Behind a Re-stocked Offensive Line, Bills’ Ground Game Is Primed to Take Off

Buffalo will continue to improve this season, with young stars emerging and veterans providing guidance, but the team is still a year or more away from being true playoff contenders.
By Andy Benoit ,

The 2019 NFL season is just a few weeks away, so Andy Benoit makes a few predictions for each NFL team. Today he analyzes the Buffalo Bills, who finished 6–10 and third in the AFC East last year.

Buffalo’s ground game takes off. After restocking their once-futile offensive line with four newcomers—powerful ex-Titan Quinton Spain at left guard, nimble ex-Chief Mitch Morse at center, sneakily athletic ex-Redskin/Jet Spencer Long at right guard and second-round rookie Cody Ford (Oklahoma) at right tackle—the Bills can finally maximize their backfield talent. The running back unit ascends with the additions of sagacious veteran Frank Gore and multidimensional jitterbug Devin Singletary, a third-round pick from Florida Atlantic. Both work in a rotation behind 31-year-old LeSean McCoy, who isn’t quite what he once was but can still change directions well enough to consistently find daylight.

With speedy receivers, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll builds on the jet sweep concepts he dabbled in last year, but the ground game’s brightest tactic is the package of run designs involving 237-pound QB Josh Allen, who can do for this ground game what Cam Newton does for Carolina’s.

The Bills go deep. Allen’s similarities to Newton show up in his throwing, as well. The second-year QB will never have refined precision accuracy, but he (mostly) compensates with power throws. To highlight this, Buffalo emphasizes deep dropbacks and downfield route combinations, where demands on timing and rhythm are less stringent and completions have large payouts.

Robert Foster emerges. The undrafted second-year pro is the best player in a receiving corps comprised predominantly of diminutive speedsters. Foster can not only stretch the field, but also throttle down—an unheralded trait that enables a speed receiver to get separation.

Pass rush problems hurt. The Bills are two-deep at every defensive line spot, but their only pure pass rusher is bull-rushing ace Jerry Hughes. That’s a problem in their straightforward zone scheme, which is well-coached but, like any traditional 4-3 zone scheme, dependent on a having a quality four-man rush.

Young stars emerge. Most of Football America already appreciated 2017 first-rounder Tre’Davious White, who is a true No. 1 corner. Landing on the radar with White are linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. Edmunds, though still green, builds on the improved play recognition he showed late last year, while Milano continues to show a knack for finishing plays near the ball. Both can cover, especially in zone. They don’t quite remind McDermott of the Luke Kuechly-Thomas Davis tandem he had as the defensive coordinator in Carolina, but they make the coach comfortable with expanding his select third-down disguise and pressure concepts.

BOTTOM LINE: The Bills are better but still a year away from being legitimate playoff contenders.

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