Jim Kubiak has been analyzing the play of Buffalo Bills quarterbacks for BNBlitz.com. Kubiak is the all-time leading passer at Navy, has played in the NFL, NFL Europe and the Arena Football League, and has been a coach and executive in the AFL. He spent eight years as the radio analyst for the University at Buffalo and runs the Western New York Quarterback Academy to help develop the next generation of quarterbacks. He recently was named head coach at Hilbert College.
The Buffalo Bills and Josh Allen overwhelmed the New Orleans Saints with better play selection, balance and exceptional efficiency on offense for a Thanksgiving Night victory.
Allen completed 23 of 28 passes for an 82% completion percentage and threw four touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions, but despite the Bills losing the turnover ratio by 2-1, their defense shut down the anemic Saints offense, allowing a total of only 190 yards. Allen totaled 260 yards through the air and 43 yards on eight rushes.
Allen’s overall performance grade was 97%.
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll made a commitment to running the football. Running back Matt Breida started the game, and his speed and pep made a difference. The Bills’ offense ran the ball on 11 of their first 15 plays with Breida and Allen, and by the end, totaled 32 rushes of their 62 offensive plays.
If you do it well, running the football does two things. First, it takes the pressure off the quarterback, as he doesn't have to make all of the plays to move the football, and eliminates the potential for mistakes. Second, it creates rhythm and a sense of controlling the game. The linemen get to attack, rather than protect, and getting after a team and controlling the football results in increased time of possession (the Bills had the ball for 34:38, while the Saints' had the ball for 25:22).
Certainly, offenses can still control the ball and the clock while passing every down, but there is a comfortable sense of dominating an opponent that you just can’t get continuously throwing the football.
A successful running game forces the defense to adjust to stop it, which, in turn, creates opportunities to play-action and to attack with a short-to-intermediate passing game. This is what Allen and Daboll do best, and if they can somehow bottle this strategy and use it each week, the Bills’ offense will have a combination that will be difficult for any opponent to defend.
Play selection: 15 plays – four passes, 11 runs.
Allen: 3 for 4 passing for 30 yards, one touchdown, one sack. Three carries for 17 yards.
Performance grade: 100%.
Score: Bills, 7-0.
In the Bills’ opening series, Daboll called seven runs in 10 plays. The drive started at their own 35-yard line and was topped off with a touchdown pass to Dawson Knox:
Here, Knox is lined up to Allen’s right in a wing position, which gives the illusion of a formation that is strong to that side. In the video, we see all the offensive lineman blocking to the right for Breida on what appeared to be an outside-zone running play. Knox is the only player coming underneath to the left. Allen had a choice – give the ball to Breida or to throw it to Knox – depending on the defensive alignment. Carl Graderson was the unblocked defensive end and Allen felt that Knox was going to outflank him, which he did.
This was a good decision by Allen and a great play by Knox to break the tackle of safety Marcus Williams. Gabriel Davis also did a nice job of blocking for Knox.
Run-pass-option concepts depend upon sound decision making skills from the quarterback. When Daboll and Allen are on the same page, these types of concepts tend to have more success. Breida accounted for seven of the Bills’ 11 rushing plays in the quarter and his speed seemed to make a difference, particularly to the outside, an area where Devin Singletary is not as fast.
Daboll used tosses and pitches to get the Buffalo offense on the perimeter, a place they have not successfully exploited at any time this season with running backs. This strategy was a sight for sore eyes for Bills fans, as Breida opened the door of possibilities and the hope of defenses having to defend more of the field when he is in the game.
Play selection: 17 plays – 12 passes, five runs.
Allen: 10 for 12 passing for 93 yards, two interceptions, one sack. One carry for 3 yards.
Performance grade: 88.9%.
Score: Bills, 10-0.
The Bills’ three offensive drives in the second quarter ended this way: Sack, interception and interception.
Following the sack on third-and-3 on the Saints’ 13-yard line, Buffalo kicked a field goal to increase the lead to 10-0.
On their next drive, Allen and the Bills’ offense overcame a holding penalty on Dion Dawkins on the opening play. The penalty created a first-and-20, but the offense converted a third-and-6 and marched the ball to midfield. The Bills were on the move until this misfire to Stefon Diggs.
Here, Allen is looking to his right and works his way back to Diggs on the left side. It is difficult to say whether Diggs was supposed to curl back to Allen. The ball placement indicated Allen expected Diggs was going to come back to him, but Diggs kept coming across the field on what appeared to be a dig route.
Saints cornerback Bradley Roby did a fantastic job of reading the route and jumping in front of Diggs for the interception.
The Buffalo defense held and a New Orleans special teams blunder of a failed fake punt resulted in great field position for the Bills’ offense, starting their drive at midfield with 1:46 remaining in the quarter and two timeouts.
Allen threw another touchdown pass to Knox preceding the interception, but Ike Boettger was penalized for being downfield. That set up second-and-goal with one timeout and 16 seconds remaining.
