James Cook has clearly had a hot start to his sophomore season, setting a career high for rushing yards in week 2 and being one of the lone bright spots in an anemic offensive performance in week 1. Cook’s speed, elusiveness, and vision have all stood out, and one way the Bills have played into these strengths is running draws - specifically sprint draws.
The Bills have called several sprint draws through the first two weeks, to relative success. These plays stick out on the broadcast, as Allen will take several quick steps towards a stationary Cook, allowing Cook to read his blocks before starting his run. From the all-22 footage, you can see that Cook is aligned just inside the tackle (considerably wider than usual), which requires Allen to "sprint" over to Cook to deliver the ball. A wider alignment grants Cook flexibility and advantages in the passing game, while maintaining the threat of both inside and outside runs via the sprint draw.
Look for the Bills to work in wrinkles off of this action in future weeks, either with a shovel pass underneath to a pulling tight end, or Allen continuing his run into a rollout pass play.
Our first play is from the Jets game, and uses a zone blocking scheme on this variation of the sprint draw. The zone blocking scheme is easily recognized by the unified first step of the offensive line, and our overview of how this scheme is implemented and recognized is linked here. Note the entire offensive line has their shoulders and back upright, and they also get a bit of depth into the backfield. This is designed to simulate a pass set, and entice the defensive line to fly up field to rush the passer.
This is an outside zone run, with Dawson Knox lining up close to widen out the Jets DE alignment. By the time Cook receives the ball, he will be reading the DE and Dawkins’ block, and choose to move inside or outside based on the same. Here, the DE moves upfield, allowing Dawkins to get a quick block before moving inside to take the linebacker (a fantastic play by Dawkins). Cook reads the play beautifully, using his vision to play off of both of Dawkins’ blocks then exploding to hit a big run.
Examples 2 & 3:
Our next two plays are very similar to the first, but lack a tight end alignment near the playside. Look for the same read Cook has to make by the time he gets the ball. On the first play, the DE makes an inside move, and Dawkins gets just enough of him to let Cook bounce the run outside. On the second, the DE moves so far upfield Cook is able to cut under him while staying outside of the rest of the defenders.
These two plays are also a great example of the Bills o-line implementing the "rules" of a zone blocking scheme. On the first play, Connor McGovern (#66) is uncovered by a defender, so he immediately works to the second level to find a linebacker to engage. Dawkins is also able to work to the second level after engaging the DE, showing how the athleticism of offensive lineman can pay off in this scheme. On the second play, after the unified first step of the o-line, McGovern is "covered" by #5 on the Raiders, and immediately moves to engage him.
To show the versatility of the sprint draw, here is an example of a gap blocking scheme the Bills used against the Jets.
In contrast to the above, note how the offensive lineman are moving to create a gap, as opposed to the unified first step in zone blocking. Ultimately, this is a counter play meant to go backside, so that is why you don’t see Cook hitting a "gap" created by the pulling TE and G. It’s also why you see Knox stepping to seal the three technique DT rather than a complete pull to the frontside of the play. The goal of these plays is to break tendencies, and hopefully catch the defensive lineman and linebackers over pursuing the play side where the gap is being created. Note the first steps of the Jets LBs, who are anticipating a run to the right, before Cook steps to the space created by that pursuit.