Even if the Bills have received the memo that the NFL is a passing league, it doesn’t matter because they simply are not equipped to play offense that way, not with a raw rookie quarterback, a lumbering offensive line, and the worst group of wide receivers one could imagine.
This is an offense, being led by Josh Allen, that needs to run to be successful, and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll figured that out Sunday in the Bills’ ugly 13-12 victory over the Tennessee Titans.
The Bills ran 64 plays during their 34 minutes of possession time, and 43 of those runs. LeSean McCoy had 24 carries and gained 85 yards, Chris Ivory had 14 attempts and picked up 43 yards, Allen scrambled four times for 19 yards, and wide receiver Ray Ray McCloud had an unsuccessful three-yard loss on a jet sweep.
“That’s how it’s supposed to be,” McCoy said with a laugh. “They told me they were going to get me the ball this game. That was the main focus – get the offensive line going, running the ball, throwing the ball to me, using Chris in there in different packages. Making the game a lot easier for Josh – easy reads, running the ball, maybe doing some play-actions, game on the perimeter because he can run. That was kind of the game plan.”
On the game-winning 11-play, 47-yard drive that ended with Stephen Hauschka’s 46-yard field goal at the gun, the Bills called eight runs, while the only two passes were quick flares to McCoy (which he turned into a dazzling 13-yard gain to convert a critical third-and-3) and McCloud. McCoy had three carries for eight yards, while Ivory had four for 22 (Allen had one carry where he simply kneed the ball on the left hashmark for Hauschka). One of Ivory’s gains was a nine-yarder that converted a second-and-8 situation, and he also had a pounding seven-yarder that pushed the ball into comfortable range for Hauschka.
“I’ll tell you what,” McCoy said, “You go from chasing me from sideline to sideline, trying to be patient and disciplined in your gaps. I’m sure other defensive coaches say, ‘Okay, 25 can go right to left, left to right.’ And then you get the bruiser that comes in and is just smashing and pounding. I’m always joking with him, like, ‘Man, you’re dangerous, you’re angry.’ He runs well. I like the combination between us two. I really do.”
Coach Sean McDermott made it clear on Monday that he was perturbed by not only the way the Bills offense performed in a 22-0 loss to Green Bay when it managed just 145 yards, but in the game plan that was used. He challenged his offense, particularly the maligned offensive line, to make a statement.
“This game was won on the line of scrimmage and give a lot of credit to our offensive and defensive lines,” said McDermott. “They established the line of scrimmage early in the game and stayed with it. The offensive line did a heck of a job.”
Right tackle Jordan Mills confirmed that the onus was on he, left tackle Dion Dawkins, center Russell Bodine, and guards John Miller and Vlad Ducasse to get it done.
“(McDermott) put it on us on Wednesday, he told us he was gonna put it on us and we accepted the challenge and we bought it,” said Mills. “We knew we had to be great to open up these holes for Shady and Chris and we did those things.”
Moving forward, the Bills need to be better. They rank fourth-worst in the league in average rushing yards on first down, just 3.2 yards. What that is doing is putting a remedial offense in bad situations early in each sequence, and the Bills were fortunate enough on Sunday to survive.
The Bills gained just nine yards on their first 11 first-down rushes before McCoy broke back-to-back first-down runs of 12 and nine yards in the third quarter. They finished with 54 yards on 20 first-down runs which needs to greatly improve, especially given all the problems the Bills have throwing.
They now rank dead last at 121.8 passing yards per game. It’s an almost comical number, something Buffalo fans saw back in the 1970s when Joe Ferguson spent most of every game between 1973 and 1977 handing off to O.J. Simpson.
“Well, we won the football game, number one,” said McDermott. “That’s the goal, but it's important to have balance. So we've got to continue to grow and evolve and hopefully, at one point, we can we can develop the balance that's so important.”
-- QB Josh Allen had another day to forget passing the ball as he completed only 10 of 19 attempts for 82 yards with one interception that wasn’t his fault. He did scramble for the lone TD of the game on a 14-yard run.
-- RB LeSean McCoy entered the day with 21 carries for 85 yards in three games, but he had 24 carries for 85 yards against the Titans, plus caught a crucial third-down pass on the game-winning drive.
-- LB Matt Milano continues to impress as he had a game-high 10 tackles and recovered a fumble, plus he played all but one of the 54 defensive snaps.
-- CB Taron Johnson made the first interception of his career as he jumped a slant route in the second quarter.
-- WR Kelvin Benjamin was again mostly invisible as he caught only one pass for 11 yards. The good news is that five games into the season, he is finally over 100 yards receiving.
-- K Stephen Hauschka made his two field goal attempts, including the game-winning 46 yarder at the gun. Another field goal was aborted when holder Corey Bojorquez failed to get the ball down when he originally thought a fake had been called.
-- RB Chris Ivory was a hammer as he carried 14 times for 43 tough yards and he had six runs that achieved first downs.
-- WR Zay Jones led the Bills, if that’s the word that can be used, with three catches for 20 yards.
-- LB Tremaine Edmunds was in on eight tackles, forced a fumble, and very nearly had a sack of Marcus Mariota.