It’s no secret that in his first season as offensive coordinator of the Bills, Brian Daboll was a bit limited in how diversified and varied his play calling could be. With a musical chair situation at quarterback, which eventually finished with rookie Josh Allen as the starter and a substandard offensive line, Daboll was forced to limit himself with the solutions he could devise to counter the defensive schemes he prepared for every week.
Not surprisingly, the results were below Daboll’s own standards, but over the final six games of the 2018 campaign, the offense showed signs of life. Now equipped with an influx of skill position talent and a revamped offensive line, here’s a cursory look at what we can expect from Buffalo’s offensive play caller.
1. More varied personnel groupings
In year one under Daboll, the Bills leaned heavily on the one back, one tight end formation (3 wide or 11 personnel) as it was their most popular personnel grouping. A good portion of the league uses that formation more than any other in their offensive play calling as well. The issue for Daboll was that he couldn’t play off of that personnel package with other groupings with great effectiveness due to the limitations of some of the players he had at his disposal.
The one back, two tight end set (12 personnel) was Buffalo’s second-most popular package, and it had its moments in providing the offense with some positive gains to keep drives alive.
Daboll was diligent in mixing in other groupings and packages to keep opposing defenses off balance, but for the Bills offense, it was the coordinator’s mixing and matching that had to do the heavy lifting due to the limitations of the personnel.
Now blessed with a more talented receiving corps that offers strengths at all levels of the field, a tight end group that is far deeper than last year’s and a more varied running back contingent, Daboll is armed with more options to deploy that skill position talent.
That should translate into a weekly guessing game by opponents as to what will be coming from the Bills offense in terms of personnel packages and play calls.
2. More tempo changes
One of the trademarks of the New England Patriots offense is their ability to change the tempo of their play calling at a moment’s notice. They have the ability to speed things up and go fast when they see the opposing defense with a bad personnel package on the field to prevent substitutions.
When they’re ahead on the scoreboard or have a drive at the end of the half and want to bleed clock so their opponent doesn’t get another possession after the score, they’ll gear things down and run the play clock all the way down before each snap.
Coming from that school of offensive execution in New England, Daboll began to incorporate that into his Buffalo offense in his first season at the helm. Unfortunately, with all the quarterback changes through the first 10 weeks of the season, and then a rookie manning the starting role, changing tempo in the course of a game had to take a back seat.
Now with an entrenched starting quarterback, who has a firm grasp of the offensive scheme in Josh Allen, Daboll has the added weapon of tempo change to make use of in any given week.
Buffalo’s offensive coordinator, along with Allen, worked extensively on running the offense with shorter play calls or sounds in the spring so they can execute plays in rapid succession. To speed up the offense even further, Daboll and Allen have worked on letting the second-year quarterback call plays on his own.
“There are periods (in practice) where we don't have scripts, or we just go out there and call whatever, whether I'm giving it to Josh, or Josh had a no huddle period, and he called it,” said Daboll.
“I'm still trying to get on that same level with Daboll (as a play caller),” said Allen. “He's been trusting me a lot with things like that. It's been awesome. I really appreciate and love the type of relationship that we have right now. It's only going to continue to grow.”
3. More run game success
After a season in which the success of Buffalo’s run game began and ended with Josh Allen, the Bills are determined to re-establish what has been a top 10 rushing attack for the better part of the last four seasons.
What stood in the way in 2018 was an inability to win the weekly battles at the line of scrimmage. Buffalo’s offensive line could not effectively move opposing defenses up the field or out of gaps leaving LeSean McCoy and his fellow backs with few options to make positive gains.
The deficiencies were obvious to Buffalo’s front office and they set out to make changes to upgrade the level of talent up front. The Bills now have a bounty of new linemen thanks to free agency and the draft and will assemble a starting five as training camp gets underway.
That blend will obviously be important to the fortunes of Buffalo’s rushing attack as well as the offense in general.
It’s hard to envision that the 2019 offensive line contingent will not have considerably more success than the 2018 version.
Offensive line coach Bobby Johnson in concert with Daboll should be able to build a line that will allow McCoy, Frank Gore, Devin Singletary and T.J. Yeldon better opportunities to make positive gains on the ground and restore balance to Buffalo’s offense.
“We’ve got to be a better running football team. No question about it,” said Daboll. “Whether it's schemes or plays or philosophies or whatever it may be, we're working through that right now. That will happen in training camp a bunch. But, you know, we've done a lot of work in the offseason, both as coaches, and then players. We're working to grind that out.”
More success with the run game also has an added benefit. It likely means fewer improvisational runs from Josh Allen, which should preserve his physical health over the course of the 16-game season.
An improved offensive line along with more diversified talent at the skill positions and a stable quarterback situation all provide Daboll with the most valuable component a play caller needs in the NFL. The ability to be unpredictable.