Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

What’s going on with the Buffalo Bills this season? Many have counted them out, but it might be premature.  Sure, they haven’t been an overly talented team over the last couple of years, but they beat the Super Bowl-contending Minnesota Vikings as well as the Tennessee Titans.  Head coach Sean McDermott has something brewing in Buffalo, but what is it and can he keep it going?

To start, quarterback Josh Allen has some incredible arm strength and his athleticism is underrated.  His accuracy is a bit of a work in progress, and his field reading has much to be desired at this point.  Allen doesn’t quite understand how defensive fronts relate to potential pressure designs.  He’s been struggling to identify defensive looks that change after the snap and he sometimes predetermines downfield throws – which is to be expected given that he does not yet have a great understanding on how certain route concepts defeat specific coverages. But he’s a rookie with only four starts in his career, so to expect much more is a bit naive.  In fact, we’ve seen equally raw, but less talented quarterbacks go onto have pretty nice careers, so this isn’t exactly out of the ordinary.

The problem is that there’s not much going on around him.  Their offensive line is slow and lumbering.  Number one receiver Kelvin Benjamin is unrefined route runner with little sense for passing game nuance. Throws to Benjamin are a bit blurry.  The receivers behind Benjamin are also a bit questionable.  But all of these things combined might be exactly what the team needs.  It’s certainly what McDermott and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll must use.  And that’s exactly what they figured out on Sunday.

None of this makes it sound like they’re doing anything special to give them the big wins.  So what’s going on?  Call it good luck for the Bills, or bad luck for the other teams, but something is going on that’s bringing Buffalo some pretty big wins.

McDermott runs a scheme that’s simple after the snap, but one that is complicated before it.  The Bills also employ a variety of basic zone coverages, which allow their men to play faster.  But before the snap, they present those coverages with roving safeties and various pressure fronts.  This all sounds incredibly simple, doesn’t it?  From there, the hope is that a high-octane, “rally to the ball” mentality can provide some opportunistic turnovers and third-down stops.  Which is exactly what happened at Minnesota and again during their game against Tennessee.

Typically, in this kind of simple defensive scheme, players don’t usually improve.  The Bills, however, are proving this theory to be untrue.  The whole idea of playing simply does seem like it’s not going to be beneficial, but it’s working for them.  What this tells the world is that regardless of raw talent, with the right coaching and in the right system, players are able to not just achieve, but overachieve.  Which certainly sounds at odds with the game, but the Bills are showing us this to be the case.