The offense has had it’s fair share of issues this season, but one thing has been made painfully obvious: Josh Allen misses his security blanket. In 2018, he had no-one but, from 2019-2021, he always had a consistent outlet at the first-down marker. Cole Beasley was always there and, as he faded out of the offense last season, Dawson Knox stepped up. We knew we needed a replacement in the slot this year, but had hoped to have found it in Isaiah McKenzie. That hope was misplaced. Where is Josh Allen’s safety net?
The Missing Link
You see, broken plays were the moneymakers for much of Allen’s young career thus far. Most teams feared the moment their Quarterback had to flee a collapsing pocket, but that’s where the Buffalo Bills excelled. Rolling out to the right, throwing across his body for the first down without ever setting his feet, we expected success.
In 2022, things have been largely the same, because Josh Allen is the player that he is. So, what’s different? Why does the offense stall out where it used to hum? We’re missing something. We’re missing that surprise man just open enough for a first down late in the play.
We see the same problems in the red zone. The issue is translatable, after all. Sometimes we need the yardage we need and nothing more. Our red zone efficiency (TD) has dropped significantly in this new offense. Last season, we held first place with 66.28%. This season, the Buffalo Bills are posting a pitiful 53.57%, good for only 19th in the league.
But the problem has solutions, if we ask the right questions. What have we noticed on so many of these now-frequent visits short of the chain? Not that there’s no-one to replace Cole Beasley. (There is.) We’ve noticed that there is no open player within a yard of the line-to-gain on those broken plays. Brian Daboll’s offense understood that putting a cap on Josh Allen’s hero-ball was the way to limit his big mistakes, play effectively in the red zone, and keep long drives alive. How do you stop an unwise heave? By giving him a receiving option too appetizing to pass up on. That last part isn’t exactly easy to do.
What Weapons We’re Working With
The Bills had to make some hard decisions this offseason. Letting Cole Beasley go was the right move, but replacing him was no easy task. They handed extensions to in-house options like Isaiah McKenzie and Dawson Knox, and brought in a bevy of fresh receiving talent in Jamison Crowder, O.J. Howard, James Cook, and Khalil Shakir. That investment hasn’t paid the dividends they expected.
The best option in the slot was Isaiah McKenzie, with his wealth of experience catching passes from Allen. He’s currently the third-leading receiver on the roster for snaps with a 50.1% share, 63.2% of which were from the slot. McKenzie’s given us some incredible plays over the years but he’s yet to prove capable of being a starting slot receiver. With all of that time on the field this season, he’s produced a measly 170 receiving yards and a large number of costly unforced errors. He’s still useful, but not as the full-time replacement in the slot.
Our other top option is Dawson Knox. He broke out for the Bills in 2021, but has taken a massive decrease in target share despite securing the fifth-largest tight end contract on the market. Where last year he became an improvisational red zone threat, hauling in nine TDs, he’s been largely forgettable this season. In 2021, he brought in 587 receiving yards, but now his pace is set for just over 300 yards and four TDs. He’s not a worse player than before, but his usage has changed.
As for the rest of the bunch, a combination of inexperience, lack of opportunity, and inefficient usage has limited their impact on this offense. We have issues — every team does — but, with the tools we have, there’s no reason to fret. There’s plenty we can do to fix this, and get both Josh Allen and this offense as a whole back on track.
A Tolerable Solution For Josh Allen
To be explicitly clear, I’m not saying that Cole Beasley should be on the roster. In fact, he should have nothing to do with this team. What we need is not an aging slot receiver with a bum leg, but a system that produces players near the line-to-gain late in a play.
We hear it all the time in press conferences: “Just get open”. Allen has sent Stefon Diggs deep armed with nothing but those words, and it produces some phenomenal football. Despite sloppy pass-blocking from our offensive line, Josh Allen extends just about every play when he has to. He’s going to do anything to win, which is why he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. By scheming up a player moving laterally at the line-to-gain at the four-second mark in critical plays (third downs, red zone, etc), we can make a welcome return to the emergency stardom that Josh’s unwillingness to concede has brought us.
Who Steps Up?
Who’s fit for this role? It can’t always be Diggs, nor the underperforming Gabe Davis. The answer was never a one-for-one Beasley clone, but a committee. That’s how this team has operated so far. A committee at running back, a committee for the defensive line, why not one for the safety net? McKenzie brings speed and chemistry with Josh Allen, and should fit in well running away from linebackers over the middle (See Bills @ Patriots, 2021). Knox is a physical player, capable of playing the role of a blocker before leaking late toward the line to gain. His size allows him to bulldoze corners and safeties at the sidelines as an aggressive checkdown.
We have multiple capable receiving backs in Nyheim Hines and James Cook. Both of these players could be used situationally to keep defenses in nickel and dime packages whilst offering that speedy short-range receiving option when the play breaks down.
Allen has made those unforced errors to kill our drives, and they’ve been costly. They were tolerable against the Packers, whose offense was incapable of beating the Buffalo Bills defense on passing downs, but the playoffs are only two months away. We need to figure this out before we get there. By reviving the role of a safety valve, and dividing it between different players based on the situation/need, we can fix this offense and let Josh Allen do what he does best.
Like this piece? Check out the previous Buffalo Bulletin on extending Tremaine Edmunds.
The Buffalo Bulletin on Buffalo Fanatics is a weekly editorial by Iestyn Harris. Check back regularly for hot topics, riveting discussion, and, occasionally, some actual insight.
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