We had a love bordering on obsession down the stretch last year for the Bills’ Great Backyard Offense — though in light of a number of things, it’s worth revisiting exactly why we loved that offense so much. Three main reasons stand out:
1. That late-season Bills offense was sloppy as could be, but they piled up motion and misdirection and mixed in easy completions for Josh Allen with downfield shots, while also allowing Allen to take off at the first sign of someone being covered (leading to Allen rushing for 99+ yards in three straight games at one point in that glorious stretch).
2. They were cheap.
3. No one knew they existed (which was part of the reason they remained so cheap — good for a double-dip of low ownership + low prices). As we talked about last week (if I recall correctly, this was actually in regards to DJ Moore’s expanded downfield usage — which showed up again last week), people tend to solidify their thoughts on NFL teams and players by this point in the season, but most teams feel it takes them anywhere from four to eight weeks to even figure out exactly who they are, and there is plenty of development and change that happens from there. With the Bills never on national television down the stretch last year and certainly not a team people were going out of their way to watch, most of the field (and most content providers) had no idea that the Bills had come out of the bye (and Allen had come back from injury) with a different approach on that side of the ball. It was truly a beautiful thing.
Notice, however, that “high-scoring affairs” were not part of the reasons we loved that offense. They piled up yardage in a concentrated manner, but in those six weeks after the Bills’ bye, they scored 24 // 17 // 23 // 14 // 12 // 42.
This year, the Bills — in trying to build Allen into a playmaking game manager, rather than building their offense around his (limited) strengths — have not had the “one read, then take off and run” setup, nor have they had the “work relentlessly to set up deep passing” setup. This has been a more conservative offense, with a lower statistical ceiling.
This year, the Bills are also not the ultra-cheap pieces they were (and remained) last year.
And this year, everyone entered the season knowing they exist.
Meanwhile, the Bills have scored point totals on the year of 17 // 28 // 21 // 10 // 14 // 31 // 13 // 24 // 16.
The 31 came against the Dolphins — though this was a home game and included a special teams touchdown. In that home game, Josh Allen passed for 202 yards on 26 pass attempts in a game the Dolphins largely controlled by running 30 times. The Bills surprisingly tilted toward the pass in the early going, as if trying to get things going off the bye in a softer matchup, but they shifted back toward the run as the pass game failed to generate big results. This has been a theme for the Bills offense so far this year, with John Brown still standing alongside Michael Thomas as the only receivers in football with 50+ receiving yards in every game…but with only one game (Week 1) above 83 receiving yards. Allen’s best game through the air so far has been 266 yards (last week, on 41 attempts), and stunningly, JB’s Week 1 game (123 yards vs the Jets) still stands as the only game all year in which any Bills pass catcher has topped 83 yards. This has been a moderately-aggressive, moderate-volume, moderate-upside passing attack all year.
Last week in this space, we highlighted the fact that Devin Singletary’s 23-touch game in Week 9 had represented a usage change rather than a role change, as his snap share of 68% had been directly in line with what he had seen in his other fully-healthy games (66% // 68%). He played 68% of the snaps yet again last week and saw his touches dip back down to 11 (though this comes with a caveat, and a caveat to that caveat: the caveat is that he had only three catches, but saw seven targets; the caveat to that caveat is that the Bills passed the ball a season-high 41 times trying to catch up to the Browns’ modest lead). Singletary also played only 33% of the snaps in his last game against the Dolphins — and while the assumption is that the Bills wanted to ease him in (it was his first game back from injury), we should also keep in mind that this is one of the most opponent-specific offenses in the NFL, and there is at least some chance the Bills entered that game with a plan to lean on Frank Gore instead. The likeliest scenario here has Gore seeing nine to 11 carries (he’s been in exactly that range in all but one of Singletary’s healthy games — that one being his five-carry game last week as the Bills went pass-heavy), with Singletary playing around 68% of the snaps and having his usage tied to game flow. If the Bills grab a big, early lead, Singletary will have a shot at 20+ touches again (his last such game came in a 24-9 win over Washington). If this game instead stays close, Singletary’s maddening usage has a chance to continue.
The Dolphins rank 30th in adjusted line yards on offense and are averaging a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry, which is noteworthy, as the Bills are a top three pass defense by just about every metric, and they are the only team in the NFL that has not yet allowed a pass catcher to top 100 yards. (Only the Patriots have allowed fewer touchdowns to wide receivers, and it likely goes without saying that if good passing attacks are nothing more than “close your eyes and hope you get lucky” in this spot, this goes double for the Dolphins.) The area in which the Bills have been attackable is on the ground, where Saquon, Adrian Peterson, and Chubb all topped 100 yards, and where Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders combined for 170 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Bills rank 27th in DVOA against the run…but the player trying to take advantage will be Kalen Ballage, who has averaged 3.3 yards per carry in his young career and is underwhelming enough that Mark Walton passed him on the depth chart earlier in the year.
JM’s Interpretation ::
I’ll be surprised if I have much interest in this game myself, as the Bills have been priced up for the matchup and the Dolphins continue to improve on defense — while also, of course, improving as a team (having now won back-to-back games while leading at halftime in four straight). With that said: John Brown and Devin Singletary both have the talent to win in most matchups; and they shouldn’t struggle in an overall soft matchup here, while a boost in volume or a broken play could easily lead to upside. The likeliest scenario has both guys producing solid but unspectacular price-considered scores, but there are some outlier paths in which they could connect for something bigger. Singletary is most likely to produce in an easy Bills win, while Brown is most likely to produce in a game in which the Bills are trailing (i.e., you can consider building accordingly), though both have enough “big play” to their game that they could conceivably trip into a big score along a different tributary.
As for the Dolphins: they’re a “no one will be on them, and anything can happen” play — but you’d obviously need quite an outlier in order to capture slate-winning upside in this spot.