As we’ve been doing for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Josh Carney and I will cover the opposing team’s offense. I will focus on scheme, Josh on the players.
Today, we’re checking out the Buffalo Bills’ offense.
Alex’s Scheme Report
Bills’ Run Scheme
A solid rushing attack though not the lifeblood of their offense as their pass game has picked up and they’ve been able to lean on that a lot more. They’re tied for 22nd league-wide averaging four yards per carry. Led by starting RB Devin Singletary. His average has fallen off considerably from 5.1 as a rookie to 4.3 his sophomore season. Lacking some of the big runs he had a year ago. 128 carries this year but his longest run is only 24 yards. But crucially, he’s doing a better job taking care of the football than a year ago. Had four fumbles in 2019, just one this season. There’s also rookie Zack Moss. He missed time with injury earlier this year but has been the back with a nose for the end zone. Singletary has just one score this year; Moss has three.
Of course, you can’ talk about this run game without mentioning Josh Allen. His YPC is way down from his rookie year. Over seven yards per carry in 2018 all the way down to 3.7 this year. Not 100% sure the reason for the falloff. He is sneaking the ball plenty which naturally brings down the average. He’s good at finding the “bubble” (vacated gap) and at 6’5, 237, clearly effective at churning out a yard. In the first clip, the bubble is in the A gap and Allen converts. The second has the 49rers effectively taking away the A and B gaps and Allen doesn’t have a bubble to run to.
The downside in those situations is it forces your defense to pinch in tight. And sometimes the Bills will run a perimeter play to move the sticks…
One element of the Bills’ run game I’d love to see the Steelers’ borrow is on their gap runs. Pittsburgh runs theirs to kick out the EMOL with the rest of the line blocking down. What Buffalo will do is a shorter trap on the three tech. Quicker hitting, more downhill play. I like it.
Some other stats. They’re slightly above average with 38 runs of 10+ yards (tied 13th best) while slightly below average with six runs of 20+ yards (tied 17th). Buffalo has the 7th highest scoring offense in football at 27.8 PPG. That’s tied with the Steelers. The Bills are home to the NFL’s best third down offense, converting at a whopping 49.3% of the time. They’re average in the red zone at just over 60%. They have turned the ball over quite a bit- tied 11th most in the league.
Bills’ Pass Scheme
Josh Allen quarterbacking this team as I’m sure you know. Fresh off torching the 49ers to the tune of four touchdowns. Safe to say he’s having a breakout year and should be in the MVP conversation, even if he probably won’t win it.
Here are his 2019 numbers side-by-side his 2020 numbers.
Completion %: 58.8 —–> 69.9%
Yards Per Att: 6.7 —–> 8.0
Touchdowns: 20 —–> 26
And those 26 touchdowns will only go up. Allen is already tied for the second most single season TDs in team history only trailing Jim Kelly’s 33 set in 1991. Allen has been awesome this year, as Josh will delve into his section of the report.
As a team, they are tied for 6th in YPA at 7.9 and their 28 TDs are tied for fourth most in football. Those TDs haven’t come exclusively from their QB either. Two of them have been thrown by receivers. One by Cole Beasley and another by Isaiah McKenzie.
Both came on 2nd and 8 from the red zone. So watch out for 2nd and long inside the 20. Here’s a look at both plays.
While Allen is a mobile QB capable of extending the play, his sack numbers are average in aggregate and sack rate. Overall, pretty good considering his style of play.
At receiver, the Bills made one of the top moves of the offseason trading for Stefon Diggs. Buffalo’s making sure they’re getting a ROI. Diggs leads the team in targets (121), receptions (90), yards (1037) to go along with four touchdowns. His targets are second in football only behind Keenan Allen while his catches tie Allen for the league lead.
