BUFFALO, N.Y. — The situation for the Buffalo Bills was dire. Down 24-3 to Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Bills filed into the locker room at halftime after seemingly nothing went right on offense.
“I think the thing that we got ourselves into was pretending like it was something secret what we’re doing,” center Mitch Morse said after the game. “Everyone on the same page, even if it’s wrong, is better than four people doing the right thing and one person doing something off topic.”
The Bills came back on the field at Raymond James Stadium on the same page, and it was like a switch flipped. Quarterback Josh Allen, despite suffering a left foot sprain, orchestrated a 21-point comeback with the offense looking unstoppable.
While the Bills came up short in overtime, that second half in Week 14 marked the beginning of a strong stretch of offensive performances. The team averaged 32.9 points and 412.1 yards per game for the rest of the season (including playoffs), both the second-most in the NFL to the Kansas City Chiefs.
“It definitely was a turning point and it kind of made us realize that we needed to just shift gears and really put the pedal to the metal,” tight end Dawson Knox said during the team’s mandatory minicamp. “It was go time from there.”
With a front-heavy schedule in 2022 that includes five playoff teams from last year in the first seven games, the Bills need to extend their 2021 late-season offensive success. But the offense has changed, starting with first-time offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey taking over for Brian Daboll. While Dorsey will add new wrinkles, there should also be consistency from years prior based on his experience in the system. Dorsey was Allen’s QB coach the last three seasons.
“Whenever you bring someone new [from outside the organization at offensive coordinator], you’re talking about not only new plays, but new terminology, new words, and [we] really didn’t want to get into that, if we could avoid it, because of Josh in particular amongst the rest of the core that was already intact here,” coach Sean McDermott said.
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But Allen will have to get used to a different person calling the plays after Daboll left to become head coach of the New York Giants. Daboll was Allen’s offensive coordinator for his first four NFL seasons.
“Obviously, it’s going to be different,” Allen said. “It’s a different voice in the headset. It’s a different mind calling the plays. The verbiage is still the same, the protections are still the same. Obviously, we’ve switched up a couple of things here and there with concepts and thought processes and stuff like that.”
The changes to the offense start with diverse weapons for Allen to work with. The Bills signed tight end O.J. Howard (Buccaneers) and wide receiver Jamison Crowder (New York Jets) and drafted running back James Cook and wide receiver Khalil Shakir. They are working to make the offense more versatile and allow for more creativity in how players are used to support Allen. During the team’s offseason workouts, returning players sometimes lined up in new spots and ran different routes to mix up what the offense can do and create better matchups.
Last year’s roster did not include a strong backup tight end, which limited some of the playcalls and packages they could run. The addition of Howard should change that.
“There’s gonna be so much versatility in this offense now, 12 and 13 personnel,” Knox said. “Bring us in, run the ball, spread us out, and get us good matchups.”
Knox (6-foot-4, 254-pounds) has worked on his reliability as a pass-catcher over his career and has become a go-to target for Allen downfield, but Howard (6-6, 251) brings extra size and length to the position.
“[Howard] makes you feel small. That dude is massive,” Knox said. “He’s got a great catch radius, he runs good routes, and he’s strong too.”
Crowder, a seven-year veteran, will compete with the speedy Isaiah McKenzie for the slot receiver position that Cole Beasley occupied last season. Cook should bring reliable pass catching to the running back position. During his college career at Georgia, he averaged over 10 yards after the catch per reception.
“We got guys all over the field that can make some plays now,” Allen said. “And if you look at the depth from the running backs to the tight ends to the receivers and the guys have that just have shown they’ve made plays in the league before. And we’ve got some rookies that are coming along and continuing to improve and impress these coaches.”
While the Bills offense will have different components thanks to the new additions, they won’t be abandoning what’s worked in the past and been successful.
“We’ve got a core of what our philosophy is that’s worked for us,” Dorsey said. “But at the same time, you’ve got to be able to evolve in this game. You’ve got to be able to do some different things to keep defenses off balance and force them to react to you and not you reacting to them.”