BUFFALO, NEW YORK. The situation with the Buffalo Bills was terrible. After losing 24-3 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Tom Brady, the Bills went to the locker room at halftime after seemingly failing offensively.
“I think we got caught up in pretending it was some secret thing we do,” center Mitch Morse said after the game. “Everything on the same page, even if it’s wrong, is better than four people doing the right thing and one person doing something off topic.”
The Bills were back on the field at Raymond James Stadium on the same page, and it was like flipping a switch. Quarterback Josh Allen set up a 21-point comeback despite a sprained left leg, and the offense looked unstoppable.
While the Bills lost in overtime, the second half of Week 14 marked the start of a powerful period of attacking performances. The team averaged 32.9 points and 412.1 yards per game for the remainder of the season (including the playoffs), second in the NFL behind the Kansas City Chiefs.
“It was definitely a turning point and it made us realize that we just needed to shift gears and really hit the gas pedal all the way,” said tight end Dawson Knox during the team’s mandatory mini-camp. “It was time to go from there.”
With a busy 2022 schedule that includes five playoff teams from last year in the first seven games, the Bills need to extend their offensive success into the end of the 2021 season. But the offense has changed since first offense coordinator Ken Dorsey took over from Brian Daball. While Dorsey will add new wrinkles, there should also be a sequence of past years based on his experience with the system. Dorsey has been Allen’s QB coach for the last three seasons.
“Whenever you bring someone new [from outside the organization at offensive coordinator]you are talking not only about new plays, but also about new terminology, new words and [we] really didn’t want to get into it if we could avoid it, in part because of Josh in the middle of the rest of the core, which was already intact here,” said coach Sean McDermott.
But Allen will have to get used to the fact that after Duboll left to become head coach of the New York Giants, another person is in charge. Daball was Allen’s offensive coordinator for his first four seasons in the NFL.
“Obviously it will be different,” Allen said. — It’s another voice in the headphones. It’s a different mind calling plays. The verbiage is the same, the defenses are the same. Obviously we’ve swapped a couple of things with concepts and thought processes and stuff like that.”
Offensive changes start with a variety of weapons that Allen can work with. The Bills signed tight end O.J. Howard (Buccaneers) and wide receiver Jamison Crowder (New York Jets) and selected a running back. James Cook and wide receiver Khalil Shakir. They’re working on making the offense more versatile and allowing for more creative ways in which players are used to supporting Allen. During the team’s off-season practices, returning players sometimes lined up in new locations and ran different routes to mix what the offense could do and create better matches.
Last year’s roster did not include a strong reserve tight end, which limited some of the game challenges and packages they could launch. The addition of Howard should change that.
“Now there’s going to be so much flexibility in this offense, 12 and 13,” Knox said.
Knox (6’4″, 254 lbs) has worked on his reliability as a pass catcher throughout his career and has been targeted by Allen in midfield, but Howard (6-6, 251) brings extra size and length to position.
“[Howard] makes you feel small. This dude is massive,” Knox said. “He’s got a great grip radius, he’s running on good routes, and he’s strong, too.”
Crowder, a seven-year veteran, will compete against speedy Isaiah McKenzie for the receiving slot position held by Cole Beasley last season. Cook must bring a reliable pass catch to the position of a running back. During his college career in Georgia, he averaged over 10 yards after a catch per reception.
“We’ve got guys all over the field who can play now,” Allen said. “And if you look at the depth from running backs to tight ends to receivers, the guys just showed they’ve played in the league before. And we have several newcomers who continue to improve and impress these coaches.”
Although the Bills offense will have different components due to the new additions, they will not abandon what has worked and been successful in the past.
“We have the foundation of our philosophy that has worked for us,” Dorsey said. “But at the same time, you have to be able to develop in this game. You have to be able to do a few different things to unbalance the defenses and make them react to you instead of you reacting to them.”