The Buffalo Bills' outside zone running scheme was a success on opening day of the NFL season Sunday.
Any time an offense can get its bread-and-butter plays going, it opens up all kinds of complementary options. That was the case in the Bills' 21-12 win over the New York Jets.
"If we can get our running game going, every week we've got a shot at winning," said fullback Mike Tolbert. "You have to respect the running game or we're going to run it all day."
The Bills forced the Jets to respect LeSean McCoy's ability to get outside on zone-blocking stretch plays. Then new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison hit the Jets with counter-punches. Here were 10 plays that shaped the game:
1. McCoy cuts back for 27 yards. The Bills were clinging to a 14-12 lead when McCoy hit a big gainer to the New York 26 to set up Buffalo's third touchdown. It was a stretch play to the right, but McCoy found a seam up behind the nose tackle and up the middle of the field.
"That's the biggest thing with the zone running offense," said guard Richie Incognito. "The thing is you can threaten them front side, reach 'em and come out the front side. But the really dangerous plays are when you get everything flowing, you get guys up to the second level and the back puts his foot in the ground and hits it. Shady has a good feel for what we're trying to do."
The Bills used three receivers, and the Jets were in a "light box," with rookie safety Jamal Adams in an inside linebacker position, along with speedy Jets backer Darron Lee. On the front side, right guard John Miller did a good job pushing defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson to the right. Incognito and center Eric Wood pushed nose tackle Steve McLendon to the right. McCoy cut behind Incognito.
Lee never was blocked. He overflowed to the outside then wasn't quick enough to make a diving stop of McCoy coming back the other way.
2. Holmes TD pass. The Jets bit on the stretch play to the right on the Bills' second TD, a 1-yard pass from Tyrod Taylor to Andre Holmes. It was a tight, running formation, with tight end Nick O'Leary and Holmes in H-back positions. At the snap, all the blockers flowed right except Holmes who sprinted behind the line to the left. Taylor faked the run and hit the receiver in the end zone.
"It was just a slide play on the goal line," Holmes said. "When I saw there was a surge on the side where I started, I knew that I was probably going to pop open. It was amazing to get that the first game in Buffalo. It was a lot of fun."
3. Bootleg to the tight end. Two plays after McCoy's 27-yard run, the Bills made the Jets bite again. It was a play-action fake run to the right. Taylor ran a bootleg rollout to the left and hit a wide open O'Leary for 22 yards to the Jets' 4.
"You have to respect Tyrod's ability to run the ball," tight end Charles Clay said. "They boot to get out on the edge, but you don't really have to respect" Josh McCown "taking off for the big play. It adds another dimension to that play, which is troubling for the defense."
4. Clay's TD catch. Taylor threw a 1-yard TD to Clay out of an empty-backfield, five-receiver set. McCoy motioned wide to the right, drawing a linebacker, with Clay in the right slot against the safety.
"There was some confusion once we motioned LeSean out, whether there was a backer lined up there or safety was lined up there. I think that helped the situation."
5. End zone INT. Taylor's pass was a tad high, hard and outside for Clay and got deflected into the arms of Juston Burris in the first quarter.
6. Poyer INT. Jerry Hughes and Lorenzo Alexander forced McCown to hurry a fourth-quarter throw for Robby Anderson. Safety Jordan Poyer was in a two-deep zone and closed fast to make the pickoff.
7. Big missed tackle. Jordan Matthews turned a 7-yard catch into a 47-yard play when he broke a tackle try by Buster Skrine to set up Holmes' TD.
8. Timely tip. Micah Hyde tipped a two-point conversion pass into the arms of Ramon Humber for an interception to keep the Bills ahead, 14-12, late in the third quarter. The Jets were penalized on the play, but it was a good reaction by the safety.
9. Good scramble. Taylor's 14-yard scramble on a third-and-8 play set up the Bills' last TD. The Jets rushed only three on the play.
10. Long FG. Jets kicker Chandler Catanzaro had a poor 2016 with Arizona and a shaky preseason but nailed a 52-yard kick late in the second quarter.