This is the next piece in a series analyzing the Bills' most significant questions entering the offseason. Part 6: Will Pat DiMarco be back?
The decline of the Bills’ running game in 2018 was not good news for fullback Patrick DiMarco.
Buffalo running backs rushed for 280 fewer yards than in 2017 and averaged almost a half a yard less per carry (3.53) than the year before.
Confidence in the team’s ability to power up and run the ball was down, which meant DiMarco’s playing time decreased.
DiMarco played almost 100 fewer snaps on offense, averaging 10 snaps a game or 16 percent of the plays. Last year, he played 25 percent of the snaps.
“On a personal level, I want to be on the field as much as I possibly can,” DiMarco said. “This year, I was not there as much as I’ve been in the past. I wish I could have been. But whatever my role is, it is what it is. I’m going to go out there and give it all I’ve got, and hopefully I can go out and make some plays.”
The 6-foot-1, 234-pound DiMarco is the same battering-ram lead blocker he was in 2017, and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll expresses admiration for him.
“Reliable. Tough. Great leader,” Daboll said.
But the Bills opted to use three receivers more often with quarterback Josh Allen this year, especially once speedsters Robert Foster and Isaiah McKenzie emerged to join Zay Jones. The use of three-receiver sets (11 personnel) was up from 56 percent in 2017 to 69.8 percent in 2018.
“He’s a very dependable guy,” Daboll said of DiMarco. “We’ve leaned more toward 11 than anything else the last seven weeks, especially, partly out of the fact you got Isaiah and Robert and Zay, and you spread it out and open the field for Josh so he can see it a little bit better.”
All indications are the Bills still see plenty of value in DiMarco, who has two years left on a four-year contract.
Daboll emphasizes a match-up based offense, and he needs a fullback for games and situations in which he wants to power up.
It happened in the season-finale against Miami. Daboll decided to attack Miami’s defensive front with two-back sets, and DiMarco played 36 of 62 snaps.
“I had Daboll in Kansas City when I was with the Chiefs,” DiMarco said, referring to the 2012 season. “I was on the practice squad for 11 weeks, and I was activated the last five. It kind of ebbed and flowed the same way. We went 2-14 that year, so it wasn’t a great year record-wise, but we had games where we rushed for 300 yards, 200 yards. It’s about the matchups. He has the schemes in, it’s just about getting comfortable with the line and the quarterback and the backfield, and everybody being on the same page. I think there were a lot of miscues this year, and that’s why our run game didn’t really get going.”
The other element that DiMarco brings to the Bills, which never is to be underestimated because it’s such a point of emphasis for Sean McDermott, is his character and work ethic enhance the culture the coach tries to build.
DiMarco leads by example on a young team, and he values every snap he plays.
“That’s exactly what you’ve got to do,” he said. “I’ve had games where I played one or two snaps on offense, and I’ve had games where I played 15 or 20. I was able to be more involved in special teams this year, which was fine for a change to get out there and fly around and make some plays on special teams. I think I had five or six tackles, which I think is a career high for me. ... Every chance I get, I try to encourage these guys. I’m a captain on this team, and you just work to improve every game.”
DiMarco played on the punt-coverage and kickoff-return units in every game and was on kickoff coverage almost every game. He played five games on punt returns. In all, he played 38 percent of the special-teams snaps.
“I’ve played just about every position on special teams on every different phase,” he said. “I either play on two, three or four phases. When I’m out there, I’m kind of reminding guys of what their assignments are, how they’re supposed to do it. And if I’m not out there, I’m telling the guy that I’m backing up, kind of teaching him the ins and outs and what he’s supposed to do.”
The Bills’ young roster was part of the reason for the season-long struggles on special teams.
“The big thing is why we’re doing what we’re doing,” DiMarco said. “It’s what a lot of young guys don’t necessarily know. They understand their job. But why are you doing your job? Why do you have this leverage? Why are you banging the snapper and then working over (on a punt return)? There’s different things that guys don’t necessarily think about that is in the grand scheme of why we’re doing it. It’s been a fun year with these young guys.”
DiMarco, 29, earns an average of $2.1 million a year, which is second-most among NFL fullbacks. However, fullbacks are low-cost players. He’s due to make $1.6 million in 2019.