The Bills have struggled to stay consistent on offense throughout the season. Against the Buccaneers, it was a tale of two halves once again.
The Buffalo Bills looked like they were going to be on the losing end of a blowout on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At halftime, the score was 3-24 and in that entire first half, the Bills didn’t convert a single third down, (0-5). Coming into the game, the Bills ranked third in the NFL on third-down conversions.
So, it wasn’t a great sign that they weren’t able to sustain a drive for the first thirty minutes of the game. Their red-zone issues also contributed to the deficit, as they were 0-1 there, and settled for a field goal when the offense got all the way up to the Buccaneers’ three-yard line.
If we look at the stats in the first half, the Bills had 43 rushing yards, but none of those yards were by a running back in the backfield. This was the first time since 1991, where a team went an entire half without a single rushing attempt by a running back.
Were the Bills trying to make a statement after the Patriots game the week before? Or did they value the Bucs run defense a little too much, as they were second in the NFL in rushing yards allowed.
Throughout the game, quarterback Josh Allen passed the ball on 11 out of 13 third downs, even when they saw a third-and-3 in the second quarter, they came out in an empty set.
That being said, what the Bills did in the second half to make a comeback and to take the game into overtime was nothing short of a miracle.
Lets go to the film to see what changed from the first to the second half.
To start the game, the Bills drew up some run plays for Josh Allen, but they weren’t successful because of the lack of variety from the backfield, its easy to stop a one-dimensional offense. As a defense, you can double team an assignment when there is zero threat from the other weapons.
In order to stop Allen from running it with his legs, inside linebacker Devin White remained a quarterback spy for the rest of the game. This would ultimately be used against them in the second half.
When it came to throwing the ball in the first half, Allen only had time for flat short yardage passes against the fierce pass rush of the Buccaneers. They often blitzed two extra players, bringing a total of six defenders, putting pressure on Allen. This led to three sacks, one tackle for loss, two quarterback hits and an interception all in the first half.
The Bills had to make some adjustments when the second half rolled around; they used that quarterback spy and nickel defense to their advantage. With more defensive backs, and an inside linebacker assigned to the quarterback, the run-game was sure to succeed.
On the Bills’ second drive in the second half, Devin Singletary saw his first carry, and it went for 29 yards.
With this run success, and the Buccaneers defense still in a 4-2-5 defensive look, the defense was forced to honor the misdirection, which then opened up the middle of the field.
With one linebacker as spy, the Bills noticed a hole in Tampa Bay’s middle defense, so they started running more run-pass-options. This allowed Allen to get rid of the ball quicker, or keep it if the read was there.
That was successful for the next two quarters of the game.
As the Bills closed the margin to only seven points, they marched down the field to get the ball out quick, not allowing that pressure to get to Allen.
With the RPO, the Bills finally found their success. This completely turned their offense around from the first to second half. The Bills didn’t allow a single sack, or tackle for loss.
In the end, the Buccaneers stopped running zone prevent, and went back to blitzing extra guys, but this time running press man-coverage on the outside. Each Bills receiver was locked up at the line of scrimmage and it was up to Allen to throw his targets open if he was able to get the ball out in time.
Ultimately, the Bills’ second half adjustments worked. Allen ended the game with 308 yards and two touchdowns through the air and ran for 109 yards and a touchdown; becoming the fourth quarterback in the league to throw for 300 plus yards and rush for 100 or more in the same game.
But in the end, when the Bucs went back to the plan from the beginning of the game, pressure the quarterback, stack the box and early take away the quarterback’s first read. This put the Bills back to squareone, as they only ran the ball one-time in overtime and through the air, only the flat or check-downs were open down field.
The Bills went three-and-out, as they weren’t able to move the ball which put it back into Tom Brady’s hands. Generally speaking, you don’t want that.
In the second half, the Bills saw success with the RPO but their lack of run-game creativity in the first half ultimately lost them the game. They will have a lot to prove in these remaining four games of the season. Other defenses may not find success running the same nickel look as the Buccaneers, but this is why the Bucs are the defending champions, they have the guys that can stop a top-five offense in the league.