December 10, 2021

Why The Bills Are Super Bowl Pretenders Until Buffalo Improves Run Game

The Buffalo Bills are coming off an ugly loss in bad conditions to the New England Patriots. Now, they have to turn around and game plan for long-time AFC East rival, and defending Super Bowl MVP, Tom Brady.

Despite the terrible conditions, the Bills did a reasonable job of passing the football against New England. Josh Allen going 15 of 30 for 145 yards and a touchdown in the 14-10 defeat does not scream productivity, but if you saw the conditions they were playing in, you would understand. However, the Patriots took the ball out of Mac Jones' hands and ran the ball until the Bills could stop them. 

They didn't stop them.

Yet the reason Allen's performance did not translate into a victory was the Bills' failure to run the ball effectively and to stop New England from doing so.

Run The Dang Ball

Buffalo struggling on the ground is not a new phenomenon. For too long, Allen has had to perform without a viable running game to support him, but the Bills' issues in that area loomed particularly large on Monday in a game in which a successful rushing attack always looked likely to be critical.

The Bills managed only 99 yards on the ground, and Devin Singletary was their most efficient running back of the night with 3.6 yards per carry. The Patriots, however, picked up 222 yards rushing and had seven runs of 10+ yards. That meant the Patriots were able to control the clock, while their defense made enough plays to ensure Allen only found the end zone once.

The season-long data suggests the Bills' inability to slow down the Patriots on the ground may prove an aberration. They are second in EPA per play in run defense, per, and sixth in Football Outsiders DVOA against the rush.

However, their difficulties moving the ball efficiently when running it cannot simply be explained away as a one-off. The Bills are 23rd in EPA per play on rushing offense, and they are unlikely to improve in that area in Week 14 against a Buccaneers defense that is ranked eighth in opponent rushing average allowed.

Josh Allen, RB1?

Buffalo's run game was at its best on Monday when Allen was infused into it. He finished with 39 yards on six carries and the Bills may need to rely on his athleticism and dual-threat skill set more often if they are to avoid being consistently one-dimensional on offense.

On the season, Allen has a 5.6 yards per rush average, and he has six games with 40+ rushing yards. In those six games, Buffalo is 4-2, and the offense just flows more efficiently. If Allen can continue to be a threat to pull the ball and run, the Bills could find themselves in a good position to make a Super Bowl run. 

The Bills do have the benefit of games with the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, and New York Jets that should allow them to secure a third successive postseason berth.

Is It Too Late To Improve?

If they cannot find a way to split the regular-season series with the Patriots and have to play on the road in the playoffs in weather similar to what they played in against New England, the Bills will require a dependable running game to have hope of returning to the AFC Championship Game. So far, the Bills have not proved that they can throw out a lethal running game. 

Mixing in more designed runs for Allen would help, but he cannot carry the entirety of the burden. The Bills must see some signs of life from Singletary and Zack Moss before the playoffs, if they don't, it will be hard to trust them to replicate last season's run. If the Bills can establish the run for the rest of the season, watch out. 

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