The Buffalo Bills’ offense enjoyed great success during the 2015 season under new Offensive Coordinator, Greg Roman. With a first-time starter at the quarterback position along with new faces at wide receiver, tight end and the offensive line, Roman was able to put together the league’s No. 1 rushing attack and one of the most efficient passing games in the National Football League.
As the majority of offenses throughout the league have become more spread-oriented to tailor the pass game, Greg Roman regularly uses multiple backs and tight ends, even extra offensive linemen to operate his punishing brand of power football.
Roman’s offense is one of the most difficult to plan for throughout the league, as his run-heavy schemes operated out of endless formations that are topped off with a whirlwind of shifts and motions, intended to disguise the relatively simple concepts that he’s executing. While the offense is centered around running the ball, the tight ends have a lot of responsibilities within the scheme—both as blockers and receivers.
I broke down the multiple passing concepts that Greg Roman incorporated into the Buffalo Bills’ offense here
Greg Roman’s Run Concepts
The Buffalo Bills rushing attack was lethal throughout the 2015 season, regardless of who was in the backfield. Greg Roman’s multiple run game had the team lead the league in rushing, gaining 2,432 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground, averaging 4.8 yards-per-carry. They had 70 runs go for 10+ yards—the highest total in the league, while rushing for 122 first downs, the third-best.
The core of Greg Roman’s run game are man/gap plays—the power, counter and trap, but having running back like LeSean McCoy and a mobile quarterback in Tyrod Taylor allowed him to add more zone concepts—the inside/outside zone, read option, etc.
As we stated before, Roman’s offense features multiple tight ends—particularly an H-Back—and additional linemen that allow the Bills to be flexible in their rushing attack.
By removing a receiver and adding a tight end, fullback or an extra offensive tackle to the formation, another gap is essentially created for the defense to account for. In a game that emphasizes gap integrity, the more points-of-attack an offense has, the tougher it is for an opponent to defend. A traditional formation in 10 or 11 personnel has six or seven gaps to defend, but the addition of an extra linemen creates up to nine.
Here is balanced offensive formation—five OL and a tight end.
With an unbalanced line, the possibilities for a rushing attack are almost endless. The extra blockers and gaps make it difficult for defensive players to have clear lanes to the ball-carrier, while pre and post-snap motion creates confusion that typically result in space created for the running back.
The power is one of the oldest plays in football, but as the game evolved so have the ways that different teams run it.
Running the power requires complete synergy with the offensive line. With so many moving pieces involved, each player needs to execute their assignment flawlessly or the play can get blown up. The concept of the power is to seal off the backside while still creating a running lane on the play-side (the direction of the run).
Mike Solari, the former offensive line coach of the 49ers described the power, explaining,
“It’s a pure attitude play. This is an attitude play for the 49ers. We are going to come off the ball. It’s a nasty, explosive, violent, yet simple play. It is gap scheme.”
This is done by having the play-side guard and center block down, or defend the man inside of them, while the tackle can either block down or kick out to the second level of the defense, typically leaving the defensive end unblocked. The fullback or H-back is responsible for executing an “inside-out” block on the defensive end, sealing him out of the play. The key to the play is the backside guard—Richie Incognito in this case—who will pull across the formation and head downfield to block the playside linebacker, opening a lane for the running back.
If executed correctly, anyone inside the playside guard will be blocked, while the Will and Mike linebacker are cut down or disrupted by the tackle or H-Back, leaving the running back one-on-one with a safety in the open field.
Here’s another Power run from an unbalanced formation. Watch Richie Incognito dominate.
Roman and Mike Solari focused on cutting off backside defenders in the run game, stating:
“If you want something, isolate it, and drill it. If you want your guys to cut on the backside, you drill it. The best runs in the NFL are when the backside A and B gaps are cut off. Those are the 20, 30, and 40-plus yard runs. The best technique you can coach on this, without a doubt, is to cut them”
Here, the Bills run Power again with an unbalanced line out of a “Pro” formation against the Washington Redskins.
The play is executed perfectly, as Eric Wood and Cordy Glenn are able to combo block the three-technique, while Cyrus Kouandjio effectively down blocks the left end. Jerome Felton seals out the play-side edge defender, right guard John Miller gets to the second level and seals #54 and the key to it all is Richie Incognito pulling across the formation, getting to the second level and sealing off the scraping LB, #51.
The key blocks are highlighted, and while the play is designed to go through the “B” gap—between the guard and tackle, Karlos Williams sees the alley formed by the combo blocks on the left side and the seal at the second level. Williams cuts inside and picks up eight yards.
Dressing Up the Power
Just as I highlighted within the passing concepts column, Greg Roman added his own variations to basic plays. Against the New England Patriots, Roman used the principles of the Power play—a pulling guard with down blocks from the rest of the offensive line. However, it looks like there’s a QB option and the guard pulls to the left, rather than across the formation.
With a read-option, the quarterback uses a play-fake while he “reads” the back-side edge defender. If the edge defender bites on the play-fake, the quarterback will pull the ball back and run. If the defender sits in a contain technique, he’ll hand it off. This play appears to be an option from the way Tyrod Taylor’s feet are positioned and his eyes are looking towards the highlighted edge defender.
The blocks are executed perfectly and LeSean McCoy picks up about 18 yards on the ground.
