While watching the matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins during Super Wild Card Weekend, maybe you wondered why the Bills took so many deep shots downfield. With the usual social media traffic I follow on game days, I saw all sorts of theories and a good deal of finger-pointing.
Finger-pointing makes some sense, too. Why were the Bills trying low-percentage stuff in what was ultimately a very tight game?
I’ll warn you now, there are a lot more GIFs than usual for this analysis. Hopefully it won’t create any lag as we look at every single pass of 20 or more yards.
How many deep passes are we talking about?
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and this one is worth that many for sure. Allen attempted 39 passes, and 13 of them (33%) were for 20 or more yards. In other words, you weren’t imagining things. The Bills were very aggressive in the passing game.
Play 1: A near-miss to Stefon Diggs
This was how the Bills started the game. We’ll look at three main themes below, for those of you who want to play along at home. For each play, the following three questions will apply.
- Was the play call by offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey something that had a shot at working?
- Was Josh Allen’s decision a good one?
- Was the play executed well?
On this play, there are multiple options that would’ve been effective for the circumstances. Allen could have chosen one or two other options with a better chance of success, and gained a few yards. Going for the deep shot to Diggs was a good decision, though, as Diggs had this over the top. The ball was a bit overthrown, and there was a defensive holding call here, too.
Play 2: A deep completion to Diggs
The Bills needed a big gain to keep the drive alive. Dorsey called up a play that gained it all, and then some. Allen had options on both sides of the field, and chose Diggs. The ball was thrown perfectly despi,te good coverage by Miami.
Play 3: Interception targeting John Brown
Dorsey’s play call had John Brown coming open for a score, and some underneath stuff that would have been considered a success. Allen saw Brown for the walk-in touchdown, and I don’t hate the decision made. Credit to Miami for collapsing the pocket. Allen couldn’t step into the throw, and it was a bit inside for the interception. I gave a hypothetical landing zone on the pause in the GIF — of which I believe you see where my point was headed.
Play 4: Incomplete to Khalil Shakir
Buffalo had a 3rd & 8. Dorsey’s play had Shakir wide open deep, and an underneath throw with a crossing route that might have picked up the needed yards, as well. Allen chose Shakir for the big gain, and delivered a very catchable ball. Shakir nearly had it, but not quite.
Play 5: Jumping catch by Gabe Davis
Dorsey’s play call created a few options, including some safer plays that would have been fine. Allen chose Davis. The throw wasn’t perfect, as Davis needed to go way up to get it and lost some momentum, but still managed some YAC. And let’s face it, even this imperfect throw was a great result.
Play 6: Throw it away, throw it away, throw it away now
Dorsey had some potential windows to throw into with this play. Allen was looking to the right side of the field, and when the pressure started coming, he threw the ball away. Diggs was wide open on the other side of the field. If Allen had more time, maybe he would have seen it. With the questions I hinted at, not seeing Diggs could be a Dorsey thing (drawn up as right-side read first). It could be an Allen thing (decided to focus right). It could also be an execution thing (line didn’t hold up long enough to allow full progressions). Allen throwing it away rather than taking a negative play wasn’t the worst outcome, either.
Play 7: Diggs nearly makes one-handed TD catch
With time running out, Dorsey’s play had at least three receivers with a shot of making a catch. Allen didn’t take the underneath one, as it wasn’t likely to get a touchdown. He had narrow windows on both sides of the field, and tried to fit one in to Diggs, nearly making it happen. Let’s be fair to Miami on this, too: they knew the Bills would be forced to take a shot at the end zone, and they covered it well.
Play 8: More kudos for Miami
Dawson Knox wasn’t the only option who might have picked up good yardage, so credit to Dorsey’s play call and design. Allen put the ball on Knox’s hands. The Dolphins were in position to knock it loose, so credit to Miami.
Play 9: Jump ball to Diggs
Once again, the Bills needed a longer play, so a deeper shot was already understandable. Dorsey drew up a play with a few different levels of routes. Allen was pressured, and threw a jump ball toward Diggs. It’s hard to find too much fault here, and again, Miami covered everyone well.
Play 10: Davis touchdown
Not only was this the best possible result, but Buffalo had a few good options for this play. Allen decided on the score, and the team executed it well.
Play 11: Underthrow to Davis
Dorsey had multiple levels in the options, and there were a lot of guys open. Allen went for a kill shot — a decision I didn’t love. While Davis did have a step, there were other plays to be made that would have been great — and at a much lower difficulty. The ball was under-thrown and incomplete.
Play 12: Overthrow to Davis
This was the very next play. The play looked designed to get Davis isolated and running over the top. While I disliked that there weren’t too many realistic options here, the play call did create a great opportunity. Allen saw it, but threw too far for Davis.
Play 13: 31 yards to Shakir
Both Shakir and Brown were open deep on the left side. Allen had just recently missed Davis on two similar plays, and took the shot to Shakir — which pans outs. This decision was a bit odd, as Buffalo was playing in a tight game and only needed one yard. It’s hard to argue with the result, though I suppose I kind of am.
On 13 long passes, six were completed, including one for a touchdown. A seventh resulted in a defensive holding flag, which is also a good result. Of the remainder, I won’t insinuate that Dorsey called a perfect game, but I will go on record saying that the plays drawn up mostly made sense, and more importantly gave his team very realistic chances at success. Allen also mostly made good decisions within the circumstances he was given. A few execution errors and a few heads-up plays by the Dolphins created some misses.
Overall, I was a bit surprised to see how much the long game actually made sense in the context of the game. We often hear that teams should “take what the defense gives them.” Well, Miami gave Buffalo opportunities for deeper shots, and overall, the Bills were able to take them.