Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey is the first play-by-play caller this season. During the team’s 8-3 start to the season, the Bills offense averaged 415.9 yards per game (second in the NFL) and scored 28.1 points per game (also second).
After a hot start to the season, which saw the Bills win six of their first seven games and look like the best team in the NFL, criticism of Dorsey’s offense has been muted. Quarterback Josh Allen was an MVP candidate. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs was a nominee for Offensive Player of the Year. The Bills have several solid wins under their belts—everyone loves neat points—and they have wins over each of the other AFC division winners the Tennessee Titans, Baltimore Ravens, and Kansas City Chiefs.
Then November happened. The team began to turn football around at an alarming rate. They currently lead the league with 19 gifts, nine of which occurred after their bye week. Allen, the culprit in the majority of those tackles, injured his elbow in a road loss to the New York Jets, and hasn’t looked like his usual thrower since. Starting offensive linemen Deion Dawkins, Mitch Morse, and Spencer Brown all missed game time. And the Bills were forced to play two games in five days at Ford Stadium in Detroit, after a lake-effect snow event forced the NFL to move its Week 11 game against Cleveland, adding more pressure to a team that was already struggling a bit.
However, despite the fact that the Bills still averaged 390.3 yards of offense and 26.5 points per game during a 2-2 stretch in November, it was Dorsey who was starting to take the heat from Buffalo’s fan base.
The criticism is not entirely unjustified. Buffalo has endured long stretches of play in the past few contests in which the offense has completely stopped; The most recent example of this came in their 28-25 Thanksgiving Day win over Detroit, where the offense gained just 88 yards of offense in 24 second-half games before righting course on the final two sets to steal the win. Their problems scoring touchdowns in the red zone are well documented, and represent the offense’s biggest setback from previous years under former coordinator Brian Dabol.
But other problems are inherited. Buffalo’s inability to find a consistent running back game predates Dorsey and goes back to the days of Daboll; This is a pass-first offense from an identity perspective, and Dorsey needed a reminder of balance by head coach Sean McDermott, just as Daboll had done in years past.
There are still more problems somewhat beyond Dorsey’s control. Allen’s injury, and injuries along the offensive line, fit that description. Dorsey certainly isn’t planning all of these transformations. A more difficult issue, inherited from the offseason player acquisition phase, was Buffalo’s inability to replace large-sized slot receiver Cole Paisley (82 receptions in both 2020 and 2021). The lack of a second receiver helped cause lulls in Buffalo’s passing offense, because without another high-volume receiver option, defenses found ways to contain Diggs early, and force the Bills to plan to open their only high-going receiver. Later in the games.
To sum up briefly: Buffalo’s offensive struggles lately have been a little overdone, and while they’ve certainly been frustrating to watch in the stretches, they’re still producing at a high rate, especially when they need it most. And when they struggle, there is a lot of blame on them.
Buffalo’s offense was fearsome and predictable at times. Their red zone interception against Detroit came in the team’s all-around run pass option game, and Detroit was over it. But it is worth considering that the direction of predictability can be by design. Four of Buffalo’s last six games have come against divisional foes, and it’s entirely possible that Dorsey has been salvaging new planning wrinkles for the games most crucial to Buffalo’s league title hopes. That’s kind of a leap of faith, admittedly, but it’s almost unheard of.
However, as Dorsey and crime take their toll, the time has come. The extended final round begins next Thursday on the road against the New England Patriots in a must-win game like they have this season; A team can never go down to 0-3 in division play. Some of the problems they encounter do not go away quickly; Allen’s elbow is still less than 100%, the offensive line is still battered, and the true second receiving option is still not stepped up.
If Dorsey was saving his best for the final round, it’s time to unleash it. Fewer turnovers, better red zone play, and less predictability should go a long way toward squashing those lulls, and getting the Bills back on track for a third straight AFC East title. Allen will get better as his elbow heals, but for now, the guy who can go all out to elevate Buffalo’s offense is the one who calls the plays.