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The ouster of Buffalo Bills OC Ken Dorsey: Opinion and analysis

A deviation on my usual weekly All-22 review

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Buffalo Bills Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

The last time the Buffalo Bills took the field it was a bit sad. Or frustrating. Infuriating. There are lots of good words out there to describe the loss to the Denver Broncos. Following the loss the Bills canned embattled offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey. So between my somewhat lessened enthusiasm to do a real deep dive into the film and the big news, I felt it was a good week to do things a little differently. Don’t worry, there’ll still be some GIFs.

Problem Solving 101

The Buffalo Bills have a problem. Specifically a problem stacking Ws this season. At 5-5, they’re well short of expectations. This has led to, shall we say, “speculation” on the part of fans who have remained totally calm and respectful toward each other on the internet as we try to sleuth our way to the bottom of it all. The firing of Ken Dorsey suggests the Buffalo Bills are also eager to problem solve. So let’s discuss how that process should look.

I could come up with some slick corporate-looking flow chart, but let’s cut to the chase. You’ve likely heard of something called “root-cause analysis” — which is a fancy term to use when you just want to say “Let’s figure out the real problem.” Now you may think that firing Dorsey means the Buffalo Bills went through that process.

Maybe they did. Maybe they didn’t. Sometimes people react without the whole root-cause-analysis process. I wasn’t there and won’t claim to know what the Bills did. We, however, are going to take a look at a little bit of evidence to see if Dorsey was, in fact, the root cause of the problem.

Now for some of those promised GIFs...

An analysis of the key Buffalo Bills figures

Offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey

One thing I’ve stated a good amount this year and the end of last is that when I’m reviewing film my impression is that Dorsey is consistently scheming up plays that can work. However, that doesn’t suggest a flawless coach. One could argue that sometimes a play that can work is not as good as a play that should work.

On this 4th & 1 play where Buffalo (wisely in my opinion) elected to go for it, quarterback Josh Allen started in shotgun five yards away from the line of scrimmage and six yards from the line to gain. After his drop back, the ball was now ten yards from the line to gain. This isn’t condemnation of this type of play ever, but a deeper drop back is intended to help the line hold longer by giving the defense more ground to cover before hitting the QB.

So while you could say there were open receivers for Allen and that this is a play call that can work, maybe there were plays that leaned more toward should work. For instance, running back James Cook averaged 6.1 yards per carry. Wait, my bad. That’s his average if you remove the 42-yarder he had. His actual average was 9.1 yards per carry. Running back Latavius Murray was also over seven. Allen has also been known to be effective running the ball from time to time.

Case close, right? Clear evidence that Dorsey had his problems. Not so fast!

Head Coach Sean McDermott

I know Latavius Murray was praised like, four seconds ago. However, arguably James Cook may be the better receiving option. Even more arguably, Cook likely receives more practice time and should have the better chemistry on a more timing-based throw. Am I suggesting maybe James Cook should have been on the field here? I am.

Sean McDermott might be showing some meddling in his team’s success on this play. After a fumble, James Cook was notably absent from the field. Why is this a McDermott thing? I have to go with the evidence, and the practice of placing a running back in the dog house after a fumble predates Dorsey as offensive coordinator.

Quarterback Josh Allen

This one should be super quick. I don’t need a copy of the play book to know that this play isn’t called “Release the ball before you make contact with your running back for a clean transfer and hope gravity stopped being a thing for a second.”

This was a split-second lapse in focus with disastrous results. We all know this isn’t the only Josh Allen GIF I could create in this category for 2023.

Stefon Diggs et al.

This was a lot like the Latavius Murray drop except this is wide receiver Stefon Diggs. This is HIM. This doesn’t happen. I chose a Diggs drop for a few reasons. First is the rarity. That leads to the second reason. The rarity of a Diggs drop/miscue gives a different gut feel to it and makes it the perfect stand-in for the fact that we seem to see drops and miscues from the skill players on a routine basis these days. The chatter around tight end Dawson Knox has been that his injury may have been a blessing in disguise for Buffalo by taking him and his drops off the field. The chatter about wide receiver Gabe Davis isn’t any kinder.

The final reason I selected Diggs is the offseason drama that circled the man this year. That’s not entirely accurate, really. I shouldn’t have called it “offseason.” It’s still going. Is he unhappy? The team denies it, but the cloud remains. Does that cloud exist? Is it casting a shadow covering more than Diggs?

The Buffalo Bills’ defense

I promised GIFs but not happening for this one. I want to talk about a Mac Jones-engineered, game-winning drive against the Bills’ defense. Yes there have been a lot of injuries, but in a do-or-die scenario Buffalo’s defense allowed the New England Patriots to drive 75 yards in under two minutes to win the game.

I’ve been big on time of possession this season and how it’s hurt the Bills (Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals, and Jacksonville Jaguars games). That said, Buffalo had a five-minute advantage against the Patriots. It wasn’t even an exhausted defense like the Broncos got to take advantage of.

The Final Straw

If there was a single issue with the Buffalo Bills and dropping games they really shouldn’t have, it would have been fixed long ago. There’s too much pride for everyone involved to not take action on readily available solutions. In what’s often called “the ultimate team sport,” failure is almost always a team effort.

I have a hard time seeing Ken Dorsey as the problem. I’m open to discussion on him being one of the problems. Further, Dorsey was in a leadership position with the potential to impact several other problems. From all accounts, Dorsey was a popular guy in the locker room and I have no reason to wish him anything but the best. That said, my fingers are crossed hoping Buffalo took the time for a root-cause analysis and identified the right action steps.