After an embarrassing loss, heads roll. That’s the way NFL goes.
It doesn’t matter that Dorsey doesn’t coach the defense that He had 12 men on the field. late in the game, a penalty that gave the Broncos a second chance to score the winning field goal after Wil Lutz missed his first attempt. Or that the Bills offense has been good for much of the season. Or that the offense has had the worst starting position in the league from weeks five to ten, thanks in large part to injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Or that Dorsey didn’t call plays that ended in drops or fumbles, problems that have plagued his group in recent weeks.
It also doesn’t seem to matter that the Bills’ five losses this season have come in one-possession games, a notoriously unreliable way to judge any team.
When times feel desperate, organizations feel the need to do something. And the Bills have been living in desperate mode since their 13-second playoff loss to Kansas City in 2022. That’s why they gave Von Miller a jaw-dropping contract in free agency in 2022, and why cloudily He parted ways with defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier last offseason, even though Frazier turned in a top-seven unit.
When you go 5-5 in a supposed Super Bowl season, someone has to take the blame.
However, Dorsey should not be completely absolved of blame. Yes, at the time of his firing, Dorsey’s offense ranked third in the league in DVOA, first in success rate, third in EPA per play, third in yards per play, second in conversion percentage of third downs and third in efficiency in the red zone. He chooses his measure and he will find the Bills in the top three. But it’s difficult to separate the coach’s impact from Allen’s individual excellence; Letting Dorsey go is the Bills’ way of saying the offense worked despite the architecture built by their coach.
After Dorsey, Allen is next in the ritual blame marathon. This week started the ‘Are we sure it’s good?‘ of Allen’s career, which will soon be followed by the traditional sequel of ‘why can’t he make it big?’. What nonsense. Allen ranks second in the RBSDM compoundwhich measures the value of a play and the extent to which the quarterback can be held responsible for that value.
Still: Yards and fancy metrics don’t win or lose games. The turnovers do.
Allen continues to throw the ball at a league-leading rate. Since 2022, Allen leads the NFL in turnovers, throwing 25 interceptions (most in the league) and losing eight fumbles (second-highest mark in the league). But there is noise in those numbers. Turnover luck is random: sometimes a loose ball bounces toward an opponent, other times toward a teammate. And Allen has been less reckless this season compared to last year. Last season, PFF deemed 4.2% of Allen’s throws to be turnover-worthy. That has fallen to 2.4% this season, which ranks 27th among eligible quarterbacks and better than Patrick Mahomes (3.3%), Jalen Hurts (3.2%) and Lamar Jackson (3. %), three favorites for the Most Valuable Player.
The eye test backs up those numbers. Allen has repressed his worst instincts. For much of last year, the Bills’ offense was a chaotic mess. Too often, it was split in two, with a bunch of deep threats combined with a get-out-of-jail-free option, and nothing in between. It was an offense that struggled to challenge all three levels of the field and allowed itself Allen’s penchant for HeroBall. When the defenses realized how to attack Buffalo’s unbalanced setupneither Allen nor Dorsey could find solutions that balanced the quarterback’s needs with the coach’s desires.
To deal with that, the Bills have invested resources to surround Allen with talent, bolstering the offensive line, drafting and trading multiple running backs and turning to the draft to add a pass catcher. In the most recent draft, they selected tight end Dalton Kincaid in the first round to pair with Pro Bowl tight end Dawson Knox.
It was all part of a larger vision. General manager Brandon Beane wanted to modernize the Bills’ offense. We’re talking positionless football, multiple formations, interchangeable players who can alternate between places in the formation and create matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.
But Beane’s plan left out a couple of crucial points. First of all, if you are going to run an offense centered around two tight ends, those tight ends must be respected as tight ends – and the Bills duo does not.
Kincaid and Knox are a pair of wide receivers dressed in tight end gear. The goal of two tight end sets is for the Bills offense to get big, intimidating defenses in the running game. That should force their opponents to keep their own bigs on the field to stop the run. The Bills offense can then split into passing formations, creating conflicts for the opposing defense. But Kincaid and Knox aren’t good enough blockers to improve the running game (the Bills average a measly 3.3 yards per carry) and they aren’t fast enough to challenge defenses as true wide receivers. And if the opposing defense doesn’t believe the two tight ends are there to help run the ball, then the Bills will be left with two taller, slower receivers on the field against a defense prepared to stop the pass.
You know what’s better than a positionless offense where you use tight ends and running backs as pseudo receivers? Have an excellent and reliable second receiver. Aside from Stefon Diggs, the Bills don’t have a receiver who can consistently win one-on-one. They haven’t selected a receiver during the first three rounds of the draft since 2017. All of their free agent signings have been busts. The always frustrating Gabe Davis has been the team’s second option since Cole Beasley was first excommunicated from the team, which increasingly feels like a move designed to get the Bills Mafia to throw their televisions into Lake Erie.
Diggs and Davis lead the team in goals. After that, it’s a pitched battle. Of the 172 targets Allen has distributed to players other than his top two receivers, only 21% have gone to wide receivers.
Positionless football sounds great in theory. In practice, it is good to have specialists when it comes to the third and essential things. The inability to surround Allen with a supplemental receiving corps has led to long periods of frustration in the passing game, with Allen forcing the problem when his receivers are not open. If he’s at his best, the offense advances. If not, the Bills fumble. The margin of error is too narrow.
There is still reason for optimism, if you dig deep enough. The underlying metrics say the Bills’ offense has been one of the best in the league despite its staccato feel. Cut down on critical errors and more one-score games should lean in Buffalo’s favor. But the team’s next stretch of games is a challenge. Over the next month, the Bills host the Jets and Cowboys and head to Kansas City and Philadelphia. By the time that streak ends, they could be 6-9 or worse, with a couple of tough games left on the schedule.
“The clock is ticking,” Allen said this week. He was talking about this Bills season, but he might as well have been talking about the team’s Super Bowl window.
Being the face of a franchise means taking shrapnel for the failures of those around you. Allen’s sloppiness has been a problem, but Buffalo’s problems are bigger than his star quarterback.