The Buffalo Bills cruised to a 38-10 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 2 of the 2023 NFL season. A key reason for Buffalo’s 38-point outburst was their ability to have an effective running game, something this team has been trying to administer consistently in recent years. My thought process on the run game is thus: I don’t think the Bills should run the ball more, I don’t want to take the ball out of Josh Allen’s hands any more than needed. Instead, when the Bills do run the ball, it should be effective enough to complement the passing game. A good passing game should set up the run game. That’s exactly what the Bills were able to do in Week 2.
Let’s break it down.
By the numbers
As a team, Buffalo rushed for 183 yards on 35 carries (5.23 average) with two touchdowns. Leading rushers were as follows:
- James Cook: 17 carries for 123 yards
- Damien Harris: 7 carries for 33 yards and one touchdown
- Latavius Murray: 6 carries for 22 yards and one touchdown
For once, Josh Allen was not Buffalo’s leading rusher. Allen only had three carries for seven yards.
Most of Buffalo’s success running the football has come from running the ball “up the middle.” They have run it 23 times up the middle (good for second in the NFL) for an average of 5.35 yards gained. which is fourth in the NFL.
Through the first two weeks, the Bills have opted to run the ball 20 times on 1st & 10 and passed the ball 32 times on 1st & 10. On 2nd & 5 or less the Bills have run the ball 12 times, converting seven of those for first downs. It gets even better when it’s 2nd & 2 or less, where they have run the ball four times, converting all four into first downs.
One more fun stat: According to Fantasy Pros, James Cook is second in the NFL in yards after contact with 106. Let James Cook.
Let’s review some film...
The Bills were in 13 personnel (1 RB & 3 TEs) on this play. All three TEs lined up on the left side of the line of scrimmage. This is a “duo” run concept, which is a gap run where the linemen use combo blocks to get to the second level. The RB reads the MLB to dictate what hole to hit. The MLB hung inside on this play so the RB bounced outside. The three TEs did a great job of collapsing the end of the line of scrimmage to give Murray room to run.
Latavius Murray still has some juice. Watch him be a battering ram and get in the end zone. Besides Murray, watch how Kincaid and Dawkins executed an impressive combo block. Honestly, the whole left side of the line, including Connor McGovern, was phenomenal during this play.
Check out this reach block by Spencer Brown on Maxx Crosby. Brown quickly jumped outside to entice Crosby inside. Once Crosby went inside, Brown pinned him down and allowed Harris to go around the outside. Well done Spencer Brown.
The Bills pulled tackle Spencer Brown on this play — and this is where his athleticism serves Brown well. Everyone up front won their block and allowed Cook to get past the second level. Cook did a fantastic job of getting skinny through the hole and picking up the most yardage possible.
The Bills have run this play a handful of times through the first two weeks of the season to great success. I suspect teams will start game planning for it and we’ll see less of the formation, but I’m sure offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey has some wrinkles up his sleeves to keep teams on their toes.
This play has a sprint draw action where Allen runs the ball to a patiently waiting Cook behind the tackle. Here, the offensive line took a pass set and attacked the intruding rushers. The linemen used body position more than brute force to create holes for Cook to run through. Cook has looked slippery so far this season and this is a perfect play call for his skill set.
First, let’s break down the pre-snap happenings of this play.
Taking a look at the pre-snap of this play we see Josh Allen wave Dalton Kincaid into the backfield. On Kincaid’s way in Allen pointed to the safety (No. 1) indicating that he wants Kincaid to block the safety because he’s coming down in the box. Let’s see what happened post-snap.
Similar look to the play before, but this time Buffalo’s offensive line fired off the ball with the intention of run blocking. Josh Allen’s adjustment of bringing Kincaid in to block the safety proved to be essential, as Kincaid’s block was the one that sprung this play free. Cook made a man miss and was off to the races.
Another sprint draw look from the Bills, the same as Play 5 above. Notice on this rep that OT Dion Dawkins’ “one shove and let him go” technique ended up putting the DE right in James Cook’s lap. No problem for Cook, as he put on the “e-brake” and proceeded to run for a nice gain.
This duo run concept can be seen in Play 1 above. The Bills' offensive line won all of their combo blocks and reached the second level. This allowed Harris to go untouched into the second level on his way to a 10-yard gain.
I wouldn’t want to take the ball out of Josh Allen’s hands to run the ball with more frequency by others any time soon, but having an effective running game could go a long way for Buffalo this year. The upgrades they made to their offensive line look solid and their stable of running backs seems ready to run. Having a solid rushing attack to complement Josh Allen and the passing game could come in handy if things aren’t clicking through the air.