Allen and the Bills’ offense had good balance and efficiency on this eight-play possession, but tried to do too much on this attempt.
With 16 seconds left, Allen had Singletary in the flat to his left and Emmanuel Sanders crossing from right to left on a drag route. Allen appeared to try to manipulate the defense with his eyes to open up the deeper end zone route. Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan bull-rushed his way back to Allen and hit his right arm as he was throwing. The ball went into the air as linebacker Kwon Alexander dove to make the interception.
The lesson here for Allen is to take the progressions in order, rather than try to use them for deeper attempts. A field goal could have been important at this point in the game and would have made the score 13-0 on the road. The Bills also were getting the first offensive possession of the second half.
The only thing Allen could have done differently was to stay in progression and deliver on time to either Singletary or Sanders. The Bills would have had to call a timeout and kick the field goal. Allen’s waiting required better protection, which he did not have and was not his fault. A turnover like this against a better opponent could be a game changer.
Despite two interceptions and a sack, Allen completed every pass he threw in the quarter.
Play selection: 16 plays – seven passes, nine runs.
Allen: 6 for 7 passing for 75 yards, two touchdowns. Three carries for 20 yards.
Performance grade: 100%.
Score: Bills, 24-0.
The Bills kicked into high gear with 14 points on two successful offensive possessions.
On the opening drive, Allen orchestrated an 11-play series that resulted in his second touchdown pass of the game.
Great receivers love to have the freedom to set up defenders. Here, Daboll anticipated man-to-man coverage and gave Diggs the time and freedom to create separation from his defender Marshon Lattimore.
The interesting aspect of this play was the play-action element. The extra time taken to the play action gave Diggs the time to set up his inside movement with a unique side step, then burst inside, almost like a form of an option route.
Following the play-action fake, Allen put 100% of his attention on to Diggs and waited for him to break out. It is my belief, based on Allen’s reaction, this was a whip-route concept in which Diggs was going to sell the burst inside, knowing that this would give his defender momentum inside. That would open up Allen and Diggs for an easy, uncontested throw to the outside.
Man-to-man defenders must take the inside away because they do not have inside help. Lattimore was taught to protect his inside, which he did, and that was the plan, get the defender to defend the inside and then explode back to the outside. Great design and execution, and fun to watch Diggs put his own creative stamp on this ridiculous whip route.
This score gave the Bills a commanding lead of 17-0.
On the next possession, Allen put the game away for good with this well-designed 24-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-2 from the Saints’ 24. Coach Sean McDermott could easily have kicked a field goal, but instead elected to go for it, undoubtedly because of the great balance and flow his offense had. The touchdown made it a four possession game, and an insurmountable lead.
Going for this fourth-and-2 was McDermott’s attempt to put this game away, and this play did just that.
Here, the ballhandling by Allen and Singletary was sensational. Allen sold the fake to Singletary off-tackle to the left. He put the ball into Singletary’s belly and Singletary made it look as if he had it.
Prior to the fake, Knox motioned to the other side, presumably to have the back side cut-off block. He faked his block and released out to the flat. Saints safety Lattimore fell trying to recover from the play-action fake.
Allen did a great job of getting depth as he booted away from the fake. This depth allowed him to turn his shoulders for an accurate throw with the defensive end bearing down on him.
Allen’s third quarter was tremendous, particularly following a second quarter in which he threw two interceptions. He was patient and smart with the football, and his confidence never waned.
Play selection with Allen in game: Nine plays – five passes, four runs
Allen: 4 for 5 passing for 62 yards, touchdown pass. One carry for 3 yards.
Performance grade: 100%
Score: Bills, 31-6.
Allen’s fourth quarter included two offensive possessions and his fourth touchdown pass of the game, this time to Breida on a superb screen call by Daboll on third-and-10.
Most of Daboll’s screens have had the running back moving across the formation, opposite the side the running back lines up on. This was different, a base screen to the left, with Breida making it look as though he were stepping up in his protection responsibility and then releasing to the left. Dawkins pass set and routed the defensive end around the edge while the Bills released the rest of the offensive line to block for Breida to the left.
It was a great time for a base screen like this, as Breida not only picked up the first down, but burst through five Saints defenders for a demoralizing final touchdown.
This game proved that the Bills can run the football and stop the run. The formula is to find a balance between Allen and a run game. The Bills are not going to overpower teams running the football, but they can now access the outside with a welcomed addition and a faster player in Breida. Allen will still have to run it to keep defenses honest, but combine a decent running game with a great short to intermediate passing game, and you have a three-headed monster: running back runs, Allen runs and high efficiency in the passing game.
Too much is made of taking deep, low-percentage shots down the field. There is a time and a place for attacking over the top, particularly when the defense has committed more players to stopping the run. Deep throws, as we have seen, are not successful with two deep safeties waiting to drive on the ball.
The Bills answered their critics with a focused and well-executed performance, on a short week, on a holiday, and they did so when the pressure to perform was most necessary. This was a superb performance by the players and the coaching staff.