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2018 opponent scouting report: Buffalo Bills offense, may give Colts fans a reason to be excited

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NFL: Carolina Panthers at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

On October 21, 2018 the Indianapolis Colts will host the Buffalo Bills In this week seven match-up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our new look offense.

The 2017 Bills went to the playoffs for the first time since the Clinton administration. They went 9-7 in what was their fifth winning season in the past two decades. The last time these two teams played it be came an all time favorite game for me. Both teams battled through what looked like a foot of snow to try to play football at its highest level. The Bills came out on top in a close, fun to watch game but this year the game will be played indoors so hopefully there will be a different result.

Let’s figure out what we can expect in week seven.


Offensive Scheme

Led by offensive coordinator Brian Daboll the Bills offense would seem to be in good hands. Daboll won five Super Bowls during his time as a position coach with the New England Patriots. Last year Daboll decided five super bowl rings were enough and instead won a college football national championship as offensive coordinator of the Alabama Crimson Tide. This dude clearly has no coaching resume.

Despite his lack of big time coaching jobs Daboll brings with him the Erhardt-Perkins offensive system that the Patriots use with so much success.

The Erhardt-Perkins system doesn’t have some of the calling cards of other systems, Air Coryell is going to push the ball down the field, the West Coast offense is going to spread the ball around horizontally. Instead of declaring either one as the guiding principle this system doesn’t discriminate. It’s up to the coach calling the plays and the players executing them to create what this system wants to do.

A team could come out and throw the ball deep 20 times in a game or you could throw 30 short concepts and you’re still well within what the system is built for. Really it’s a system built to convey information in a more efficient way and to understand a teams philosophy we actually have to watch that team play. If I tell you that the Washington Redskins use a West Coast offense, you probably understand the basis of what they do, in the same vein if I told you that the Jacksonville Jaguars use an Air Coryell system, you probably understand the basis of what they do. When I tell you that the Bills use the Erhardt-Perkins, it should tell you very little. Let’s take a look at what we might see on Sunday.

Daboll’s preseason comments regarding his offense mostly revolved around being multiple and unpredictable. He said that his offense will have a few core concepts but that he will be unpredictable. All of that makes sense using the Erhardt-Perkins as it is a concept driven offense. The Bills could line up with 2 wide receivers, 1 tight end and 2 running backs (21 personnel) and run a play that looks a lot different at the snap, than a play they run with 3 wide receivers, 1 tight end and 1 running back (11 personnel) but to the quarterback it’s the exact same play. The progression he makes through his receivers is going to be the same, the way he reads the defense is going to be the same, everything is going to be the same for the quarterback but to the defense, it will seem very different in their initial reads.

It’s an excellent way to keep a very complex looking offense, simple for the quarterback. With that said, I don’t think Daboll expected his offense would be so limited in his first year. When watching the last few Bills games I noticed a few concepts over and over again. True to form they often came out of diverse formations but it became easy to see the Bills run the same few concepts the majority of the time. There were some one-off things they tried to do and there were some concepts I saw that I didn’t include, (who needs another 4 verts breakdown, am I right) but these are the concepts I saw most often on the tape.

The Bills love this concept.

The sail concept allows a quarterback to shrink the field of play by half. By running all three routes to one side of the field it gives Josh Allen an easy high-low read, meaning he is most likely (because I’m not in their QB meetings but generally speaking this is how it works) looking to his deep receiver to see if anyone has blown coverage, if the deep receiver is covered then he will look for the intermediate receiver and if he is covered he will look to his short receiver.

I noticed this look more than any other. On the play above I don’t think there were supposed to be two receivers bunched together at the intermediate level but I can’t say for sure. This is also the perfect play to call against Indy’s mostly zone attack and it usually isn’t easy to force the QB to take the check down on this play but for reasons you’ll understand when we talk about their quarterback, he may still take the check down all the same.

