Reporter of the AFC Est
Several days before Buffalo’s epic loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, reporters spent 15 minutes reminding Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey of his skill players not named Stefon Diggs.
Dorsey and Josh Allen had become overly dependent on star receiver Diggs in Buffalo’s Week 9 loss to the New York Jets. As a result, reporters were justified in asking about Bills receivers Gabe Davis, Isaiah McKenzie and Khalil Shakir, and running backs Devin Singletary, Nyheim Hines and James Cook.
The early stages of Dorsey’s game plan in Week 10 seemed like a response to those reminders.
The Bills continued to use Diggs as part of the offense, but he wasn’t the sun, moon and superstar. Early on, the Bills established their ground game with Singletary, who had 25 rushing yards and a touchdown compared to Allen’s nine passing yards. And even at halftime, the Bills had thrown the ball to six different receivers. They would run the ball with five different players.
This week’s game plan looked like a mea culpa for Dorsey and Allen, at least at first. They were spreading the ball around while enjoying a 16-7 lead over Minnesota.
But as the Vikings mounted a comeback, the Bills looked uncomfortable with the addition of other players. Davis caught two passes in the second half. Singletary had nine carries in the first half, and just four in the second.
Meanwhile, Diggs caught seven passes on 10 targets in the second half after a more efficient five catches on six passes in the first half. Diggs and tight end Dawson Knox were the pass catchers who saw an increase in touches in the second half. (Knox had one sack in the first half and three in the second half.)
It’s clear Dorsey had a plan to take the load off the passing attack, and Diggs in particular. But as the game got tighter, the Buffalo OC relied more than ever on its star receiver. And it didn’t work.
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Now we give credit where credit is due. Buffalo’s last two drives were a nice show by Dorsey. The final drive of regulation featured zero targets for Diggs, and the Bills got their tying field goal. When the Bills went to Diggs twice on their final drive in overtime, they picked up seven yards on each catch. Maybe Allen and Dorsey realized they needed to make use of the whole bunch of skill players.
And so it was down to Allen to put the ball in the end zone. He didn’t do it.
On that last play of the game, an interception, Allen seemed to go through his entire progression. The ultimate target, Davis, could have been the No. 4 option. Here’s a look at Allen reading, but maybe not exactly seeing, the defense.
So this play shows that Allen enters the equation in a big way. Because if Allen went for his fifth pick, he would have seen Singletary fall to the floor. And this control would not only have been the right decision, but also a small profit.
Dorsey can make the right plays. Allen has to make them work properly. Has at least one interception in the red zone in each of the last three games. It’s an unfortunate streak.
“Josh is a very confident player, confident in his own abilities, confident in the players around him,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “And sometimes, instead of pressing, you’ve got to let the game come to you a little bit and take what the defense gives you sometimes. And then we’ve got to put him in a position to do that every now and then.”
That wasn’t the only problem McDermott pointed to. He felt the team needed to be better in second place.
“There are a couple of seconds and shorts we’d like to bring back,” he said. “Especially against a good short-yard defense, a short-1-yard defense, you’ve got to get the first down there.”
In other words, some players will use their second-and-short situations to be aggressive because they know they will convert on third down. But Buffalo couldn’t afford that against the Vikings, who have a habit of holding on third down. The Bills needed to focus on first downs.
Maybe that’s why ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky broke two game gaffes in the second. Orlovsky noted, as I have, that the Bills seemed scared to use their rushing attack in the red zone when it mattered.
It was great that the Bills scored with a runner in their first game. It wasn’t great that they got away from Singletary and the other running backs in a big way in the second half. And it wasn’t great that they got away from the rushing attack on second and short.
Now is the perfect time for the Bills to evaluate Dorsey’s game and Allen’s decision-making. And I’ll go back to a comment from Dorsey before Week 7, during Buffalo’s hot streak.
“[We] trust Josh to work the progressions and read things and go to the right spot with the ball,” Dorsey said. “That’s just going to allow you to call a play in terms of what you think is going to work best and what’s not going to work. [thinking]”Hey, I have to get the ball here, or I have to do this for Josh.”
Dorsey had been operating with a completely open playbook for Allen. And that’s probably fine, given Allen’s insane talent. But could Dorsey consider reigning Allen in one way or another? With playcalls? Or with additional training on discipline in their progression?
And will Dorsey continue to create balance within his offense? He clearly made an effort to distribute the ball in Week 10. Can he keep it up?
These are the little things that will help the Bills return to their elite level of play.
Prior to joining FOX Sports as an AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.
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