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Crumbling their cookies: How the Buffalo Bills should attack the Denver Broncos

I’ve seen this movie before

Every week, I write an opinion column on a few general game-planning tactics I like for the Buffalo Bills to use against their upcoming opponent—ones I think have a chance to be successful based on personnel usage and scheme along with the strengths and weaknesses of each team. These may take many forms, though I typically try to come up with at least one tactic on offense and one on defense.

The Bills have a short week to prepare for the thin air of Denver. They make a cross-country trip to play the Denver Broncos this week hoping to clinch their first AFC East title since 1995 with a victory. Although a Miami Dolphins loss would accomplish the same goal, a win to get the team to 11-3 would feel a lot better. What can the Bills do to see to it that they achieve the highest win total of the McBeane era this week? I have some thoughts...

Bizarro 2018 Josh Allen awaits

Drew Lock is one of the strangest quarterbacks in the league this year, but shares some similarities with a past version of the Bills’ current quarterback. In 2018, Josh Allen was defined by a high average depth of target, which informed his low completion percentage. In 2020, Drew Lock is in a similar situation. Lock throws 20+ yards on 17.6% of his throws, good for third in the league for QBs with over 100 attempts. In 2018, Allen was first in the league for QBs over 100 attempts in 20+ yard throw percentage at 19.7. Allen and Lock share the “lowest completion percentage in the league” designation for their respective years in large part due to this. The “bombs away” mentality served Allen much better in 2018 than it has Lock in 2020 though, with Allen’s passer rating on those throws being roughly 30 points higher. Take away Allen’s dynamic running, and you can see why there’s consternation from Broncos country regarding whether Denver should extend the growth process for Lock into 2021.

This dynamic can be used to the advantage of the Bills. The Buffalo secondary boasts one of the most effective deep-ball deterrents in the NFL in safety Micah Hyde. Let Lock keep his explosive dreams and keep Hyde over the top of speedsters like K.J. Hamler and Jerry Jeudy in Cover 3 looks. The single high pre-snap visual can bait Lock into the throw we already know he wants to make.

Bizarro 2018 Bills defense awaits

The Broncos’ safeties are the heart of their defense. Their defensive line consists of a pass rusher with great hand usage and power along with a more bendy edge player. Their interior defensive line has one player who’s criminally underrated paired with some reasonable role players.

Sound familiar?

That’s right, Drew Lock isn’t the only weird and distorted mirror image in this matchup. The Broncos’ defense shares some strong similarities with the 2018 Bills’ defense in personnel types and strengths as well. As with the Drew Lock matchup, the potential advantage for the Bills lies not in the commonalities, but in the differences between the two teams.

In this case, it’s nickel corners Davontae Harris and Will Parks, and their pending matchup with Bills star slot receiver Cole Beasley. The Broncos’ secondary has been obliterated with injuries this year, with rookie Essang Bassey, Duke Dawson, and Bryce Callahan all unavailable along with A.J. Bouye currently on suspension. Both Harris and Parks (recently acquired and plugged in against Carolina this past Sunday) have limited playing time overall this year, but none to positive reviews. Test them early to see if they’re up to the task and if not, keep going.

Seriously another one?

The Broncos’ special teams units are underwhelming....just like the 2018 Bills units. Historically reliable kicker Brandon McManus had a rough outing a couple days ago but it’s too early to determine if it’s a trend. Denver’s coverage unit gave up a return touchdown to Byron Pringle of the Kansas City Chiefs two weeks ago and has shown cracks in containment. A risk-taking day from Andre Roberts may be on the horizon.

...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every Thursday and Friday on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!