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What happens next for the Bills after firing offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey?


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The tone shifted significantly following the Buffalo Bills’ 24-22 loss to the Denver Broncos.

Just by reading between the lines, there were multiple warning signs during Sean McDermott’s press conference concerning offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey’s future.

Only about 11 hours after McDermott addressed reporters at Highmark Stadium, the Bills made the decision that may define their season. The team fired Dorsey, 28 games into his first tenure as a play-caller in the NFL.

In his place, the Bills named quarterbacks coach Joe Brady the interim offensive coordinator, hoping the former Carolina Panthers play-caller rescues their season from the perils of a 5-5 record and 10th place in the AFC halfway into the campaign. It’s the move of a desperate team in search of answers in what should be another season of capitalizing on a Super Bowl window.

“There’s never a good time to do it,” McDermott said. “I just felt like this was the right time. I always want to try to do what’s best for the team and I felt like this was needed right now.”

For many reasons, the continuation of Dorsey as the primary play-caller was an untenable situation. The offense had been disjointed and stale, really since the second half of the 2022 season. At least last year, they could hide behind some significant offensive line woes, a lack of talent at receiver and injuries. With several solutions to those problems added in the offseason, all available excuses had ceased to exist.

The more time elapsed in 2023, the more predictable the offense became. Dorsey’s tendencies became well known and he kept playing the hits of his go-to concepts rather than helping the attack evolve. There was also a constant struggle of being pass-heavy versus being two-dimensional and establishing the line of scrimmage. McDermott always subscribed to wanting the threat to run against opponents while still maintaining a pass-first approach. And while the offense would do it better every once and a while under Dorsey, it remained an enduring battle. It’s led to the full-scale inconsistency McDermott constantly referred to this year.

“There’s been times where we have moved the ball and scored points, but those times, I believe, have become few and far between,” he said. “Since that Miami game, and really before that, there were some times that I didn’t feel like we moved the ball well enough and scoring points. It’s the whole thing. It’s the whole body of work. It’s not just off of two games, four games. It’s the whole season at this point.”

It’s not just the Broncos game. It may have felt like peculiar timing because of how the game ended, though, McDermott’s frustration and quickening impatience for the offense seemed dangerously close to yield Dorsey getting fired even in victory. It’s why the move ultimately had to be made at this point of the season because the Bills may not have had another opportunity ahead of a winnable home game in front of them with ample season remaining. But as much as firing Dorsey defined the Bills’ 2023 season on Tuesday, so too might be the time it took to ultimately arrive at a decision.

The Bills could have saved themselves some aggravation and losses had they done so earlier in the year, specifically when the idea initially came into focus following a bad road loss to the Patriots. However, the circumstance of their schedule may have taken the idea off the table. The Bills had a short week before a Thursday night game they won, and where the offense showed some better signs of life. While it was a win, it bought Dorsey extended time through 10 days between games. McDermott said it didn’t feel like the right time after the Bengals loss, which ultimately had the Bills arrive at Nov. 14 — the day that will be a catalyst for something, although it’s tough to predict what the outcome will be.

Their first step, though, is to get back to installing belief in the offense, which had been severely tested 80 percent of the time this year. Only the Dolphins game in Week 4 and the end of the Raiders win in Week 2 made McDermott feel the offense was close to its ceiling. The coach referred to helping the offense regain its confidence and energy, which in turn could lead to more promising results.

“Well I think scheme is one thing, right, but sometimes it’s in the margins too, so you’ve got to look at both, look at the broader picture of everything,” McDermott said. “Fundamentals, technique, overall energy of the offense in this case. A certain level, a certain DNA of the offense and mindset. I think that’s important, right. Running plays is one thing, but how you run them is another. And the pride that you take in doing things the right way. It’s never just one thing, but you’ve got to evaluate the total package.”

And ultimately, the evaluation of Dorsey fell short in McDermott’s eyes. Now with Dorsey as merely a memory in the lore of the 2023 campaign, it’s time to spin it forward, because life changes for a few different people. It begins, most notably with Josh Allen, who now no longer has the safety blanket of the guy he effectively hand-picked once former Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was hired by the Giants.