FB Lead Dive/ “ISO”
The fullback lead dive is a simple concept and the end result is basically dependent on which line is stronger at the point of attack. It’s a “run it down your throat” play out of a man/gap blocking scheme. Here, the Bills are in the I-Formation with “21” personnel.
The fullback lead, or “Iso” is designed to create a one-on-one matchup between the fullback and “MIKE” linebacker. This is done with a man blocking scheme, using the left tackle to kick out the weak-side end and the tight end to kick out the strong-side end. The Center and guard double-team the one-technique nose tackle on the backside, while the right guard is assigned to the three-technique and the right tackle looks to chip him before getting upfield.
In man/gap blocking schemes, the offensive linemen are responsible for blocking a specific man for the running back to navigate through a specific gap. In a zone-blocking scheme, they’re responsible for blocking an “area” and the running back finds the best opening.
Inside Zone Split
With an inside zone, the offensive line simultaneously blocks in one direction, before looking to get to the second level. With an inside zone split, the offense uses an H-Back or fullback to cut off the backside pursuit, typically from across the formation with a “wham” or crack block.
Here, the Bills are in a “diamond” pistol formation in “21” personnel (2 backs, 1 TE). The play is designed for the offensive line to knock the defenders off the ball in the same direction, while fullback Jerome Felton pulls across the formation and “whams” the defensive end.
At the snap, the offensive linemen execute their blocks while Charles Clay pulls out to seal the box safety, who’s a force defender—responsible for filling the outside alley and spilling any runs back inside. Jerome Felton pulls across and whams the defensive end.
Outside Zone/ Stretch
The outside zone utilizes the same blocking principles as the inside zone, but a lot of it’s success hinges on the running back’s ability to understand his reads and be decisive with his cuts. LeSean McCoy is one of the shiftiest running backs in the league and has the ability to plant his foot and cut up-field as well as anyone.
On an outside zone, the running back has three reads—a bounce, a bang, or a bend—and they are determined based on the play of the two defenders to the play side. If the edge defender is sealed at an inside position, he’ll bounce it outside. If the edge defender is holding the edge and the five-technique end is blocked, he’ll bang it inside. If both the force defender and five-technique are flowing to the outside, he’ll bend it back inside.
As you can see, the force defender gets outside to set the edge but Cordy Glenn does a good job of covering the five technique and McCoy bangs it in between the two, before cutting outside and picks up about 15 yards.
Read Option/Zone Read
With the increasing number of mobile quarterbacks entering the NFL, offensive coordinators are utilizing the read-option and the zone read to threaten opposing defenses. We first saw this concept take the league by storm with Robert Griffin III in 2011, while Greg Roman and Colin Kaepernick used the play to take them all the way to the Super Bowl. Now, it’s a staple of pretty much every offense that has a quarterback with some mobility.
The read-option uses zone blocking techniques on the offensive line, leaving an edge defender unblocked for the quarterback to “read.” With the zone blocking up front, the quarterback has the option to hand the ball off to the running back on a dive if the “read defender” is playing contain, or the option to pull it back and run if the defender bites on the play-fake.
The read option is most commonly ran out of a one-back shotgun set and blocking scheme is designed to get two double teams on the interior for the dive option. The “read” defender is the edge player on the same side as the running back.
After showing the threat of the quarterback pulling the ball back and running, the offense can now dictate what the defense does to an extent. Here against the Indianapolis Colts, the Bills are in the shotgun with “11” personnel—one back, one tight end.
The Colts are in a 2-4-5 nickel package and the left outside linebacker is the “read defender.” At the snap, the edge player sits in contain while the offensive line blocks laterally. Tyrod Taylor sees the defender sitting and hands the ball off to Karlos Williams, who picks up a nice chunk of yards down the middle.
Sweeps/ Variations on Base Concepts
Pin & Pull Sweep
The Pin & Pull sweep is a variation of the outside zone play. The running back has the same reads, as he’ll attack the outside gap and cut it inside if the edge defender is sealed. However, the sweep isn’t a zone or a gap blocking scheme, but a man blocked perimeter scheme designed to attack the “D” gap.
With Pin & Pull blocking, the “uncovered” offensive linemen—those without a defensive lineman aligned directly over them or shaded to their shoulder—will pull, while those that are covered will typically block down before getting out to the second level. Typically, you’ll see this play ran with the guard and either the tackle or center pulling, but Greg Roman added his own variation to it by pulling out the tackle and FB/H.
Here, the Bills are in a two back shotgun formation in “21” personnel—with fullback Jerome Felton to Tyrod Taylor’s left and LeSean McCoy to his right. Charles Clay is attached to the line of scrimmage alongside left tackle Cordy Glenn. Wide receiver Percy Harvin is in the slot to the left (not pictured) and motions inside before the snap to seal off the SAM linebacker.
Reminder that Cordy Glenn is 340 pounds. Re-sign him.
Jet “Ghost” Motion QB Option
Same play, but Tyrod hands it off.
These are just some of the core run concepts that Greg Roman utilized with the Buffalo Bills’ offense in 2015. If I highlighted them all this column could be 10,000 words, but it goes to show how creative Roman is, as well as his ability to adapt to his personnel. With LeSean McCoy, Buffalo ran mostly zone-based plays, while running more power concepts with Karlos Williams.
Greg Roman’s run game was so successful because he utilized a few basic concepts that have been ran for years, while adapting them to fit his personnel. Additionally, by using the same plays out of multiple formations, it made the team very difficult to game-plan for.