Bleacher Report Wed, 05/27/2009 12:14 PM
In 2008, the Buffalo Bills showed glimmers of hope offensively. Trent Edwards matured, but didn't play well enough for the Bills to win the big games, or any AFC East battles for that matter.
They used five go-to plays in crucial situations. Let's get a look at those plays, and how the team will employ them with a new twist in 2009, due to the array of talent on offense.
1. Play-action Bootleg, TE block-and-go
Used mainly on 3rd-and-short situations out of the single back or strong I formation, this was the Bills favorite, and probably most successful play last season. Not drawn up to accumulate big chunks of yardage, the play-action bootleg guarantees at least five yards.
After playactioning to Marshawn Lynch or Fred Jackson, Derek Fine, Robert Royal, and Derek Schouman rub off their outside block and follow their quarterback a few yards down the field. Because the beginning of the play looks like a run to the left, with the tight end blocking, the entire defense shifts that way and the weak side tight end is forgotten.
The Derek's, Fine and Schouman, combined for 247 yards on 25 receptions last season with two touchdowns. Although not all of those receptions were on this play, they fit the mold of this play perfectly. Both players are good blockers with good hands, minus the speed to stretch the middle of the field.
2009 Twist - After releasing Robert Royal who had his fair share of trouble catching passes, the Bills' drafted Shawn Nelson out of Southern Mississippi.
Nelson immediately becomes the most athletically gifted tight end to don a Bills' uniform since Jay Riemersma. Because of his speed and size (6'5'', 250) Nelson's presence will make defenses dedicate more coverage to the middle of the field.
In turn, the Dereks can put their onus on blocking and catching balls in short yardage, more specifically on the bootleg. Nelson who's blessed with great hands, provides the possibility of a big gain on this play when only minimal gains are expected. A lot more variety in 2009.
2. "Josh Reed" Drag Route
This play obviously can be run by any receiver on the Bills' roster, but Josh Reed has a knack to get open while operating over the middle. Reed amassed one of this best seasons as a pro last year, and a lot of his work was done on this route. His 56 catches trailed only his sophomore season in 2003 by two, and his 597 yards were a career high.
The drag was applied mainly in two or three wide receiver sets, and was even used out of the shotgun with five receivers on third downs.
Reed works so well in the slot dragging across the middle of coverage for many reasons. He's quick enough to create a mismatch with any linebacker, and at 5'10'' and 210lbs, he isn't as easily bumped off at the line like the smaller Roscoe Parrish.
The underneath drag, catches Trent Edwards' eye often. Toward the end of the year, when defensive coordinators favored their outside linebackers on the running backs to avoid dump offs, this drag route was consistently wide open, especially in zone coverage.
2009 Twist - Josh Reed is the master of this route. His apprentice is Steve Johnson. The former Kentucky standout was featured during the home stretch of 2008, and brought a strong, physical approach to playing wide receiver.
Standing at 6'3'', the 205 pound Johnson is the bigger version of Reed. He's doesn't have blazing speed but again, certainly creates problems when a linebacker matches up in coverage. With a year under his belt, Johnson has learned a lot from the 8-year veteran Reed.
Using both of these players on the underneath drag route allows the Bills' to be more creative with their play calling.
Lastly, many believe the addition of Terrell Owens benefits Lee Evans the most, but don't be surprised if Josh Reed and Steven Johnson have career years, with more deep coverage assignments put on Owens and Evans down the field.
3. RB Screen - Tough to actually say when this play was run in 2008. Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch combined for 84 grabs last season, but the majority of those were on dump offs, not necessarily prepared screen plays.
But when the Bills did use the screen, most namely vs. 49ers, Jets, and Raiders the play was very lucrative in racking up yardage. The screen was equally used out of the shotgun and the single back formation, although I'd like to see more of this play from under center.
The cousin of the screen, the flat dump off, was sufficient in moving the chains because the obligation the Bills put on their wide receivers to block.
Anytime your two running backs combine for over 600 yards on over 80 receptions, it's blatantly obvious that your offensive coordinator likes getting his backs in space.
2009 Twist - As if the Bills didn't have enough pass-catching talent in Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson, Dominic Rhodes was signed from Indianapolis this offseason. Though many believe he is solely depth for the beginning of the season when Lynch is suspended, Rhodes will bring the multi-faceted skills he exhibited as a Colt to the Bills this season.
The screen will be employed more often this year not only because of the trio of shifty backs with good hands, but because of the revamped offensive line. In this case, the Bills' O-line overhaul has lead to smaller, more athletic and gritty type of lineman.
Last year, with an average weight of 335lbs., the Bills possessed one of the leagues heaviest offensive lines. Now with a projected average weight of almost 320, the line can get down field to pave the road for the screen play in 2009.
4. RB Pitch - Anytime you have swift, yet hard-nosed runners, the pitch play to the outside will be one of your most viable running plays. As mentioned above, guys like Josh Reed, Lee Evans, and Fred Jackson do a great job blocking in the open field.
Running off tackle or pitching to the outside out of the I-form or single back formation allows Lynch's and Jackson's god given ability to be on full display.
If you watched many Bills games last year, you saw how unsuccessful running dives through the middle were, and how the outside runs flourished. Lynch ran a mere 40 times to outside in 2008, but his 5.6 per carry average and three touchdowns were the the highest in comparison to running to other section of the field.
Jackson's average of 6.4 yards per touch to the left sideline was far and away his highest average last season. Very productive play for Buffalo.
2009 Twist - Similar to the running back screen, the more fleet-footed offensive line will be most beneficial aspect of the outside running attack. Now with Rhodes in the lineup, the running back position will be kept fresh throughout each game.
Derek Fine and Derek Schouman have honed their blocking skills and are a year older, so pushing the outside linebackers and ends will open up more holes to the outside. Terrell Owens isn't exactly a slacker in run blocking as well.
5. Deep In - I know what you're thinking. Why not throw the deep ball in here. To be honest, last year the deep ball wasn't extremely efficient for the Bills. Used out of the shotgun sparingly, the deep ball to Evans only resulted in two catches for 138 yards at a score. And the touchdown was thrown by the infamous JP Losman.
The deep in, however, showcased Trent Edwards' accurate and decently strong throwing arm as well as Lee Evans' ability to shape off his routes beautifully.
On passes thrown between 11 and 30 yards, Evans stacked up 20 catches for 396 yards, at a 20 yards per catch clip. This play was used with Edwards under center and didn't need 4 or 5 wide outs to be successful.
2009 Twist - Evans will remain the best at running this route, but with the physical force Terrell Owens, there are two legitimate threats running the deep dig. Both Evans and Owens know how to run this route, and Edwards has shown he can fit the ball behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties.
Shawn Nelson taking up space down the seam, creates even more room for these two to get open on the deep in route.
There you have it. What are you thoughts? Let me have it below.... Read more...