The Buffalo Bills’ offense has struggled to find an identity over the past several years as the team has constantly adjusted it’s schemes in search of success. If one thing is certain from the hiring of Greg Roman as the new offensive coordinator, it’s that the Bills will look to establish themselves as a power running team that will physically wear down opponents with an offense that features a variety of looks and motion at the line of scrimmage.
During his time with the 49ers, Roman’s teams have enjoyed great success with the running game, finishing 1st, 4th, 4th, and 7th in rushing yards. Roman’s run game is centered around the power, counter, trap and the lead, but it’s been his ability to run these few plays out of multiple formations and personnel packages that made the 49ers so efficient.
Before going into the various plays that the Bills will likely run in the 2015 season, it’s important to understand a specific role that Roman’s offense features that may be foreign to some fans.
“F” Tight End/H-Back
Tight ends have had an increased role in the passing game across the NFL in recent years, but the position is loaded with players of all different shapes, sizes and skill sets. Pretty much every offense at every level of football utilizes the traditional “Y” tight end- the big 6’6” 265-pounder that lines up attached to the line of scrimmage and is used as a blocker or a receiver. Think Scott Chandler. Now, some offenses are taking tight ends that are faster and more agile than a “Y” but stand only around 6’2” , 230-240 pounds and are using them as an “F” tight end, or “H-Back.” Think Marquies Gray or Chris Gragg.
The “F” is a versatile player that’s moved all across the offensive formations- from the traditional tight end spot, to alongside the quarterback in the pistol, at fullback, or even as a wide receiver. The “F” needs to be capable of both lead blocking and pulling in the run game, in addition to serving as a receiver in the passing game. Bruce Miller was extremely effective as “F” tight end for Greg Roman with the 49ers.
Today’s NFL offenses are typically based out of the “11” personnel package (1 back, 1 tight end, 3 wide receivers), with teams using at least three wideouts on 58.8-percent of plays, according to Football Outsiders. However, the 49ers have done the opposite, operating out of “21” (2 backs, 1 tight end) on 26-percent of their plays and “22” (2 backs, 2 tight ends) on another 26-percent of their plays, while using “11” personnel on just 21-percent of their plays. San Francisco’s offense runs a handful of core plays, but they will feature six or seven different personnel groupings in a given game which forces opposing teams to prepare for all the different looks and packages that they may (or may not) see.
The Unbalanced Power Run Game
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 gaps to defend, but the addition of an extra linemen creates up to nine.
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 offensive coordinators have dressed it up a bit with pre-snap motions and various offensive formations, a team needs to have a certain level of physicality and toughness to execute 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, 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.
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. Nobody coaches the block, I mean nobody teaches the cut block better than Bobb McKittrick of the San Francisco 49ers”
Improving the Bills Under Greg Roman
In 2013, the Bills were a top five rushing unit, gaining 2,114 yards on 510 carries, but in 2014 a previous strength of the team became a weakness. Last year, the Bills averaged just 3.6 yards-per-carry on designed run plays, with much of the blame due to running a zone-based blocking scheme that wasn’t a natural fit for the offensive line personnel on the team.
Greg Roman will implement a gap, or man-blocking scheme, that will get the offensive linemen blocking vertically downfield, rather than horizontally, as a zone-scheme does. With massive, powerful athletes such as Cordy Glenn, Seantrel Henderson, Richie Incognito and youngsters in Cyrus Kouandjio and Cyril Richardson, the Bills are better suited for a scheme that allows them to come off the ball and hit someone, instead of moving laterally and “getting in the way” of a defender.
With Buffalo’s quarterback situation in flux, a strong running game will be necessary for the team to break their 15-years-and-counting playoff drought. Greg Roman’s aggressive and innovative offensive mind should serve as a catalyst to the team’s ground attack in 2015.