Allen has long been a staunch supporter of Dorsey, so this one likely stings him a bit. Since the quarterback established himself as one of the best in the league, the Bills have made it a point to have Allen feel as comfortable and as well-supported by his quarterback room as possible, often surrounding him with players and coaches he has great relationships with. Dorsey was one of those originally as the quarterbacks coach.

It was such a good relationship for some time that it made you wonder how Allen would react to a potential Dorsey firing. Would the Bills need to go over it with Allen to avoid running the risk of him feeling left out of the decision?

“Well, Josh and I speak daily. This decision was made by me and me alone,” McDermott said with authority. “Beyond that, it’s Josh’s responsibility and job to come out and help Coach Brady formulate the game plan and come out and execute the game plan, and take care of the football and be our offense more than anything.”

It’s also fair to wonder if there would there be any residual impact on Allen’s relationship with the organization or McDermott due to the Dorsey firing. We certainly won’t know the answer to that until the season settles and we get a sense for it. It’s too fresh for now as the Bills are trying to play catch up with a new offensive coordinator ahead of Sunday.

Regardless, Allen needs to play a much sharper and more vibrant brand of football, rather than the lifeless display that has become all too common for the Bills offense this year. If it means more quarterback scrambles, designed runs, or anything to keep the defense guessing, it all falls on Allen to get the job done.

As for Brady, he already ran some fresh ideas by McDermott, which will likely excite the head coach. His true identity as a play-caller will be on full display as he works for a head coach with a defensive background, rather than the offensive background he worked under in Carolina with Matt Rhule. He’ll need to decide where he’ll be during games, but that’s the extent of it now before he auditions for the full-time job in 2024. Step one, of course, is to transform an inconsistent Bills offense back into one of the top units in the league. No pressure.

Is this going to be the move that saves the Bills’ season and pushes them into the postseason? With their brutal upcoming schedule, and the short timeline ahead of their Week 11 matchup with the Jets, the odds are not in their favor. But they may be hoping the element of surprise gets them through this weekend against the Jets, and the following one in Philadelphia before a much-needed bye week after that.

But really, outside of Allen, the person this Dorsey decision could impact the most is McDermott. Now, with both Leslie Frazier out of the picture on defense and Dorsey gone on offense, all attention falls squarely on McDermott’s shoulders. There are no other coordinator changes that could spark the team, and McDermott certainly won’t fire himself. The recent results have been unkind to McDermott’s overall standing within the fan base. Many are frustrated and have gone as far as to wonder if McDermott should be let go if the Bills miss the postseason.

Though the notion of McDermott not being the Bills head coach in 2024 seems completely far-fetched from an organizational perspective. McDermott has history on his side, and that history shows a head coach who has made the playoffs in five of his six full seasons. He just signed a long-term contract extension through the projected opening of their new stadium. It would take a dramatic upheaval for him to be in jeopardy following the season, regardless if they miss the playoffs. This could be the precursor to a discussion a year from now, as the sole focus is on him through a full offseason, which could make this the year before the year of the hot seat. But we’re still a long way out from that.

Regardless, all that matters now is how the Bills respond to Dorsey’s firing, if it will ultimately be a case of too little, too late or if this can be the tangible change to returning as a legitimate playoff contender. What they’ve been for the last six games, quite simply, is not good enough. Fortunately for them, it isn’t too late. It’s close, but you never know what injuries will strike other teams throughout the NFL to make those conceivably difficult games more attainable. And even if in the grand scheme, the Dorsey firing doesn’t get them there this year, it’s at least an admission that what was happening wasn’t good enough rather than sticking with the status quo, and perhaps the wake-up call they need heading into a much more cap challenged 2024 season.

But make no mistake, if the Bills don’t make it to the postseason, given all of their talent coming into the year, it will be an organizational failure from the front office down through the players. They have seven games to figure it out. The clock is ticking.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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