But he isn’t the only weapon. Cole Beasley is one of football’s top slot options. 66 receptions for nearly 800 yards and four scores. Don’t forget about Gabriel Davis either. Like Cam Sims last week, the big-play threat we might be discussing a lot more after Sunday’s game. He’s averaging 16.9 yards per catch and leads the Bills with five touchdowns. That average is 5th among qualifies league-wide. So watch out for this guy getting vertical.
Buffalo is third in completions of 20+ yards with 49. Little worse in the double-explosive plays, tied for 14th with six of them.
Conceptually, they like to stress zone defenses vertically with multiple vertical routes. Three verts here with the Y bending his route to the trips side. Goal is to overload Cover 3/zone coverages.
And here they are running sail inside the opponent’s 40.
Buffalo does a good job of working the sideline even in end-of-half situations where defenses are trying to take it away. So watch out for them working an effective two-minute drive.
Josh’s Individual Report
It’s Buffalo Bills week, Pittsburgh Steelers fans!
Fresh off of a loss to the Washington Football Team at Heinz Field – ending their perfect season – the Steelers are set for a difficult road trip to Orchard Park to take on the red-hot Bills on Sunday Night Football.
Buffalo is just one Kyler Murray to DeAndre Hopkins hail mary away from six straight wins under head coach Sean McDermott.
This might not be by father’s K-Gun Bills, but third-year quarterback Josh Allen and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll – for my money the best pure OC in football right now – has this Buffalo unit humming.
Allen has really progressed after two up-and-down seasons with the Bills as a former No. 7 overall pick out of Wyoming. He’s always had the howitzer for a right arm, but this year he’s figured out accuracy, touch and has started to read defenses and make smart decisions with the football.
It helps when you bring in an All-Pro caliber wide receiver like Stefon Diggs to really supplement your heavy investment in a quarterback.
Diggs has quickly become Allen’s favorite target, and rightfully so.
He’s a skilled route runner that excels in creating late separation in routes, and he has incredible hands, making tough catches like this one look routine. Buffalo will move him all over the field in search of mismatches, so it could be a tough one on Sunday if Joe Haden misses the game for Pittsburgh.
One thing I’ve noticed with Buffalo and their route concepts is that they’ll really stress second-level players. Against San Francisco in Week 13, Buffalo hit two miscommunications for scores, including this one to Gabriel Davis down the right sideline for 23 yards and the score.
With a possible veteran defensive back missing the game Sunday, the Steelers will have to harp on communication for Sunday’s matchup, because it’s been an issue when fully healthy, so there’s no telling what could happen with injuries playing a factor. Guys have to know their assignments and sort out who has who quickly in pre-snap, making sure it’s crystal clear.
That’s veteran cornerback Richard Sherman miscommunicating with young safety Tarvarius Moore, who he is expecting to have coverage over the top. The miscommunication leads to a wide open Davis and an easy throw from Allen for his fourth touchdown of the night.
Buffalo might not have the biggest names at the skill positions, but they have a darn good quartet of wide receivers, even with the loss of John Brown to injured reserve after the Week 10 loss to Arizona.
Cole Beasley is a terrific route runner that excels over the middle of the field and creates a ton of separation. He’s a sure-handed possession receiver that can stretch the seam and brings some toughness to the position.
Isaiah McKenzie has really taken a step forward this year, serving as more of the gadget guy for Buffalo. That said, he can beat you over the top and is slippery in the open field.
Knowing they have guys who are dangerous after the catch and can draw the attention of defenders with the ball in their hands, Daboll has gotten creative in recent weeks, pulling out wide receiver passes in two of the last three games, both of which went for scores.
I have no doubt in my mind we’ll see something similar to this on Sunday. It’s a well-designed trick play and Davis executes his route perfectly for the score.
Don’t be surprised to see a handful of tunnel screens too, to try and catch an aggressive defense over pursuing.
While John Brown pulls off this tunnel screen in Week 10, Buffalo could easily slot in Beasley or McKenzie in that role and let them create with the ball in their hands.
Overall, this is a tough wideout group to defend, especially with Allen playing at the level he’s playing at.
