The Buffalo Bills’ offense put up 48 points in a Week 4 trouncing of the Miami Dolphins. Then Weeks 5, 6, and 7 happened. Buffalo’s offensive fireworks have come to a screeching halt the last three weeks, putting up a mediocre 19.7 points per game, which is good for 16th in the NFL during that time span. Not to mention that two of those low-scoring performances came against below-average defenses.
The Bills' offense seems to sputter all game, getting first downs appears to be a struggle, out of rhythm in the passing game, penalties, turnovers, getting behind the sticks — you name it and Buffalo has struggled with it during this three-game stretch. Then, just about the time when all hope seems lost, the Bills are trailing by two scores late in the game, and a touchdown is a must — the offense finds its groove. They find another gear, seem to have a sense of urgency and carve up the defense with a smooth-looking drive. This usually leaves Bills Mafia wondering, “Where was this the whole game?!”
Read on below, as I dive into these successful late-game drives to see if anything interesting comes up. Could Buffalo’s finicky offense take away something from their “gotta have it” drives at the end of the game? Let’s find out!
The Standard Measure
In each of the last three games (Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants, New England Patriots) Buffalo had two touchdown drives late in the game to either take the lead or make it a one-score game. In those touchdown drives (six drives total), I tracked the following:
- Personnel package
- Run versus pass plays
- Average depth of target
- QB out of pocket/out of structure throws
- QB runs
- No huddle vs huddle up
In these six touchdown drives, the Bills used the following personnel packages:
- 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) - 48 plays
- 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) - 6 plays
- 21 personnel (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR) - 2 plays
- 22 heavy personnel (2 RB, 2 TE, extra lineman) - 1 play
Run versus Pass plays
In these six touchdown drives, the Bills run play versus pass plays called were:
- Run - 22 called plays (39%)
- Pass - 35 called plays (61%)
Average Depth of Target
The average depth of target refers to the distance from the line of scrimmage a throw traveled to its intended target. The average for these six drives was 7.93 yards from the line of scrimmage.
QB out of pocket/out of structure throws
This refers to the amount of times Josh Allen threw the football either outside of the pocket or threw the ball out of structure, which usually means some scrambling is in involved before the throw. In these six drives, Allen did this 10 times.
QB runs include designed runs and scramble runs. In these six drives, Allen ran the ball six times, and two of those runs resulted in a touchdown. It’s worth noting that two of these runs were QB sneaks at the goal line.
No-Huddle versus Huddle
In these six drives, the Bills used a no-huddle offense three times and a traditional huddle offense three times.
What does all this mean?
As the saying goes: still waters run deep. For our purposes here, that means while on the surface things might seem simple, underneath there are a ton of factors that determine a successful offensive drive. I only touch on a fraction of data points in this article, but we can use them to deduce some trends.
11 personnel works
The Bills have opted to run more 12 personnel this year after drafting tight end Dalton Kincaid and signing tight end Dawson Knox to a contract extension, but they still find lots of success in 11 personnel — it’s their bread and butter. Knox needs surgery on his wrist, so I would expect to see a higher share of 11 personnel going forward.
Throw the football
In my opinion, when you have a QB the caliber of Josh Allen, the pass should set up the run, not the other way around. The Bills have seemingly tried to run the football more often but, in reality, they still pass the ball about the same amount. Buffalo’s offense currently throw the ball 63% of the time, which is similar to the three seasons prior — 64% (2022), 65% (2021), and 64% (2020). I wouldn’t mind if this percentage crept into the upper 60’s.
Throwing more deep balls doesn’t always lead to success
Allen's 2023 average depth of target is 8.81 yards. On the six touchdown drives I reviewed in this article his average depth of target was 7.93. Deep balls are low-percentage throws and they seem to happen in bunches. Right now, the Bills aren’t getting those deep balls completed. Teams are playing soft and not allowing Buffalo many throws down the field. Most of these down-the-field throws come on out-of-structure plays from Allen. At some point, the Bills will see a swing in the right direction by completing these deep balls, but they have to mix these plays in at the proper time.
Josh Allen thrives in chaos
That being said, there is no play call to “create chaos” and let Allen make a play. In Week 1, most everyone wanted Josh Allen to “tone it down” a little bit after his three interceptions. Allen is a gamer and he needs to feel free to sling it when necessary. If you can’t take the heat, then get out of the kitchen — let Allen use his instincts.
Josh Allen has ran the ball less this year than ever before
Take a look at the chart embedded just below from Pro Football Reference. Josh Allen running the football fuels Buffalo’s offense in big moments. I wouldn’t refrain from having Allen run seven times per game, as it will likely help the offense. However, when he does run it, he should be smart about protecting himself.
Mix in no-huddle more often
In the three games I featured here, the offense only ran no-huddle 11 total plays outside the last two touchdown drives of the game. They incorporated no-huddle in their first-half touchdown against the Jaguars. No-huddle is used in obvious hurry-up situations at the end of games or halves, but Buffalo shouldn’t be afraid to mix it into their regular offense more often. There’s a time and place for everything, but when a team has a mismatch on the field it wants to exploit, go into no-huddle for a few plays and exploit it.