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Quick Hits: Pass game forcing opponents to think about more than just McCoy?

Posted Sep 25, 2017

Buffalo's passing game didn't light up the field, but they may have been productive and varied enough to give future opponents something more to think about than just LeSean McCoy.

Pass game forcing opponents to think about more than McCoy?
It was only one week where the Bills passing game provided a lift to an offense who again saw their vaunted run game neutralized by an upper echelon defense. But the way in which offensive coordinator Rick Dennison was able to keep the Broncos defense off balance for long stretches of Sunday’s game, was crucial to the victory. The question now is, has the pass game given opponents additional things to think about, spend time on and prepare for besides just Buffalo’s feature running back?

“I’m hoping we are and I’m hoping that we’ll keep developing and keep improving and get better,” Dennison said. “You have to be able to run it and throw it in this league. You can’t do one or the other. There are good defenses with good personnel in this league. Sunday was a grind, but to our guys’ credit they kept working at it.”

Dennison was solid in putting together personnel groupings that indicated one thing to the Denver defense and then they did the opposite. In the third quarter, they lined up in a three-tight end formation and every part of their pre-snap look said they were going to run the ball. Instead Taylor rolled out to his left and hit Nick O’Leary for a 31-yard pass play.

On the goal line they lined up in a two-back, three-tight end formation, which again would signal run to just about anyone watching the game, and Tyrod Taylor play faked and threw to Mike Tolbert at the goal line. The play would’ve gone for a touchdown had Tolbert been able to hold onto the ball.

“We try to do that all the time,” said Dennison. “Run when they’re thinking pass and pass when they think we’re going to run,” said Dennison. “Each week we try to put packages together based on the personnel where we can throw it and run it. That was part of the deal. We want to make sure we keep the defense honest. They have to cover all 11 and the entire field.”

Defensive success surprising so soon
Through three weeks Buffalo’s defense is number one in the league in points allowed. The Bills are allowing just 12.3 points per game after three games. Their stinginess on the scoreboard is rooted in their ability to break up passes. They’ve yet to give up a passing touchdown this season and have the second-most passes defensed in the league with 22.

Head coach Sean McDermott believes it’s pretty obvious what is making them effective and consistent in holding opponents down on the scoreboard.

“It says that they’re resilient and that they care about the results that were getting. More importantly they care about the process and earning the right to win. They spend an incredible amount of time in here, in the building, working on film, spending time together, communicating,” McDermott said. “There were some plays (Sunday) that we want to have back and it wasn’t all exactly the way it needed to look. We have a lot of room for growth and that’s the encouraging part. We’ve done this, yes, and we're excited about that. For us to continue to trend in this type of direction we have to have that type of growth mindset and hold each other accountable. Continue to do that, and celebrate the goods and correct the bads.”

While the players certainly deserve a ton of credit for the plays they’ve made through the first month of the season, there is also a construct to this defensive scheme that enables the players to find answers on how to execute even when facing a pre-snap alignment in a game that might be unfamiliar.

“The scheme makes a difference for sure,” said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. “But more importantly it’s how you communicate the scheme. What you put on paper or on the board versus what they can go out and do, all of that matters too. How well you can communicate it and teach it makes a difference for those players.

“Then in the end you need talented enough guys so when push comes to shove and they’re in position to make plays, they can make plays. Like the plays that EJ (Gaines) made Sunday. With the plays that Tre’Davious (White) made, and some of the red zone stops that our guys came up with. You put them in position and now they’ve got to be able to get it done and we’ve got some guys who are doing that.”

Healthy knowledge of Atlanta
He spent six years trying to stop offenses in the NFC South, so there’s a bit more familiarity for Bills head coach Sean McDermott with an opponent from the other conference this week in the Atlanta Falcons.

“Awareness always helps like it did last week with coach Dennison and the Broncos personnel,” said McDermott. “I don’t think it’ll win or lose the game, but it will help. They have a different offensive coordinator at this point in time. That’ll be a little bit different. It’ll just add value hopefully as we prepare from a game plan standpoint.”

The Falcons lost offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan who left to become head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Atlanta’s new offensive play caller is Steve Sarkisian, who previously served as the offensive coordinator at Alabama and head coach at USC.

The Falcons are currently the fifth-highest scoring offense in the league and rank in the top 10 in total offense, rushing, passing and third down conversion percentage.