Welcome to Week 13 of the NFL season. Here at 300 Level Media, we will attempt to inform and educate our readers about the Buffalo Bills’ upcoming opponent and what each team might do to emerge victorious.
The Bills’ 12th game of the 2019 season will take place at AT&T Stadium in Arlington Texas as they face the Dallas Cowboys. Here’s what you should know:
COWBOYS’ OFFENSE LEADS THE LEAGUE
Dallas’ offense, which is based off the Air Coryell system that has been the foundation of their passing attack for the better part of three decades, currently leads the NFL in total yards and passing yardage and is sixth in scoring. It is coordinated by first-year play caller Kellen Moore, who succeeded Scott Linehan this past offseason after five years.
Moore has added more formations, motions and intricate route combinations to this attack, a refreshing change for an offense that previously utilized static formations and isolation routes that relied on a receiver’s talent to get open. The trigger man for Moore’s system is Dak Prescott, whose mobility helps Dallas remain dangerous on play-action, bootlegs, rollouts, zone-reads and RPOs – all plays that are built off the run.
Prescott is an interesting quarterback to evaluate and is playing well at the moment, but his play makes it difficult to know how big of a second contract he might get from owner and general manager Jerry Jones. According to former MMQB/SI writer Andy Benoit, “Prescott does many things well; he commands the field in spread-empty formations, makes the occasional big-time throw and poses a threat as a perimeter runner, keeping edge defenders from attacking down on Dallas’ zone runs….. Then there are the negatives. Prescott’s arm is merely adequate, and he’s not always great at reading a field quickly.”
Prescott’s weapons are future Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten, whose expertise at running option routes over the middle of the field makes him a favorite target on third downs. His age (37) and being a year removed from a stint in the Monday Night Football broadcast booth, however, forces Witten to split time at the position with youngster Blake Jarwin.
Three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper was held without a catch for the first time in 20 games as a Dallas Cowboys last week against the New England Patriots. His arrival from Oakland a year ago, the emergence of Michael Gallup as the boundary ‘X’ receiver and the importation of shifty former Green Bay Packer Randall Cobb has rejuvenated a passing attack that had relied on Ezekiel Elliott’s abilities in the screen game (which he’s very good at).
Elliott, an explosive, powerful runner, operates behind perhaps the best offensive line in the game. Anchored by all-world tackle Tyron Smith, perennial All-Pros Zack Martin and Travis Frederick and ascending right tackle La’el Collins, this unit performs well in man and zone-based running plays.
DALLAS DEFENSE BUILT OFF SIMPLICITY
Former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard, who has joined forces with Rod Marinelli in Dallas to use a Cover Three scheme (deep zone coverage on the outside with a safety in the box and a deep safety patrolling centerfield), has had excellent results in Big D. While the Cowboys are so-so against the run, they are currently ranked sixth against the pass and sixth overall.
Given that Dallas rarely blitzes, their defensive line – led by defensive ends Demarcus Lawrence, Michael Bennett, Robert Quinn and Tyrone Crawford– relies on slants, stunts and twists at the line of scrimmage to get to the quarterback. They also use them against the run, which helps shut down multiple gaps at once.
Helping out their line at the second level are linebackers Jaylon Smith (who is the team’s top blitzer and can handle most running backs in man coverage), Sean Lee and Leighton Vander Esch, who are all intelligent, fast and extremely good in run support and in pass coverage. Vander Esch, however, will miss Thursday’s game due to injury.
The Cowboys are led in their secondary by former first round pick Byron Jones, who has been very good at cornerback and safeties Xavier Woods and Jeff Heath (who will also not play on Thursday due to a shoulder ailment). Vander Esch and Heath’s absences should help the Bills’ tight ends operate more freely underneath because Heath is the safety that Dallas typically likes to drop down into the box in both Cover Three and Cover One (Woods is usually the deep safety) and Vander Esch is normally the linebacker that Richard and Marinelli use against tight ends in man coverage.