If you look at the backside of this play, at the top of the screen, you’ll see another concept they use quite a bit. Also, it seems that Josh Allen should have thrown the ball to the underneath route at the top of the screen instead of doing what he did. The route combo he ignored (but they run a lot) is great for the off coverage the Titans were playing. The outside receiver ran his route into the path of the defender trying to cover the man in the slot who runs underneath creating a natural, legal, obstacle for the defender. Meanwhile the tight end is clearing out the linebackers for the outside receiver running that 5 yard in route. It’s a solid concept that creates a natural rub and a clear out. There is almost no reason to throw this where the ball went.

Allen should have looked right instead of left on this play. I wasn’t in the huddle, so I can’t be sure but at times it looked as if Allen was forcing the ball to one receiver specifically and if I were to speculate further I would say he was forcing the ball there in an attempt to keep that receiver happy.

The sail concept once again. The Packers play this as well as possible, mostly due to the quarterback spy who drops just deep enough to take away the underneath route. Instead of throwing the ball away Allen runs around and throws a bad pass.

MESH!

Hal Mumme and Mike Leach invented this play. It’s a long story but this single play was almost completely responsible for the success of the Air Raid offense. The tight end who made the catch and the wide receiver who crossed underneath him could have adjusted their routes based on the coverage the defense was playing. If the quarterback and receivers are on the same page this play is almost impossible to defend.

I noticed a few different versions of mesh and it’s something we will absolutely see on Sunday.

One thing the Bills like to do is send their running backs on wheel routes. Here he became a great decoy to open up the slot receiver down field. In what looks like blown coverage Josh Allen makes an easy pass for six. Had the Bills run this against a cover 2 defense instead of the man to man look they got there’s still a chance the same thing happens as it applies stress to all three levels of the defense.

Ultimately the Bills offense hasn’t been good, with that said I’ve seen enough from Brian Daboll to really believe in what he can do as a coordinator. He is doing absolutely everything an NFL play caller can to simplify a scheme for a young quarterback who needs it. Daboll is shrinking the field of play, usually to Josh Allen’s right which is interesting but it seems like he prefers throwing the ball that direction. Daboll has given Allen easy high to low reads, often giving him three receiving options that every NFL quarterback should be able to progress through.

As Colts fans we’ve been pretty spoiled with quarterbacks who have never really struggled to progress through their reads. Peyton Manning was able to progress through his reads and I’m not a guy who believes in psychic ability but the way Manning was able to progress through reads and make throws while somehow just knowing what a defender on the other side of the field was going doing at the same time was as close to psychic as it gets. Andrew Luck doesn’t work through his in the same way Manning did, but he has always worked through them. I remember watching Luck in his rookie year and being really impressed with that aspect of his game and what’s more is that Bruce Arians didn’t dumb anything down. He wasn’t always splitting the field in half. He wasn’t calling a lot of mesh, Andrew Luck was pushing the ball down the field at times progressing to his 3rd and 4th options.

That’s not true of all quarterbacks coming into the league.


Quarterback:

Saying that first round draft pick Josh Allen has struggled would be an insult to every NFL player who is struggling. Josh Allen has been bad. Now, before we go out and declare anyone a bust, we have to realize Josh Allen is a rookie coming from Wyoming. I hate to insult any coaches at Wyoming, I’m sure they’re great at what they do, but the bottom line is Josh Allen wasn’t receiving NFL level coaching at Wyoming. Watching Daboll’s offense I have confidence that if Allen is given solid instruction from his position coaches he and Daboll will grow and Allen will progress greatly, but it’s going to take time.

The bad news for the Colts in week seven; we don’t know who is playing quarterback. Josh Allen had his throwing elbow hyper-extend after getting hit in their week six game. The other quarterbacks on the roster are Nathan Peterman and Derek Anderson.

Nathan Peterman isn’t very good. In fact the Bills signed Derek Anderson a week ago to come in and provide guidance and serve as Allen’s backup. I know Colts fans all want to hate on Chris Ballard but if there are any Bills fans who aren’t sold on Josh Allen, they have to be questioning the team’s handling of the quarterback position.

Most of the time a quarterback who had been on a roster for a week and a half wouldn’t have much of a chance to start but when the other option is Nathan Peterman, Anderson doesn’t look so bad. Derek Anderson does have some experience working with Daboll. Daboll served as the offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns in 2009 where Derek Anderson flirted with being an NFL starting quarterback.

