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Screen passes present opportunity for improvement by Bills

Improving the screen-pass game is a big area of opportunity for the Buffalo Bills' offense.

The Bills were 12 of 18 for just 82 yards on screen passes to running backs in 2019, according to Buffalo News charts. Only one screen pass to a running back went for more than 12 yards – a 49-yarder to Devin Singletary vs. Washington in Week 9.

That was one of only six screen passes Singletary caught in 2019, for a total of 43 yards.

Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook led the NFL in screen-pass yardage, with 314, according to Pro Football Focus. The Chargers’ Austin Ekeler was second at 290 yards, and Arizona’s Kenyan Drake was third at 194.

Overall, counting screens to backs, receivers and tight ends, the Bills produced just 135 yards on 24 of 36 passing and just 5.6 yards per reception, News charts showed. The NFL’s best screen teams typically rack up 400 to 500 yards in screens, and the top 12 screen teams typically average between 7 and 9.5 yards per reception.

Screen passes are one of those the low-hanging-fruit items for the Bills’ offense, an area where improvement should not be hard to achieve.

Screen passes to running backs take a high level of timing and execution among all involved – offensive linemen, backs and the quarterback. Maybe the fact the Bills had to incorporate four new starters into the offensive line was a factor, but offensive coordinator Brian Daboll opted not to lean on screens much.

Frank Gore caught just three for 11, 5 and 0 yards. T.J. Yeldon caught three for 12, 7 and 4 yards.

Singletary’s big screen against the Redskins was his longest play of the season, and the Bills knew it was going to be part of the game plan for that opponent.

“We made it a point to really work on our screen game all week in practice, and it showed,” guard Jon Feliciano said afterward.

However, that was a one-week occurrence. Singletary has the ability to do more damage on screens. Will the Bills decide to make it a bigger part of their packages next year?

Running back screens can be a good tactic to counter the blitz, but the Bills didn’t capitalize. They called seven RB screens when the defense rushed five or more men, but the plays totaled just 11 yards. Josh Allen twice had to throw the ball into the ground vs. the blitz because a defender read the screen and had it covered. Once, Singletary dropped the pass. Once, the pass was batted down.

Quick screens to wide receivers weren’t much help, either. The Bills were 12 of 14 for 53 yards. Cole Beasley took one for 10 yards in Dallas. Isaiah McKenzie caught one for 24 vs. Baltimore. But those were the only receptions for more than 6 yards.

The Bills tried four screens to tight ends, but all were incomplete.

The screen game hasn’t been a Bills strength for a long time.

On screens to running backs in 2018, the Bills were just 13 of 19 for 46 yards, and six of the completions went for negative yards. Only one screen went for more than 12 yards. In 2017, there was just one screen to a back that went for more than 10 yards. In 2016, there were none of more than 15 yards. In 2015, LeSean McCoy had some success, taking nine screens for 85 yards.

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