You can’t really play zone against these guys because Allen has gotten so good at dicing up zones, and you can’t really play man-to-man because Buffalo has a bunch of guys who really give man coverage fits. It’s a tough chore.
One final thing with Allen: he loves extending plays to his right where he can really lean into his strong right arm and throw darts. He’s super dangerous on the move to his right, and not for his running abilities. He creates so much down the field with his arm because he’s not afraid to take a shot and has the strength and accuracy to fit balls into tight windows on the move.
In the backfield, Devin Singletary and Zack Moss are the guys Buffalo leans on. Singletary had a good game in 2019 on the road in Pittsburgh, but this year’s he’s struggled a bit.
Buffalo’s rushing attack is currently ranked 23rd in the league in total yards, and sits 23rd in Football Outsiders’ rushing DVOA at -15.0.
Overall, I’m not worried about Buffalo’s rushing attack at all. That said, I like both backs a ton and was quite high on both coming out in back-to-back years. In fact, I had Moss as my RB1 last year.
He hasn’t quite lived up to that billing from me, but he’s flashed quite a bit.
When I profiled Moss earlier this year, I stated that I loved his contact balance. He still has that in the NFL, and he has above average vision. The problem is he’s not a burner and won’t run away from guys at this level. That said, this is quite the run from Moss. He bounces off of contact initially, spins to his left, finds a lane and gets north.
If Buffalo wants to take advantage of some depth issues of Pittsburgh’s at linebacker, they’ll get Moss involved early and let the powerful back get rolling downhill in the cold.
Up front, Buffalo has dealt with a number of injuries along the offensive line, but they seem to have found a steady group these last two weeks. Here’s how I expect them to line up left to right on Sunday:
LT — Dion Dawkins
LG — Jon Feliciano
C — Mitch Morse
RG — Brian Winters
RT — Daryl Williams
I am a big, big fan of Dawkins and Morse. In my opinion, they’re in the top 5-7 of their respective positions. Both are athletic, strong as all heck, and really have high football IQ.
Winters and Feliciano are a strong veteran combination at guard. Neither will blow you away with their movement skills, but they’re smart football players who bring a little bit of nasty.
Williams should have a ton of issues with TJ Watt on Sunday. He’s got a stiff lower half and doesn’t move well in pass protection. Fortunately for him, he has a mobile quarterback back there. Watt might wear him like a hat on Sunday though.
At tight end, Dawson Knox has emerged in recent weeks, catching touchdowns in back-to-back wins. He’s a field stretcher, but lately he’s really settled in nicely as a security blanket and a chess piece in the red zone for Daboll to play with.
Backup Lee Smith is one of the best blocking tight ends in the league and continues to play at a high level in that area.
On special teams, rookie kicker Tyler Bass has a massive, massive leg.
He shrugged off early-season issues and has really settled into a groove, hitting seven of his last eight kicks, including three bombs of 50+ in Arizona in Week 10, including a career-high 58-yarder. He’s been money as of late and Buffalo trusts him more and more. Let’s see if that continues in Buffalo on Sunday night.
Punter Corey Bojorquez has been asked to punt the fewest times in the league out of all punters, which is saying something about Buffalo’s offense. When called upon though, he’s kicked the ball well – aside from a 19-yard punt in Week 10. On the year, Bojorquez is averaging 50.5 yards per punt, pinning opponents inside the 20 on 11 of 29 punts. The issue is, he tends to put his coverage team in a tough spot with a lack of hang time and angles, allowing nearly 11 yards per return.
Return specialist Andre Roberts is a perennial All-Pro on special teams and gives Buffalo a dangerous weapon when the football is changing possession through special teams.
Roberts makes his money returning kicks, but he’s had some success on punt returns this year, averaging nearly 12 yards per punt return with a long of 38. Kick returns are a different story though. Roberts already has a 60-yarder to his credit this year, and has two kick returns for scores for his career.