One of the breakout stars for the Buffalo Bills this season has been tight end Dawson Knox. The Bills have leaned heavily on him, with Knox only falling under 80 percent of snaps in three games he’s appeared in this season. The last time this happened was in mid-October. Against the visiting Atlanta Falcons, Knox fell just shy of 90 percent of playing time. Despite this new emphasis, Knox was only targeted twice against the Falcons. He had zero receptions. Did they do something special to take away the budding star? Let’s find out.
From the very first play Atlanta showed its primary strategy to slow down Dawson Knox—get in his way. This is similar to the controversial Cole Beasley bump on the interception. Defenders are allowed to protect themselves so situations like this often aren’t called as a more incidental type of contact. The one on Beasley is less incidental, but you get the idea. Things like this happen a lot.
This one is close enough to the line where blocking can occur. The defender would have a good case of protecting himself too, for the record. The result is the same. Get where you think Knox will be running. Wait for contact. The Falcons played physical against Dawson Knox early.
Another factor in Knox’s quiet day was decent pressure by Atlanta. Pro-football-reference.com has the Falcons pressuring Josh Allen 23.3 percent of the time. That’s not world-beating (the Bills pressured Matt Ryan 42.4 percent of drop backs). But it happened enough to impact Knox’s game.
Knox was regularly subjected to “competent defense” as well. You might remember Mark Sanchez talking about a route where Knox was subtly pushed to the sideline. That was good coverage. On this play Knox is covered well. It happened a good amount.
Josh Allen was credited with 26 passing attempts. That’s tied with the game against Kansas City for the lowest of the season. By contrast, Buffalo ran the ball 44 times. A big reason that Knox had a quiet day was due to play calling by Buffalo. Overall, Knox was pretty effective as a run blocker. This was not a statement I would have made last season and is likely a major factor in the Bills’ newfound comfort in making Knox nearly omnipresent on the field.
This is an example of specific improvement I saw a few times against Atlanta. Knowing where the running back is going and turning a block away from the lane is an excellent skill to possess. It was good to see it.
Finally, I think Josh Allen really was having an off day. This was first down and the Bills have no reason to be in desperation mode when they’re up by seven. There are defenders who can close and likely stop a massive gain by Knox, but no one is close enough to break up the pass or stop him before he gets at least a good gain. I don’t know the play call or progressions, but it seems weird to me Knox wouldn’t be considered an option on this play as he’s not involved in anything other than being open.
The Falcons did have a plan to take care of Dawson Knox. I wouldn’t call it a master plan, but it worked when they needed it to. That’s no disrespect to Atlanta as it was a good plan for the record. I just can’t call it a master plan that took Knox out of the game as other “non-Falcons” reasons contributed to the tight end’s lack of production. Atlanta did well, but they didn’t create a blueprint for other teams to take Knox out of the equation.