The Buffalo Bills are in a desperate search for an offensive identity a quarter of the way into the NFL season.
The offense is geared to execute in the short passing game. However, young quarterback Josh Allen has trouble making quick reads, and the Bills don’t have receivers who get quick separation.
Meanwhile, the Bills’ play-calling suggests the coaches have no confidence in the running game. Can you blame them? Not especially.
The bottom line, however, is for the better part of four weeks (aside from the first half in Minnesota), the offense has nothing it can rely on.
The Bills went three plays and out on four of their first five drives in their 22-0 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Conventional wisdom suggests the Bills should be able to throw on first down. Defenses have respect for the one proven playmaker on the Buffalo offense, running back LeSean McCoy.
Yet, Allen was 1 for 7 passing on first down in the first half, for 7 yards.
There were 13 passes and seven runs in those five drives. Allen was 3 of 12 passing for 19 yards and a sack.
Here were key plays that shaped the Bills’ Lambeau Field loss, with an emphasis on the offensive futility:
1. Bad start. The Packers stuffed the Bills’ opening drive when Chris Ivory was stopped for no gain on a third-and-1 run. It was a power run off right tackle with pulling Vlad Ducasse leading the way. It looked like tight end Khari Lee failed to pick up safety Kentrell Brice, charging to the line.
2. Happy feet. The Bills’ third drive got across midfield. On a third-and-5 play from the Green Bay 47, Allen flushed himself out of a perfectly clean pocket, rolling to the right, then scrambling back to the left before misfiring on a tough, crossbody throw for LeSean McCoy. It was a misread by the rookie.
3. First sack. The Bills’ fourth drive was derailed by a 9-yard sack on a second-and-6 play. Call it a misread by right tackle Jordan Mills. Packers edge rusher Clay Matthews was in a wide defensive end position outside of Mills and took a wide path straight up the field. Maybe he was outside Mills’ field of vision. But Mills blocked down inside and left Matthews free to attack Allen for the sack.
4. The offense gets a mulligan. The Bills’ defense gave the offense the ball right back when Tremaine Edmunds used his massive wingspan to deflect a pass into the arms of Jordan Poyer for an interception.
5. Third-down drop. The Bills’ fifth drive also was in Green Bay territory. Trailing, 13-0, Allen fired a bullet to the left sideline for Andre Holmes on third-and-5 from the Packers’ 44. Holmes dropped it. It was a tough catch. But the young QB needs somebody to make a play for him.
6. Throw it away. Of course, Allen’s interception into the end zone late in the second quarter was ill-advised and the kind of mistake a strong-armed rookie is prone to making. It would have been easy for him to throw it away to preserve a sure field goal. You hope he learns from it.
7. Check it down. Allen needs to take the check-down more. Trailing, 19-0, late in the third quarter, the Packers threatened a six-man blitz. They only rushed four. But Ray-Ray McCloud was open in the left flat in the space that was vacated by rushing safety Raven Green. Allen didn’t pull the trigger and was sacked for 10 yards.
8. Perfect rub route. The Packers’ first touchdown was set up by a 44-yard pass from Rodgers to running back Ty Montgomery. It was a perfectly executed rub route.
Receiver Davante Adams, lined up on the left, ran a quick hitch. Montgomery came out of the backfield and used Adams as a shield on a wheel route up the left sideline. Matt Milano was covering Montgomery but had to avoid Adams, who sidestepped the linebacker at the last second. No contact was made. Milano was two steps behind Montgomery, who caught a perfect throw from Rodgers to the Buffalo 7.
9. Illegal rub route? Two plays after the Montgomery catch, Rodgers threw a 3-yard TD pass to tight end Jimmy Graham. It was a similar play. This time, receiver Geronimo Allison was on the left and ran a 3-yard hitch, with Graham scraping past his shoulder into the left flat. But Allison leaned into safety Rafael Bush, trying to chase Graham. It sure looked like an illegal pick from this perspective.
Ryan Lewis was in coverage on Allison. It looked like he needed to have better communication with Bush to anticipate the pick play.