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Ken Dorsey's inexperience as play-caller was his undoing, but blame is far from his alone


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Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills imploded Monday against a lesser opponent in the Denver Broncos. The stunning 24-22 loss, due to an inability to protect the football, damaged what once was a confident and nearly unstoppable offense. The Broncos did not win this game, the Bills lost it with a lack of execution. 

The Bills offense had four turnovers on their 11 offensive series. Additionally, they turned the football over on downs on a missed fourth-and-2 opportunity. The way in which these misfires occurred is worthy of study from a psychological perspective and can be likened to a professional golfer missing five 2-foot putts or a major league second baseman fielding five grounders and missing the throw to first base all five times. In my opinion, the errors are beyond physical.

Allen completed 15 passes on 26 attempts (57%) for 177 yards, accounting for one passing touchdown, running for one touchdown and throwing two interceptions. Allen also mishandled a routine handoff to running back James Cook in the third quarter with the score tied 15-15. He ran for 13 yards on four carries. His Overall Performance Grade is 85%.

It was the fifth consecutive game in which the Bills have lost the turnover differential. During this stretch, they are minus-7, having committed 11 turnovers to just four takeaways.

This ball security question is not entirely on Allen. Others fail to execute, drop passes and fumble. There, too, is the Bills' recent inability to create turnovers on defense and special teams. Combine these two ends of the spectrum together and you have what the Bills have become, a team that doesn’t create turnovers and cannot protect the football. 

Ken Dorsey was relieved of his duties Tuesday as the offensive coordinator. This is a blow to the organization and a shakeup that I expect will have a significant impact on Allen. Dorsey and Allen have worked closely together for the past four seasons. Though this is a business, these are real people with families and lives outside of football. Firing Dorsey hurts, no matter how you look at it. It is my opinion that it was not Dorsey’s play-calling ability that ultimately sacked him, but, rather, his inexperience. 

He doesn't have a rich background of championship-caliber professional experiences outside of the Bills to fall back on as a coach. McDermott and special teams coordinator Matt Smiley are directly responsible for having 12 men on the field in what would have been a game-winning “missed” field goal. No matter how many times they might have practiced this during the week, they failed the Bills on the most important play of the game.

Allen is a quarterback in need of a strong mentor. The Bills franchise will need someone who has the requisite experience to support Allen, rebuilding his confidence and shaping the way he plays the game. Interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady, who has been the team's quarterbacks coach since Dorsey's promotion before last season, will get the first chance in a different role. Mike Shula is expected to spend more time with the quarterbacks. 

First quarter

Play selection: 14 plays – Nine passes, five runs.

Allen: 5 for 9 passing, 43 yards, one interception. One carry for 1 yard.

Performance grade: 78.5%.

Score: Broncos, 3-0.

Bills coach Sean McDermott opted to take the ball after the team won the coin toss, rather than deferring to the second half, as he has routinely done. The Bills hoped to jump into an early lead against a Broncos’ defense that was ranked last in the NFL. On the first play from scrimmage, Cook caught a quick pass into the flat to Allen’s left. This was a solid strategy by Dorsey, creating a four-by-one empty formation motioning Cook to Allen’s left. Cook caught Allen’s pass, but stayed on his feet, and was stopped long enough to be stripped by JaQuan McMillian (No. 29).

Here, Dorsey designed a quick arrow-route into the flat to get Cook the football in space. The Broncos blitzed and the Bills had what they had hoped for, three offensive blockers on three defenders with only a linebacker, Alex Singleton (No. 49), unaccounted for. The cause of the fumble here was not a lack of effort on anyone’s part, but rather a lack of judgment as Cook was stopped, had no chance of gaining more yardage, but continued to stay on his feet long enough to have the ball stripped away. This play was a tone-setting play.


The Bills’ defense rallied following the turnover and forced the Broncos to kick a field goal for a 3-0 lead.

At the start of the second offensive series, Allen was flushed to his right as right guard O’Cyrus Torrence was beaten badly to his inside. Allen nearly threw an interception.

What we can’t see here was a wide-open Latavius Murray underneath this sail route by Dalton Kincaid. Had Singleton been able to keep both feet inbounds, this would have been the second turnover in two plays. 


Seven plays later, on the same drive, as the Bills’ offense looked to be getting on track, another unforced error occurred.

