with 167 yards coming from the running back position. Great news for the Bills, right? Maybe not.

Ben Volin of The Boston Globe notes that the Patriots ran six defensive backs for “pretty much the entire game.” Four players in the secondary played 100% of the snaps, another played 98%, and the sixth played 93%. Another cornerback played 22% of the snaps further down the list, as well. With defensive personnel like that, Buffalo should have been running all over New England.

“I think [it was] out of necessity,” added Volin. “They just don’t have the personnel in the front seven.”

The Bills split the carries and yardage fairly evenly between their two backs. Both Zack Moss and Devin Singletary had 14 carries with Singletary gaining 86 yards and Moss 81. Josh Allen chipped in 25 yards on eight carries before his final two kneel-downs. That’s over six yards per carry for the running backs. Moss added two touchdowns and Allen ran in one for a score, too.

It didn’t hurt that Jon Feliciano was back as the tone-setter on the offensive line after missing the first half of the season with a pectoral injury. But it would seem that the personnel grouping dictated the Bills’ success more than anything else. No 8-man boxes. No clogged run lanes. The Patriots have allowed the sixth-most rushing yards in the NFL this year at an average clip of 140 yards per game.

Looking at Josh Allen’s passing stats might disappoint you, but facing six or seven defensive backs all game, the Bills rightfully ran the ball 34 times compared to just 19 passing plays. (Some of those Allen runs were passes when they were called in the huddle.) Allen finished 11 of 18 for 154 yards, took one sack, and threw an interception on a miscommunication with Stefon Diggs.

Buffalo’s next opponents are typically pretty good against the run, so it’s not likely to be a trend. The Seattle Seahawks score so much that opposing teams only run for 102 yards per game, good for eighth-best in the league. The Los Angeles Chargers are 12th, allowing 112/game while the San Francisco 49ers allow 106, ranking tenth in the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers are after that, allowing less than 97 yards rushing per game to rank as the fifth-stingiest team against the run.