The Buffalo Bills have had the number one rushing attack the past two seasons in the NFL. On the surface, one could simply credit that success to RB LeSean McCoy, and he wouldn’t be totally wrong. But a lot of the Bills’ effectiveness lies in the staff’s ability to create run concepts that revolve around the elite rushing talent of their quarterback, Tyrod Taylor.
Over the last two seasons with Taylor at the helm, former offensive coordinators Greg Roman and Anthony Lynn (2016) were able to do some special things in the run game, due to the complex run scheme and the big play ability of Taylor.
The QB-centric run game is somewhat similar to the offensive philosophy that Bill Snyder has implemented at Kansas State University. The program struggles to get top tier, elite recruits let alone passing QBs. In fact, they have had zero 5-star, seven 4-star, and forty-four 3-star recruits over the last four years.
Their recruiting classes rank 59th over the last four years, so the staff’s coaching abilities become that much more important. They must devise schemes that maximize the types of players they are getting. One way Snyder has done that is by making the QB position the focal point in the run game.
Teams like the Bills and Wildcats are also very similar in that respect. The Bills have had trouble getting a franchise QB for many years. These two teams decided not to fight the trend, but rather to maximize it with their personnel groupings, concepts, and schemes.
As you will see, their run games are multiple, complex, and downright fun to watch. Any type of offensive success revolves around their QBs’ ability to run. Quarterback Jesse Ertz is a gutsy and fearless runner which he complements with very good decision making in the passing game.
Kansas State does not shy away from QB designed runs. They love using some of the most common run concepts out of spread formations. On this play, they send out 11 personnel with a trips bunch formation to the field. They run a QB counter trey concept. The running back to QB Jesse Ertz’s left is RB/FB/TE Winston Dimel. He is their ‘do it all’ player, a guy who lines up all over the field.
“We have a lot of different puller plays and reads with different defenders. Also, using the running back as a blocker is unique.” QB Jesse Ertz
The defense is in an over front with eight defenders within eight yards of the line of scrimmage. That means there are eight defenders vs. eight offensive players. Sounds like the defense is in good shape, right? Not so much; check out what I mean:
On the last play, the Wildcats attacked with a run to the strength, but the threat of a weak side run held defenders on the backside and allowed the offense to get a hat on a hat front-side. On this play, the Bills attack the weak side with a veer read concept. The defensive structure is balanced to the strength and weak side. Their discipline is top notch, and they have every threat covered, but the play concept put Tyrod Taylor one-on-one with LB Dont’a Hightower, and that is a match up that favors Taylor.
Quarterback Jesse Ertz currently holds the lowest career interception percentage in school history, at 1.52, and part of that is because of the run game that he leads. The offense is so multiple that teams have trouble stopping it and they are able to control the ball and stay ahead of the chains. In 2016, he finished with 1,012 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns, and it was because of smart decisions and pretty play calls like this one.
The Wildcats come out in 21 personnel and run another read concept. To the left and right of Ertz are Dimel and Warmack, respectively. On the snap, Ertz gets his eyes on the end man on the line of scrimmage. Dimel’s split flow is caught by that defender, and it influences the defensive end to pinch.
Ertz keeps it and the linebacker responsible for the QB gets caught deep, and that leaves Dimel leading the way.
There’s similar split flow action on this play by the Bills, but instead of being performed by a FB, TE Charles Clay leads. Taylor takes the snap and is reading speed rusher Yannick Ngakoue. Ngakoue crashes quickly on the midline run, so Taylor keeps it and gains a chunk of yards.
State also utilizes old school option concepts of years past. You know, the speed and load options of the Tom Osborne years, but out of the shotgun. On this play, the Wildcats bring out 21 personnel with twins to the field and run load option into the boundary.
The offensive line blocks outside zone to their right, and Ertz is looking to option the first man outside the TE, which ends up being the overhang CB. That defender keys the FB, so Ertz keeps it and gets the first down.
The Bills utilized triple, speed, and load options slightly more than the Wildcats in 2016. Check out this video breakdown from their matchup against the Rams from week 5.
Both teams rely on their run games to get them in position to score, and once in the red zone, K-State and Buffalo were some of the best last season. State finished 10th overall in red zone offense, scoring 91.23% of the time and 4.3 TDs+field goals per game. At one point in the season, they had scored 57 straight times in the red zone, dating back to 2015.
“There are so many different schemes and formations, plus you add our physicality, it’s very hard to prepare for.” Jesse Ertz
According to QB Jesse Ertz, this play was a designed zone run call, but he turned it into a keeper, as he noticed the defense did not have a contain player.
Taylor and the Bills were even better in the red zone. They were 7th in red zone scoring (TDs only), scoring 64.81% of the time. Football Outsiders had them ranked 4th in red zone DVOA, and when they entered that area of the field, you knew Tyrod Taylor was going to play a factor. Of their 46 total touchdowns, 15 were from the pistol formation and 13 of them were from the pistol in the red zone. The formation makes the defense defend every offensive player, if they don’t, the Bills made them pay.
In the week 13 matchup against the Raiders, the offense runs another veer read, hoping to use OLB Khalil Mack’s aggressiveness against him.
According to Richie Incognito:
“(It’s) inside zone. We are blocking for the hand off. DE crashed so Tyrod kept it.”
Taylor keeps it and trots into the end zone unscathed.
Kansas State and the Buffalo Bills have adapted to their recruiting and personnel. The Wildcats have built their offensive philosophy with those limitations in mind. Kudos goes to the staff. Their complex run game helps drive their offense, and it has yielded massive success. Their scheme is centered around a very good offensive line that dominates the line of scrimmage, and the QB position is the focal point. But the position is treated unlike any other in college football; it is the center of the run game. Their run game concepts are so ingrained in the player that touches the ball every play that they even sub in a running back, and they never miss a beat.
That train of thought has seeped its way into the NFL with the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo had its own version of the wildcat where they, at times, inserted RBs LeSean McCoy and Mike Gillislee and were extremely effective!