Here, Allen fired a perfect strike to Gabe Davis on an open dig route for what should have been a first down and potentially a touchdown. However, the football went right through the hands of Davis and fell into the arms of Broncos safety Justin Simmons. This was a perfect throw that should have been caught, and if you watch the video carefully, you will see that had Davis caught the ball he would have been able to keep running.

The Bills’ defense, beleaguered by injury, again held the Broncos and forced a punt, giving the Bills one more first quarter opportunity to take a lead. On the next series, the lack of offensive execution struck again, this time to Murray in the flat.


This was another lapse of basic execution on second-and-9 that would have put the Bills in a third-and-manageable situation. Murray's drop was the third unforced error by a Bills’ offensive player in as many series. The Bills punted following a missed throw by Allen on third-and-9.

Allen completed 5 of 9 attempts in the quarter.

Remarkably, despite the lack of execution of the offense, the Bills were only behind 3-0 due entirely to the inspired play of their defense.

Second quarter

Play selection: 12 plays: Six passes, six runs.

Allen: 4 for 6 passing, 43 yards, one touchdown, interception. No carries

Performance grade: 92%.

Score: Broncos, 15-8.

The Broncos punted early in the second quarter and Allen took over on his own 20-yard line, but was unable to convert a third-and-5 due to a drop by Kincaid.

Again, this routine play by NFL standards was not made. One could point the finger at Dorsey or Allen, as this was another three-and-out by the faltering offense, but here Allen threw a perfect strike to another open receiver who failed to execute. This was again solely due to poor offensive execution of basic fundamentals.

The Bills punted after going three-and-out, and the Broncos’ struggling offense scored a touchdown to take the lead. On fourth-and-2, Russell Wilson threw off his back foot while falling to the ground and put the ball into a place where only receiver Courtland Sutton could make a catch. The Broncos muffed the extra point and led 9-0.


Allen and the Bills’ offense answered with their next possession. Cook had not been back in the game since his fumble on the first play. McDermott undoubtedly wanted to make a point that play time is correlated to protecting the football. Cook was visibly angry and ready to make up for his turnover. Allen completed the ball to Cook in the flat, then Dorsey called three consecutive running plays to him, which moved the football to midfield. Four plays later, on first-and-10 from the Broncos’ 22-yard line, Allen threw a touchdown pass to Kincaid.

Here, Dorsey flooded the right side by releasing Cook into the flat underneath a post-wheel route combination. Allen reacted to Pat Surtain’s movement to cover the post. The Broncos’ defense did not have an answer for as three Bills’ receivers flooded the right side with only two defenders.

There was a penalty on the Broncos during the Bills’ extra point. This gave McDermott the option to take the one point or go for a two-point conversion from the 1-yard line. He chose to go for two to try to cut the lead to 9-8. This was a curious move because a failed two point conversion attempt could have unnecessarily dampened the scoring drive and created a three-point deficit. One might have expected the Bills to pound the football with a running play from the 1-yardline, but that was not the Bills approach. Rather, Dorsey called a shotgun passing play. It ultimately worked out as the Bills closed the gap to 9-8.

The Broncos connected on a field goal with less than a minute left in the half. They did a good job of forcing McDermott to use all the Bills’ timeouts. With the score 12-8, and nearly everything going wrong for a shaken Bills’ offense, Allen threw one of his worst interceptions of the year 45 seconds before halftime.


The abysmal first half of offense created a sense of urgency for Allen and the Bills as the Broncos were going to receive the football to start the third quarter. Dorsey’s job in this situation was to give Allen options down the field and underneath to move the chains and get the ball out of bounds in order to stop the clock. Here, this basic “mirrored” comeback concept was as simple as could be. To Allen’s left, he had a post and a comeback with Cook chipping and releasing into the flat. The Broncos had rushed only three and dropped eight defenders into coverage. Allen simply did not do his job here as he forced this ugly throw into coverage. Had Allen completed the football to a wide-open Cook, the way he has done so many times before in practice, Cook would have gained valuable yardage and would have been able to get out of bounds to stop the clock. 

This was not good defense by the Broncos, this was a poor and undisciplined unforced error by Allen. The result was another field goal by the Broncos with seconds remaining to increase their lead to 15-8. The other result of this third turnover of the first half was the pervasive feeling that something was very wrong with the Bills’ offense.

In defense of Dorsey, this was not a strategic mistake, nor were any of the other turnovers in this half. His offense, his offensive players, his quarterback and wide receivers, however, committed more unforced errors in one half of football than is acceptable at this elite level.

Allen’s first half consisted of a total six offensive series – three of which ended with a turnover – with nine completions for 86 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The Broncos’ offense possessed the football for six more minutes in the half than the Bills had.

Third quarter

Play selection: 14 plays: Six passes, eight runs.

Allen: 3 for 6 passing, 71 yards. Two carries for 6 yards, fumble.

Performance grade: 78%.

Score: Tie, 15-15.

The Bills’ defense held and forced a punt on the Broncos' first possession.

On the Bills’ first offensive series of the third quarter, however, the offense continued to struggle. Allen had his first RPO pass deflected, then he was off-target with an attempt to Stefon Diggs before the turnover on downs on a failed fourth-and-2.

Kincaid came across in motion, which enabled Allen to see the Broncos were in zone coverage. On fourth-and-2, Allen needed to simply do his job, which should have been short to deep, Kincaid to Khalil Shakir, then down to the mesh route underneath in the middle of the field. Allen should have thrown the easy completion to Kincaid, his first option within the framework of this progression. This was a good call by Dorsey, who anticipated getting man-to-man but also had a concept that outflanked the zone defense to Allen’s right. Unfortunately, Allen did not take what was given.

The concern about not being able to convert this fourth-and-2 play was not so much that Allen was significantly off the mark to an open Shakir, it was about his inability to stay on task in the progression on this play.

This turnover on downs put the Bills’ defense back on the field yet again, and again they forced the Broncos to punt. In spite of it all, the Bills still had a chance to tie the game.

Dorsey called six running plays out of seven plays on the next Bills’ scoring drive, relying almost exclusively on the run. Cook ran three times, Murray twice and Allen once. The Bills seemed to be imposing their will on the Broncos’ defense.

Murray pushed his way into the end zone as the Bills tied the score 15-15. On the ensuing defensive series, they forced another punt, giving Allen an opportunity to give the Bills their first lead of the game. 


The Bills were on the move immediately with a 4-yard gain from Cook and an incredible completion to Davis, but an unforced error by Allen created the Bills’ fourth and final turnover.

This was a basic run play to Allen’s right. It was a good snap, Allen appeared to have a handle on the football, then he lost the ball in the act of trying to hand it off to Cook. There is no good explanation. Cook never had the ball in his grasp as Allen dropped it onto his lower body.

Fourth quarter

Play selection: 12 plays: Five passes, seven runs.

Allen: 3 for 5 passing, 20 yards. One carry for 6 yards, rushing touchdown.

Performance grade: 92%.

Score: Broncos, 24-22.

The Bills punted on their 10th offensive series. The Broncos finally capitalized on the opportunity and scored the go-ahead touchdown that gave them a six-point lead at 21-15. Allen and the Bills still had the ability to win this game.

Allen and the Bills’ offense started their 11th and final offensive possession from their own 25-yard line with 5:08 remaining. Dorsey ran the football on every play of the drive, six times. Cook had five consecutive carries as the Bills’ offense overpowered the Broncos’ defense.

On second-and-goal, following the two-minute warning, Allen ran around the left side for a touchdown to tie the game. The ensuing extra point by Tyler Bass gave the Bills their first and only lead of the game with 1:55 remaining. 


The final drive by the Broncos that won the football game is beyond the scope of Allen’s performance, but I would like to evaluate some key points that ultimately resulted in the Bills’ painful loss.

• The Bills’ defense played inspired football, despite the difficult situations they were put in.

• McDermott chose to create all-out pressure in the key moment of the game. This strategy says a lot to bring more pressure than the offense can block because he didn’t believe the defense could cover. This was an excellent strategy, and the right one, in my opinion. Unfortunately, there was a penalty that gave the Broncos one more chance. The pass interference penalty on Taron Johnson was, by definition of interference, an accurate call. The contact before prevented the catch.

• Had the Bills’ special teams unit had the correct personnel on the field for the ensuing field goal attempt, the Bills would have won this game. Think about that for a moment, Dorsey and Allen engineered a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.

In the coming weeks, the Bills’ offense will undoubtedly be going through significant changes. Whether these changes are good or bad will be ultimately determined by Allen’s belief in the new direction and his ability to transition during this delicate period for the franchise.







“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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