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Plays that shaped the game: Bills offense adjusted against Panthers speed rushers

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Singletary strikes

Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary (26) runs through Carolina Panthers free safety Juston Burris (31) on his way into the end zone for a touchdown during the second quarter at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021.

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The Buffalo Bills’ offensive performance Sunday against Carolina has to be viewed through the perspective of its big offensive line disadvantage.

The Bills had to contend with Carolina’s best strength  its two elite speed rushers – with a shuffled offensive line thanks to the loss of left tackle Dion Dawkins, who tested positive for Covid-19 on Friday.

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll crafted a game plan designed to give quarterback Josh Allen more protection.

The Bills relied a little more on the run game. Devin Singletary got 22 carries for 86 yards, both season highs for him.

The Bills also made heavy use of play-action passes to slow the Carolina rush and let Allen loose on numerous bootlegs and rollouts to prevent him from being a stationary target for Brian Burns and Haason Reddick.

Spencer Brown shifted from right tackle to left tackle and Daryl Williams from right guard to right tackle. Cody Ford, on the bench the past two weeks, played right guard.

“I do want to shout out our O-line for doing a bunch of different substitutions and switches in the last couple of days,” Allen said. “I know it hasn’t been easy on some of those guys. Daryl, Cody and Spence all kind of having to change positions. I was super happy those guys stepped up and played really well today.”

Allen was sacked four times. Burns, the 2019 first-round pick with 4.53 speed, had one to push his season sack total to eight. Reddick, the 2017 first-round pick with 4.52 speed, had a half to push his season total to 11. But Allen was able to manufacture five scoring drives.

“They were very, very good edge rushers,” Brown said. “Daryl Williams was in Carolina, so he was kind of showing words of wisdom throughout the week. And we were going back and forth on the sidelines like, I’m seeing this, what are you seeing? We’re just talking back and forth.”

Here’s a closer look at some of the big plays that shaped the Bills’ 31-14 victory over the Panthers:

Big run. Singletary scored on a 16-yard run around right end to give the Bills a 7-0 lead. It was the longest TD run by a Bills back since Week 2.

“It was like a pin-and-pull play or whatever,” Singletary said. “I got my pullers all in front of me. My O-line basically cleared it out for me, and I had a lane. I know I just had to beat the safety and I was able to do that.”

Center Mitch Morse and Ford pulled to the right. Reddick rushed straight upfield and was pushed out of the way by Ford. Morse took out safety Myles Hartsfield. Tight end Dawson Knox wiped out middle linebacker Jermaine Carter with a fine cut block. Receiver Gabriel Davis blocked up the cornerback on that side, Rashaan Melvin.

“It was good to see him go out there and run hard,” Allen said. “He ran really well today. But again, it starts with the guys up front and doing their job. And Motor did a good job of finding the holes and getting extra yards for us.”

Strength vs. strength. Allen wasn’t afraid to challenge the Panthers’ best cornerback, 10-year veteran Stephon Gilmore. On a second-down play from the Carolina 11, Allen showed trust in Stefon Diggs with an anticipation throw. He let it go when Diggs hit the 5-yard line. It was a back shoulder-pass and came too quickly for Gilmore to react. Diggs made the catch for his eighth touchdown of the season.

Laser TD. The Panthers showed respect for Allen on a 20-yard TD pass to Davis that broke the game open 24-8 in the third quarter.

Carolina rushed only three men, keeping Reddick in a spying position off left tackle in case Allen scrambled.

Davis and Cole Beasley were lined up on the left, and Allen motioned Davis to shift into a tighter split before the snap. That gave Davis a better angle to run straight up the middle of the defense.

It looked like the Panthers were going to blitz, but it wound up being a two-deep coverage with man-to-man underneath. Allen had time to wait for Davis to get to the back of the end zone, and Melvin had his back to Allen when the bullet throw arrived.

“For that one, he just kind of improvised that one, he kind of switched it up a little bit,” Davis said of Allen. “I thought it was going to be open a little bit earlier, but it ended up not being. He had to scramble a little bit. He was hoping for a one-on-one throw up. He did it and I was able to make a play on it.”

The safety on the left side, Kenny Robinson, was cheating toward Beasley, who was running up the sideline.

“Originally I thought it was blitz-zero,” Allen, said referring to an all-out blitz. “So I made a check. They dropped out of it and played kind of like a 77 or double on Cole and Stef. And Gabe just kept working and I just gave him a shot and he made a good play.”

RPO success. Davis’ longest reception of the game was a 28-yard catch and run that set up his first TD.

He was the only receiver in the pass pattern. The Bills ran a fake orbit motion by Isaiah McKenzie behind the QB to the left sideline, and Allen could have handed off to Singletary  the run option. But the motion drew Carolina linebacker Julian Stanford way over to the sideline in McKenzie’s direction, creating a big passing window for Allen.

The cornerback, Melvin, was playing off coverage, which made for an easy catch by Davis 12 yards downfield. He ran through Melvin to the Carolina 18. Three plays later, Allen hit him again for the TD.

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Bills/NFL writer

Gaughan's insight is featured in the "PlayAction" video series, providing analysis to get Bills fans ready for the next game. He is past president of the Pro Football Writers of America and served as a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector for 12 years.

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