OPINION: Bills need more from Allen, Dorsey

When the defense made just enough plays to keep the Bills in the game, their offense fell short again

Orchard Park, N.Y. (WGR 550) - The expectations or "the bar" - for lack of a better term - has been raised for the Buffalo Bills offense dating back to the 2020 season. Fair or unfair, right or wrong, Josh Allen, Ken Dorsey and the Bills offense bear a different burden than the defense does.

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For literal decades, that burden was on the defense to keep a two decades-long offensive drought propped up to stay in games. If the Bills couldn’t hold opponents under 20 points, the Bills didn’t stand a chance.

The team would spend big on running backs, make trades and spend first-round picks to run keep away from opposing offenses in a hope that you could do just enough each week to stay in the game.

Those days are long gone, and the defense, in some ways, has gotten even better.

The defense did their job on Sunday against the New York Jets, and a lot of my frustrations are centered around an offense that, for six-consecutive quarters now, has looked like a shell of itself.

The defense isn’t blameless in this game, though.

They made Zach Wilson look like a serviceable NFL quarterback just one week after mmany outsiders were wondering whether Sunday was his last shot to convince the Jets he was capable of being their starting quarterback another week. He was calm, cool, and collected, completing 18 passes - eight to his top receiver Garrett Wilson - and was only sacked twice on the afternoon.

I would have liked more from the defense, but holding any team to 20 points in today's NFL is a win.

That’s all I have for the defense. I am not wasting much brain space on this Monday blaming a unit without its two most important pieces.

The offense, on the other hand, is at full strength. Gabe Davis is healthy, their offensive line is healthy, and Allen - as far as we know - is healthy.

So how is it that the last six quarters of football have looked so difficult for a group that, at times, has its way with some of the league’s premier defenses?

What have the Green Bay Packers in the second half and the Jets for a full game done to muck up, what was, the second-ranked offense in football?

For the sake of this argument, it’s less about what defenses are doing to the Bills and more about what the Bills are not doing in response.

Allen said it best during his postgame comments: “The guys on the other side get paid too.”

He’s right. NFL defenses are there to stop the offense, and for the better part of two years, very few defenses have had success stopping the Bills on offense.

Yes, Allen bears some of the blame for their recent poor play. He’s, at times, been erratic and has lacked composure, something I brought up after the loss to the Miami Dolphins earlier this season.

But shades of 2019 Allen have come to the surface over the last six quarters of football, and what I need is for the offensive coordinator and Allen’s weapons - not named Stefon Diggs - to help him through this.

Your No. 1 pitcher isn’t always going to have his fastball going. Your clean-up hitter isn’t going to hit a home run every at-bat. That’s the beauty of baseball, though, because you have a bullpen, and you have a lineup of other guys who can, and should, be expected to step up when your best players don’t have their A-game.

Let me first start with Allen’s secondary weapons before I dive further into my issues with some play calling.

The Bills heavily invested in Dawson Knox as their over-the-middle threat, and as one of the league’s most unique weapons at his position. This offense simply does not feature him in any meaningful ways.

Among qualifying tight ends, Knox is 23rd in targets (27), 21st in receptions (20), 24th in yards (183), and 35th in receptions of more than 20 yards (2). His season-high in catches and yards came in Week 2 against the Tennessee Titans when he hauled in four catches for 41 yards.

I ask again, where is Knox?

I’m not convinced this is the failure of the player. Moreso, it’s the failure of the scheme involving him in meaningful ways.

Knox is not Travis Kelce, but he has one of the most unique skillsets in the NFL at his position, and in no world should players like Ian Thomas or Chigoziem Okonkwo (yeah, who?) have more receptions of 20-or-more yards than Knox.

Had he not proven he can be a legitimate downfield threat capable of being a featured part of the offense just a season ago, maybe we aren’t having this conversation. He was 10th in catches of 20-or-more yards last season, more than Zach Ertz, T.J. Hockenson, or Hunter Henry. He’s more than just a threat in the red zone, but for a team struggling as much as the Bills are in that area, the fact they can’t get Knox more involved is baffling.

Here's the most confusing thing I have brought up about Knox and his usage yet: The Bills did not even attempt a pass between the hash marks Sunday against the Jets. Not one.

I didn’t mean for this to turn into a piece on Knox, specifically, but here we are. He’s not the only one suffering from decreased usage, though, in this offense.

Isaiah McKenzie, for instance, dominated training camp and basically looked like an unstoppable force this entire summer, looking to take not only the No. 3 wide receiver role over full-time, but be a primary piece to the offense.

Not only has he not been a key piece, but they’re also not even using him in the same gadget role he’s been so effective in for the last three seasons.

Then there’s the case with Davis. I am certain I am running out of words to thoughtfully get out all the words for him, but he needs to be better.

The third-year wideout needs to be more consistent down-in and down-out. Quite frankly, he needs to catch the damn ball. He’s one of the least efficient receivers in the league, and he needs to prove he’s more than a one-trick pony.

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That then brings me to Dorsey. Man, the honeymoon is over now, and all eyes are on him.

His inability to get the secondary pass catchers in this offense is one thing, but his all-or-nothing pass game is far-too reliant on downfield throws. In a game where the Bills’ offensive line failed to adequately protect Allen, where were Dorsey’s answers? His responses to his offensive line struggling?

Instead of designing some tight end screens or involving their second-round pick James Cook in the short-passing game, Dorsey insisted on keeping Allen in the pocket and trying to have down-field plays develop.

It’s either throw at, or near the line of scrimmage, or 30 yards down the field. It feels the offense is devoid of an intermediate passing attack and quicker throws against zone coverage that they did so well with under Brian Daboll.

Yes, they miss Cole Beasley. They don’t have a pass catcher that dominates zone coverage and settles in that 10-to-12-yard area of the field.

Why not use Khalil Shakir? How about Cook? Use a spring-out game to move the pocket and help Allen better avoid hits inside the pocket. Stifle the defense’s pass rush by hitting them with screen passes behind them.

The Bills have a big test this upcoming Sunday against a very good Minnesota Vikings team. It doesn’t get easier, and the offense will need to score more than 20 points if they’re going to push to their seventh win.

If the Bills lose, the goal of getting that No. 1 seed and having the AFC come through Buffalo may very well be in the rear view.

Photo credit Losi and Gangi
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