Offense analysis: Bills found more versatility, more answers under Joe Brady


Staff member

This is the first part of a three-part series analyzing the numbers behind the Bills’ season.

The evolution of the Buffalo Bills’ offense took a positive step forward in 2023, even though the team’s season ended in the same spot as the previous three seasons.
The offense was the most multidimensional attack of the Josh Allen era. It had more good answers to more problems defenses presented than ever.

The final numbers were a tick below recent seasons. The offense was sixth in points scored after being top-three each of the three previous seasons. It was fourth in yards after finishing second in 2022, fifth in 2021 and second in 2020.

By the advanced offensive efficiency metric, however, the Bills had the best rating of any of the past four seasons and finished third best in “value over average,” which factors in quality of the competition and performance in every game situation, compared with the rest of the NFL.
When Allen rose to elite level in 2020, the Bills’ offense was able to dominate via the strength of its “fastball,” passing from the three- and four-wide receiver sets.

Defenses adjusted and forced the Bills’ offense to adapt (and the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense faced a similar challenge, with defenses working harder to protect deep against both Allen and Patrick Mahomes).

By 2022, the Bills still ranked high by almost every measure, but the offense was far more reliant on Allen making spectacular plays out of the structure of the offense. The Bills were sorely lacking answers in the pass game in the middle of the field, and the run game wasn’t good enough by the time they were eliminated from the playoffs by the Cincinnati Bengals.

“There’s a way to win every game,” Joe Brady said in December, then serving as interim offensive coordinator before he was officially promoted to the permanent role on Sunday. “The other (opposing) coaches get paid, too. We think we have an idea going into the game about how we think they might play it. Or this is how we think our guys are going to respond to something. Then, sometimes, we get that. Sometimes, we don’t. It’s critical that we find whatever it is that’s working.”

Ways the Bills’ offense became more versatile:
  • The middle-of-the-field problem was mostly solved. Tight end Dalton Kincaid posted the fourth-most catches by a rookie tight end in NFL history (73), and the most by any tight end in Bills history. By the end of the season, new slot receiver Khalil Shakir turned into a reliable weapon.

  • The Bills diversified their personnel options, with the three-wide set still the main mode of transportation. The Bills ran 11 personnel (three wides) 64.2%, compared with 70.2% the previous season, according to Buffalo News charting. The two-TE set (12 personnel) went from 4.1% last season to 17.1% this season.
  • The run game improved because James Cook proved more dynamic than Devin Singletary, and the offensive line was better than in 2022. Cook finished fourth in the NFL in rushing yards (1,122) and third among RBs in yards from scrimmage (1,567). The Bills did not rely heavily on the inside zone runs, as in past years. Assistant coach Aaron Kromer took advantage of the mobility of the offensive linemen to pull in gap scheme runs. Toss plays wide were good, too. Cook gained 446 yards on runs outside the numbers vs. 272 for Singletary in 2022.
“At the beginning of the year we were trying so many different things,” guard Connor McGovern said. “Halfway through when we got on that run, I think we found what really worked for us – the power scheme. I think Kromer did a great job at seeing what the five of us were good at, and what James liked seeing and all the running backs liked seeing.

“Then, every day, just it was us talking it out. Having them in our meetings with us. ‘OK, this is how we see hitting the block. How do you see setting up the linebacker? How far do you want to press into the line of scrimmage before you cut back?’ Just getting their insight helped all of us together as the season went on.”
Here is our annual analytics-based review of some of the other key trends for the Bills’ offense in 2023:

Problem No. 1​

It is stating the obvious, but turnovers put the Bills into a desperate situation at 6-6, and, arguably, were the biggest thing that cost Ken Dorsey his job as offensive coordinator.

The Bills made an NFL-high 18 giveaways the first 10 games. They made just 10 over the next nine games. That rate over the last nine games would have been second best in the league in ball-protection, if they had sustained it the whole season.

Problem No. 2​

The Bills’ explosive plays in the passing game took a dip.

The Bills ranked 19th in pass plays of 20-plus yards with 49, which includes run-after-catch yardage. They had 51 each of the past two seasons, so it wasn’t a big dip.

However, on passes that traveled 20 or more yards downfield, the Bills ranked 12th with 28, according to Pro Football Focus. They were first in 2022 and sixth in 2021. Kansas City was only 22nd on deep completions. But that speaks to the Chiefs’ deficiencies at wide receiver, not Mahomes’ passing.

There is room for improvement, particularly in adding more speed to the wide receiving corps.
Wideout breakdown

WR1: Stefon Diggs ranked seventh in the NFL in catches (107) and 13th in receiving yards (1,183). However, over the last 13 games, counting the playoffs, Diggs had 68 catches for 636 yards and three TDs. Project that over a full season, and it’s 88 catches for only 831 yards. There were at least 10 deep balls for Diggs that came close but did not connect. It is a concern.

WR2: Gabe Davis had 45 catches for 746 yards and seven touchdowns, a slight dip from the 2022 season, when he had 48 for 836 and seven TDs. Davis ranked 18th among No. 2 wide receivers in catches and No. 11 among No. 2 wide receivers in yards. (That doesn’t count a few receivers who saw the vast majority of their snaps from the slot.) Bottom line: You’d like more production from the No. 2 wideout spot, either in the ability to separate or the ability to make contested catches. There were eight games in which Davis caught one or zero passes.

Davis wasn’t lacking for targets. He had 81, just a slight dip from last year (93). But his catch rate (catches per target) was sixth lowest among the 61 wide receivers with at least 40 catches this season.

WR3: Over the last five games, Shakir had 23 catches for 233 yards and two TDs. That’s a pace over 17 games for 78 catches. Shakir was one of the big bright spots of the Bills’ late-season run.

Strength of schedule​

The Bills’ offense played the 14th-most difficult schedule of defenses in the league, based on the “value over average” metric.
The Bills played 10 of 19 games against top-10-ranked defenses, counting both playoff opponents.

RPO usage​

The Bills finished third in the NFL in use of run-pass option plays, according to Pro Football Focus. The Bills ran them on 19.6% of pass snaps, well above the league average of 11.4%.

However, it wasn’t much of a change from last year, or even Brian Daboll’s final year as coordinator in 2021. The Bills were sixth in RPOs last year at 16.2%, and seventh the year before.

It is another way the Bills put control in Allen’s hands, taking advantage of a linebacker or safety overplaying the run or pass and trying to make the defense defend the whole field.