There was no shortage of twists and turns in the Buffalo Bills’ overtime loss at home to the Minnesota Vikings. In reviewing key moments from Sunday’s game, one of the most pivotal plays for the Bills was a 4th & 2 in the Minnesota red zone when Buffalo had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. Unsurprisingly, the main focus for a lot of Bills Mafia is the Josh Allen interception that ended the play, but there’s more to it—and, of course, to the decision that led to the pick. Let’s review the tape to see what we can learn!
Bills’ 4th & 2 red zone failure: Josh Allen doesn’t take checkdown
A quarterback’s best friend is the checkdown. Pre-snap, Allen’s in the gun with receiving back Duke Johnson to his left. At the snap, Johnson comes out of the backfield (Allen looks right at him to start the play) and is wide open. Allen looks away from Johnson and moves to the middle of the field. If Allen checks down, then Johnson runs for the first down and there’s no defender to make a play. The only defender who could possibly make a play is rookie cornerback Andrew Booth Jr., who would have to quickly get to Johnson and then make a difficult one-on-one tackle in space.
Bills’ 4th & 2 red zone failure: Allen Eschews running lane
Once Allen passes on checking down to Johnson, his next choice is to run left. As the play starts, there is a wide-open rush lane between left tackle Dion Dawkins and left guard Rodger Saffold. If Allen runs, there’s nothing but open field in front of him, and he has a good chance to get the first down.
Bills’ 4th & 2 red zone failure: Za’darius Smith beats Spencer Brown
This is perhaps the most important sequence of the play, and likely set in motion Allen throwing the interception. Pass rusher Za’darius Smith very quickly beats right tackle Spencer Brown. At the snap, Smith rushes outside to the left, and Brown steps right to protect the edge. Smith then beats Brown’s hands and goes inside of him, and Brown cannot react quickly enough. Smith forces the inside pressure that makes Allen leave the pocket and run right—which is when things really go wrong for the Bills. If Brown doesn’t let Smith get inside of him, it’s possible Allen never throws the interception.
Bills’ 4th & 2 red zone failure: Josh Allen scrambles right, throws to end zone
Once Allen scrambles right, he has two defenders giving chase. Allen can’t run for the first down without being tackled. As Allen runs right and pump-fakes, the two defenders get closer to him. Allen has a few options here: throw the football away, run and get tackled, or try to make a spectacular touchdown throw. All three options have the potential to result in a turnover on downs—and zero points. Allen chooses to try what seems like an impossible throw. Allen throws sidearm while moving off one leg, with a defender bearing down on him. The ball is short and goes right into the hands of cornerback Patrick Peterson for the pick.
Looking in-depth at this play, there were myriad things that went wrong for the Bills and stacked the odds against them on fourth down. Allen neglected a check down and refused to run through an open rush lane where it appeared yards were readily available. Then, Brown was badly beaten inside, which forced Allen to attempt a throw with a very high degree of difficulty and low completion percentage. As the play developed, disorder took hold and made it unlikely the offense would convert. It often appears as though the Bills make things harder on themselves than ultimately necessary.
Sound off in the comments with your thoughts on this play and the idea that they seem to be their own worst enemy at key moments in tight games.