One thing you can bank on Brian Daboll not doing is this: Banging his head into a brick wall.
Rather than try to pound the ball into the strength of the New York Jets’ defense – the defensive line – the Bills’ offensive coordinator spread it out to get the matchups he wanted in the season-opening 17-16 victory Sunday.
It worked a lot better than the point total indicated.
The Bills used a spread formation in the first half while keeping two backs in the game, and fullback Patrick DiMarco was lined up in a receiver position 27 times overall.
Josh Allen completed 14 of 21 passes for 116 yards out of 21 personnel – two backs, one tight end and two receivers.
The two-back spread formation accomplished several things. It forced the Jets’ linebackers to cover in space, and the Jets had lost two starting linebackers to injury in preseason. It also gave Allen clearer reads on coverage. If a defensive back was over DiMarco, it was likely zone coverage. Allen hit Cole Beasley and John Brown for easy completions in underneath zones for 8 and 9 yards on the first drive. If a linebacker was over DiMarco, it was man coverage. Allen hit Brown for 15 yards against man coverage early.
Spreading those linebackers out also limited the blitzing possibilities for Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Allen was 5 of 7 when the Jets blitzed the two-back sets.
“We had a bunch of weeks to break these guys down and study them,” DiMarco said. “So we knew their strengths. We knew ways to manipulate them and get them into situations we wanted, and that’s what we did. Without the turnovers, it would have been a really good day for the offense.”
Turnovers, of course, nearly torpedoed the offensive game plan.
“That’s kind of what we planned on doing,” Allen said of the pass-first approach. “We were trying to see if they were going to switch up what they were going to do. We had some different guys in, just trying to force their hand. Just trying to take what they give us. We started off really hot. We got down there moving the ball really well, and I lose the ball on the fumble there, something that’s inexcusable.
“It was really a fast start but no points to show for it,” Allen said. “So that’s something I’ve got to be better on.”
Allen dropped back to pass on the first 17 plays. But on three of the first 10 plays, Allen was under center in a run formation and called an audible that turned into a pass play.
Obviously, Allen needs to eliminate turnovers. But the fact he completed 64.8% of his passes, 66.6% out of the two-back spread and 53.8% against the blitz was a big step forward from last season. Allen completed 52.8% overall last year and 45% against the blitz.
“It wasn’t scripted like that,” DiMarco said of 17 consecutive drop-backs. “It’s just kind of the way it ended up happening. When you’re having success and moving the ball, you want to stick with it. Thankfully, we did all that in the first half, and in the second half they softened up and we started to run the ball.”
The Bills got the run game going in the second half by using the new mobility of the offensive line – with center Mitch Morse pulling. After Frank Gore was stuffed for a safety, the next 10 run plays went for 87 yards.
The Bills used 21 personnel on 27 plays or 43 percent of the snaps. Last year they used 21 personnel on just 8.6 percent of the snaps.
Does that mean DiMarco is going to be on the field a ton more this year? Not necessarily. It was just what worked (or should have worked better) in Week 1.