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Buffalo Bills red zone offense excels in win over Dolphins

Their only red zone trip that didn’t end in a touchdown was the one that ended with a game-winning field goal

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills took on the Miami Dolphins in a cold and snowy Week 15 showdown that had a playoff-type atmosphere. The Bills sealed their 32-29 victory with a field goal by kicker Tyler Bass as the clock expired.

That game-winning field goal was Buffalo’s only possession in the red zone that didn’t end in a touchdown. Their previous four trips all produced touchdowns, and proved to be a vital component of their path to victory.

The Bills have had their fair share of red zone struggles this season, highlighted in my article earlier this year. Most of those early season red zone struggles were a result of turnovers and penalties, but the Bills committed neither of those against the Dolphins. Their disciplined play was a prime reason for their success. Let’s take an in-depth look at how the Bills were able to cash in on four red zone touchdowns.

14-yard touchdown pass to Quintin Morris

The Bills only needed one play to score on their first trip to the red zone. The more I watch this play, the more impressed I am by how effective this simple, yet clever, play design worked. Pay attention to how the Bills motion running back Devin Singletary out to the right; he’s just shuffling over a few yards until he’s behind tight end Quintin Morris.

The Dolphins are in man-to-man coverage, and have the linebacker match Singletary step for step in motion. The Bills snap the ball as Singletary gets behind Morris, which causes the defender guarding Singletary to get in the way of the defender guarding Morris. This essentially creates a “pick” play using Miami’s own defenders against each other. This “pick” ultimately allows Morris to get a step behind his defender and leads to a touchdown.

Also, notice Josh Allen’s ball placement on this throw: he puts the ball right above the defender's head, because he has his back turned. This allows Morris to basically have an uncontested catch, because the defender had no idea the ball was coming. Great play design by Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, and elite ball placement by Allen.

10-yard touchdown pass to Nyheim Hines

Finally, a Nyheim Hines touchdown! The Bills took advantage of having Hines mismatched against a linebacker on a simple flat route on this play. Notice how Dawson Knox runs a corner route right at the high safety, which basically turns into a glorified block downfield, allowing Hines a free path to the endzone.

I’m not sure what the Dolphins’ play call was on this play, but both the linebacker and the safety seem to be in no man’s land, which likely means they were expecting something different than what the Bills ran.

This touchdown was a nicely executed play, but the play before the touchdown was also important. I’ll save you the hassle of looking it up: it was a throw-away to the back of the end zone. Allen received quick pressure on first down, and none of his receivers were out of their breaks yet, so he decided to throw it away. With two more downs to try for a touchdown, Allen decided not to force anything and risk a turnover. This shows some progress in this area of the field.

4-yard touchdown pass to James Cook

The Bills drew three defensive penalties on the Dolphins during this red zone trip, which not only benefitted them in advancing the football, but also stopped the clock as it got closer to halftime.

The touchdown play was a wild one. If you were watching the game with me, you likely would have heard me yelling, “throw it away!” multiple times as time was running out, a disgruntled choice of words when the time actually ran out, and then a cheer for joy when Allen threw for the touchdown. There definitely is some substance to the “if they didn’t score a touchdown, they get no points” debate, but they did score a touchdown, and those points proved to be crucial.

James Cook showed some great awareness on this play by working to get open for his QB as he scrambled. This play mainly comes down to Allen doing Allen things, and it was fun — albeit, stressful — to watch.

5-yard touchdown pass to Dawson Knox

There are two awesome routes on this play. The first is Knox’s route, which results in a touchdown. The Bills get man-to-man coverage from the Dolphins, who double Stefon Diggs with the safety and the corner. They use the other safety as a QB “spy” on Allen.

This leaves Knox one-on-one, and he makes them pay. Watch how Knox runs his route to the inside to create space for Allen to throw to the outside. He sells the in-breaking route by looking to his left at the top of his route, and then breaking it off to the right.

The second route was an epic ankle breaker by wideout Gabe Davis, and he would have likely scored a touchdown if the ball was thrown to him. This is promising to see; maybe Davis can channel his playoff vibes from last season and be a force for the Bills at receiver as they head to the postseason. That would be nice!

In summary

The Bills used their red zone efficiency to fuel their victory over the Dolphins. For those who don’t remember, in 2021 the Bills had a midseason lull, finding themselves at 7-6 in Week 14. They then caught fire and rattled off four straight wins to end the season in 2021, which propelled them into playing their best football going into the playoffs. The Bills have played well enough to win five straight games, but still haven’t been playing their best football. After seeing some cohesion in the red zone versus the Dolphins, I’m sensing the start of a 2021-like ascension into great playoff football being played by the Bills’ offense.