For the first time I can remember I don’t know what to tell you about the opposing team’s quarterback. Honestly I have no idea who is starting and I have no confidence either guy will play all 4 quarters regardless of who starts. So here’s a video of Nathan Peterman doing what he does best:


Running Backs:

LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory are leading the Bills ground attack. Both backs are 30 years old. McCoy is currently beating the odds, still averaging 4.0 yards per carry and Chris Ivory... well Chris Ivory’s best days look to be behind him. Ivory has 51 attempts for 129 yards good for 2.5 yards per carry and a single touchdown on the year.

Marcus Murphy is someone who should be mentioned. He was productive in the first three weeks with limited opportunity but has missed the past two weeks due to a rib injury.

The Bills are currently 20th in the league with 597 yards. They’re putting up 99.5 rushing yards per game as a team, but Josh Allen was responsible for 25.8 of those yards and without his production on the ground, LeSean McCoy’s 48.6 yards per game and 0 rushing touchdown this season don’t seem so intimidating.


Pass Catchers:

Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones and Charles Clay are the guys you need to know here. Andre Holmes and Jason Croom have each received enough targets to mention and with the uncertainty at quarterback it’s tough to know who will be getting targets moving forward.

Kelvin Benjamin has been thrown to 32 times and has 10 catches and 146 yards on the season. I’m not going to blame anyone for what is a truly awful catch rate but I will say that 10 catches through six weeks don’t scare anyone.

Zay Jones has been targeted 29 times bringing in 16 catches for 199 yards. Charles Clay has 13 catches for 119 yards on the season.

For context Chester Rogers, who has been nothing short of bad for the Colts, has 28 catches and 255 yards on 42 targets. If Chester Rogers played for the Bills his 66.7% catch rate would lead the team.

Zay Jones looks like the most promising receiver on this team. At times he looks like he might develop into a really nice, 6’2” target. At other times he doesn’t have a quarterback who can get him the ball, so he can’t produce. If I had to predict that someone would break out during Allen’s absence, Jones is that guy, he’s too talented to ignore.


Offensive Line:

Dion Dawkins, Vladimir Ducasse, Russell Bodine, John Miller and Jordan Mills will most likely be the Bills starters from left to right. As of the time of this writing Ducasse is listed as questionable, if he can’t go it’s unclear who between Ryan Groy, Tyler Wyatt or Ike Boettger will look to start in his place.

Dion Dawkins is an average left tackle. He isn’t great but he’s not bad and when you consider the fact that he’s just 24 years old, I would feel good if I were a Bills fan about Dawkins at this time. According to most, the Bills may not miss Ducasse as he hasn’t been very good. If you talk to Bills fans they might tell you that Russell Bodine is a great center but their view is likely skewed by having to watch Ryan Groy earlier in the year. Bodine isn’t awful and given the general lack of talent the Bills appear to have, I’m not sure they have to replace him, but Bodine could be upgraded with minimal effort. Right guard, John Miller may be the best offensive lineman the Bills have but it likely goes unnoticed because he plays next to Jordan Mills. If I had to pick one guy to be on my team between Joe Haeg and Jordan Mills, I’m taking Haeg.

This unit is better as a whole than as individuals. At times this line has looked like an above average unit, at other times, it’s looked far below average. I am pretty excited to see what Eberflus schemes up for this unit. I feel that if we can effectively send stunts this offensive line won’t be able to handle it. The Bills, much like the Colts earlier in the year, have tried to get the ball out of the quarterbacks hand quickly. It’s kept their quarterback from taking a lot of hits but eventually they’re going to have to push the ball and when they do I fully expect to see Jihad Ward flash again.


What to Expect from the Colts Defense:

I think this week more than in weeks past the Colts are going to be content to give up short gains on first and second down. The Colts run defense has largely been good this year, the occasional big play have prevented it from being very good but the Colts are only allowing 3.7 yards per carry this year, which is 4th in the league. I expect to see more of that against a team that has yet to really get the ground game going, if the Colts can stop the run consistently they shouldn’t have a problem setting up 3rd down situations and with the Bills current situation at quarterback, if the Colts defense can get even a little bit healthy, could be in for a very good day.