Why has the Buffalo Bills’ passing game become stale?

The Buffalo Bills beat the Chicago Bears last Saturday, 35-13. If you just looked at the score, you wouldn’t have any idea that the Bills were actually down at halftime, 10-6.

At the end of the second quarter, Josh Allen had only 89 passing yards, with a 74.7 quarterback rating, and Stephon Diggs didn’t have a single target.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a one-off issue. Over the last three weeks, Allen is the ranked 18th among all quarterbacks, per Pro Football Focus. He’s averaging a 60.2 completion percentage, with seven touchdowns and three turnovers in that time.

We can’t ignore the fact that the Bills look like a completely different team from quarter-to-quarter over these last three games.

Let’s dive into the film to understand what has been going on with this Bills offense!

Taking away Stefon Diggs.

(Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports)

Ever since the week 14 game against the New York Jets, this Bills offense hasn’t shown much consistency. Josh Allen only completed 16 passes for 147 yards against the Jets. Yes, the weather was a factor, but it doesn’t excuse them gaining only 38 yards on their first five drives.

When looking at the Jets’ defense, the first thing they did was take away the Bills’ number one receiver, Stefon Diggs.

On this third-and-6 play, Diggs was lined up on the single side with Sauce Gardner playing off-coverage. With the tight end running up the seam, normally the linebacker would drop, but instead, he steps up to double team Diggs.

Allen takes his eyes from the rub route concept  underneath on the left side of the field, and instead, steps up in the pocket and looks to force it down field. This ended up as a turnover.

Forcing it.

(Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports)

Over the last few weeks, Allen isn’t playing like himself. He did sustain an elbow injury in Week 9 in Buffalo’s first matchup against the Jets. But if that injury was holding him back, he wouldn’t have thrown for 330 yards on 29 passes the very next week against the Minnesota Vikings.

With the double teams on Diggs, the Bills seem like they’ve had no answers. Over the last three weeks, Allen isn’t getting the ball out as quick as he needs to, and its leading to forced throws. These are his numbers according to PFF:

  • Less than 2.5 seconds: 15 touchdowns and 2 interceptions

  • More than 2.5 seconds: 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions

Defenses are playing press-man coverage (which forces the play to take more time to develop when executed correctly), and then they are doubling Diggs. Allen is just forcing it to whoever else is deep thinking they are one-on-one.

But one way defenses have adjusted to give themselves more help over the top is use more Cover-3 looks. Last week, against the Bears, Allen threw an interception targeting a receiver in the endzone, not realizing there was another defensive back dropping into the deep-third part of the field.

Without a receiver to the right side, cornerback Kyler Gordon had a chance to play the ball.

This is what Allen had to say about Diggs getting two catches for 26 yards against the Bears:

“Obviously, I wanna get No. 14 more involved. The last thing I want to do is force it to someone when it’s not there.”

Unfortunately, on the interception, that is exactly what he did. He forced it.

Over the last three weeks, Allen has faced the third most Cover-1 and Cover-3 defenses (64 dropbacks) and he has a 52.7% completion percentage leaving him with an -17.14 EPA, which is 28th in the league. He only has one touchdown, two interceptions and four sacks.

When the Bills are down by three or more points, Allen is averaging an 11.9-yard throw depth, which second highest in the league (min 20 att). This tells us that he feels like he needs to make a big play in order to try and move the ball.

This is what happened against the Bears. In the first half, his average throw depth was 13.0 yards, but then in the second half, when the Bills pulled ahead, it dropped to 9.5 yards.

Looking ahead.

(Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports)

Even with the Bills’ six-game win streak, the offensive numbers are certainly a cause for concern. They are only averaging 238.0 passing yards per game since Week 8, and their two top receivers, Diggs and Gabe Davis, are tied for third-worst in the league with six drops each!

Once the Bills stop forcing the ball deep, their offense will run a lot smoother. These are self-inflicting wounds that likely won’t happen in the post-season. The offense isn’t scheming their receivers open to mitigate the double teams on Diggs.

Something that jumps out on the stat sheet is how effective the Bills are when their target goes into a pre-snap motion. The offense has only put their target receiver in motion 12 times over the last three weeks.

Throughout the season, Allen has a 144.0 quarterback rating and an 11.34 EPA when the Bills put their target receiver in motion (when throwing past the sticks). Allen is 17-for-25 for 275 yards, which is the second most yards behind Patrick Mahomes.

If the Bills want to see improvement in the passing game, they must use more motion. Allen said it himself:

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The Bills should be fine when playoffs roll around. The important thing is that they are in fact winning these games, no matter how bland the offense looks. We have heard of instances in the past where teams towards the end of the year, that are a lock for the playoffs, will keep their playbook to a minimum.

Coaches like to hold onto their secrets and then surprise us all when it matters most. Hopefully, the Bills have something extra to unleash when playoff time rolls around.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire