In 2016, the Buffalo Bills finished top-ten in scoring for the first time since 2004. They did it with star wideout Sammy Watkins missing half the season and being less than 100% when he came back. The reason for their success was the change in offensive coordinators, with Anthony Lynn stepping in for Greg Roman after week two.
The ground game was the focus of Anthony Lynn’s unique offense, as they produced an elite 5.3 yards per carry, tops in the league. The new, high-powered rushing attack was the lone bright spot that carried Buffalo to a 7-7 record after dropping their first two games, despite a subpar defense and lack of firepower on the outside.
Lynn’s offense often deployed multiple backs in the backfield, with Tyrod Taylor usually in the shotgun or pistol formation. This look gave them versatility and opened the door for misdirection and play action. They could use their backs as lead blockers, but the defense also had to respect them as potential receivers or ball carriers. This prevented defenses from being able to attack downhill and commit, as they couldn’t key in on one guy. As a result, LeSean Mccoy and Mike Gillislee routinely had open grass to work with, with Gillislee posting a tremendous 5.7 yards per carry, and McCoy averaging a career-best 5.4 to go along with over 1,200 yards in 15 games.
In the play below, Jerome Felton, lined up to the right of Tyrod Taylor, doesn’t get the ball. However, the way he lines up and his motion at the snap makes it seem as though he might get the handoff. Watch as the first steps of the backside linebackers are towards Felton, which takes them out of position, preventing them from being home to make the tackle on Gillislee when he cuts it back.
The play wasn’t blocked particularly well, but the design of the play gave Gillislee room for a cutback after the initial blocking failed. This is an example of how scheme can often make up for players’ shortcomings.
Watch the effect of misdirection on the next play. There should only be one man assigned to the motioning Robert Woods, yet all the linebackers shift over, essentially taking themselves out of the play.
Because the ball winds up going away from the motion, that small shift is enough to keep them from having a chance at McCoy. The key is a running back that’s dangerous with the ball in space, which Anthony Lynn had with both McCoy and Gillislee in Buffalo.
Lynn will now be taking his unique offense to the Los Angeles Chargers. In LA, he’ll not only have a young, explosive star in Melvin Gordon carrying the rock, but might be working with an even better offensive line, as the Chargers have reinforcements on the way in the form of rookie guards Dan Feeney and Forrest Lamp.
The presence of an effective passing game is what could make Anthony Lynn’s offense lethal with the Chargers. In Buffalo, defenses would normally only keep one safety back, daring Tyrod Taylor and his ragtag group of pass catchers to beat them through the air. Against the Chargers, defenses won’t have the luxury of loading the box against Philip Rivers and a receiving corps which might be one of the best in the league. In addition to Hunter Henry and Tyrell Williams, they’ll be getting back Keenan Allen and welcoming 7th overall pick Mike Williams. When healthy, Keenan Allen is one of the best young receivers in the game, and Mike Williams was a star at Clemson in his own right.
That aerial attack will open things up even more for Lynn’s creative run concepts, and should make this one of the NFL’s most dominant and balanced offenses. Led by superstar defensive end Joey Bosa and an elite cornerback tandem featuring Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward, the LA defense should be more than good enough to at least repeat their mild success from last year. If Lynn’s system translates and the Chargers avoid the injury bug, don’t be surprised to see them win one of the toughest divisions in football.