BUFFALO’S DEFENSE HAS REGAINED FORM THE LAST TWO WEEKS
Against the Dolphins and Broncos over the last two weeks, Buffalo ended their recent trend of letting running backs do well against them on the ground by allowing just 108 yards on 30 carries. Buffalo has also increased their production in the pass rush department by racking up a combined 11 sacks on quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Allen and didn’t allow a first down on Denver’s last five possessions.
Last Sunday may have been the Bills’ best defensive performance of the season. In addition to the accomplishments highlighted above, they also held Denver to season-lows in total net yards allowed (134), points scored (three), yards per play (2.9) and passing yards (82).
With the recent struggles of cornerback Levi Wallace becoming more and more apparent, the Bills have also decided to rotate snaps between Wallace and Kevin Johnson (much like how Ty Nsekhe and Cody Ford have split reps at right tackle for most of this season). Each played much better as a result.
Schematically, the Bills’ third-ranked defense relies on basic zone coverages after the snap, but before the snap it is complex – safety rotations to disguise their coverages keep opposing quarterbacks guessing and selective pressure looks at the line of scrimmage are Sean McDermott’s calling card (those blitz looks are usually in the A-gaps from their linebackers – for more info on McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s defense, please read: https://fromthe300level.com/2018/08/pressure-package-how-the-late-buddy-ryan-has-influenced-the-buffalo-bills-defenses-for-over-20-years/?fbclid=IwAR3iYcnJ5qvl8shWHkZJVNO50VJXPeaEx8k0-Rk1VWV_Qx2OEfsAn2NY_ys).
BILLS’ OFFENSE LOOKS TO CONTINUE STRONG SHOWING
Going into Week 11 the Bills’ offense was ranked in the bottom half of the league in nearly every major offensive category. To address this lack of production, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll decided to move from the field to the press box in order to call plays and get a bird’s eye view of what was happening on the field.
The decisions to go upstairs and use more of an up-tempo attack have paid off, as Buffalo has gotten significant contributions from players like Josh Allen, Devin Singletary, John Brown and Dawson Knox over the last two weeks. The Bills also increased their usage of 11 personnel (one back, one tight end, three receivers) – a change from weeks prior where the team heavily utilized 12 and 22 personnel – resulting in 73 plays for 424 yards of total offense and a season-high 244 rushing yards (their most in a game since 2016) against Denver’s fourth-ranked defense.
The Bills’ offense is a Patriots-style system that’s built upon concepts involving option routes from the slot, downfield routes from the outside, designed quarterback runs to take advantage of Allen’s mobility, deep dropbacks and alignments that create favorable matchups (and some trick plays with jet motion, sweeps and end arounds with Isaiah McKenzie).
- Josh Allen has turned the ball over just once in the Bills’ last six games and has tied Buffalo’s franchise record held by Jim Kelly of most consecutive games with two touchdown passes with seven – marks of a young quarterback making some progress.
- Allen has 1,018 rushing yards in 23 career games, the fourth-fastest to 1,000 rushing yards by q quarterback in NFL history.
- The 134 yards allowed by Buffalo last week was the least they’ve yielded in a game since 2013 and the 11 sacks they’ve had over the last two weeks was the first time the team has accomplished that feat since racking up 12 sacks in two games in 2014.
- Brown has tied Eric Moulds’ team record of 11 straight games with at least 50 yards receiving and currently leads the AFC in receiving yardage.
- The Bills’ defense has allowed less than 400 yards of offense in 23 consecutive games dating to last year – the longest such streak in the NFL. They’ve also allowed just 43 passing touchdown since 2017, the best mark in the league.
- Cole Beasley will suit up against his old team for the first time since the Cowboys let him walk in free agency. Beasley played for Dallas for seven years.
- Dallas’ record on Thanksgiving is 31-19-1, while this will be the Bills’ ninth appearance on Thanksgiving – their first against Dallas – and the first game on the holiday in 25 years.
- According to Chris Brown of buffalobills.com, Frank Gore has racked up his 15th straight year with at least 500 yards from scrimmage – tying him with Terrell Owens (1996-2010) for the third-longest streak in NFL history. Gore is one year short of tying the longest streak in league annals (currently held by Larry Fitzgerald and Tony Gonzalez).