An RB1 has emerged!
The Buffalo Bills put up respectable yards per attempt all of last season, but the running game took off late in the year facilitated by two shifts. As noted in earlier articles, the shuffling on the offensive line led to Buffalo truly putting out their best five. In addition, the Bills said “forget the running-back-by-committee approach” and made Devin Singletary the unquestioned workhorse back. Of course both things made a big difference, but let’s pretend I didn’t just give away the conclusion so we can justify a bunch of GIFs to answer the chicken or egg type question that I did in fact already answer.
Let’s start with the bad news. When things break down and there’s early contact, Devin Singletary isn’t a pile mover. According to “physics” that’s hardly surprising, as he’s listed at 203 lbs.
When I said the Bills put out the best five linemen later in the year, of course what I meant is best five for what the team is capable of executing. Singletary isn’t a pile pusher and neither are most of the linemen. The changes to the line added speed and finesse. Here we have Ryan Bates as a lead blocker. He has enough speed to get ahead like he’s supposed to, and as far as lead blockers go he’s pretty big. Reggie Gilliam also saw a lot of playing time to close the year and attacks the same spot as Bates.
That’s a lot of words for a pretty simple point. A better personnel grouping and better blocking scheme will help any running game. With the likes of Bates and Gilliam moving the pile, Devin Singletary can wiggle through narrow lanes like we see here. This was a 3rd & 1 that Buffalo easily converted.
Another reason to have Devin Singletary on the field is that he’s a solid pass protector. He’s good as a lead blocker as well, though for the sake of not crashing browsers with too many GIFs you’ll have to trust me on that one.
The pulling linemen don’t need to be hitting the pile either. The faster Bills line that showed up late in the year is better suited for plays like this one. That matches Singletary’s skill set. There’s a gigantic lane to start with, but Singletary needs to make a decision on the fly after that lane appears. He angles to the sideline (our right), which looks to have been the better call.
I’ve already said my piece on Singletary not being a reliable pile pusher, but I like the man’s balance. The initial contact is imperfect. Singletary is able to spin free in the crowd and keep moving. He may also have been the victim of a face-mask penalty, which makes staying on his feet even more impressive.
Speed- and finesse-based line. Speed- and finesse-based running back. Put ‘em together and sometimes this is what you get.
While I don’t think I’d put Singletary in “elite” territory for pass catching, he’s pretty good at it. The biggest detriment to his game is a lack of breakaway speed. He’s got some moves though.
This is the Bills’ formula for their most consistent success. This GIF isn’t showing anything new so much as adding to the body of evidence. I like the fight at the end to get a couple more yards too.
Unlike my usual pattern, we’ll end on a low-ish note. While this is what Buffalo is better at, there are counters to everything. Singletary didn’t get many carries in this game so who know if a larger workload might have had a different result, but the Kansas City Chiefs did a good job of filling gaps even at high speed like we see here. That’s a lot of ground to cover for minimal gain.
I know a lot of fans want an elite running back and, to be fair, I’m not opposed to it either. With that said, I’m also of the opinion of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The Bills were shockingly efficient on the ground last year with 4.8 yards per carry. That was tied with the Baltimore Ravens for fifth-best in the league. While Josh Allen inflated* that stat a bit, Devin Singletary averaged 4.6 yards per carry (ypc), which was 15th out of 50 qualifying players.
Changes within the coaching staff could make a difference this season but hopefully the Buffalo Bills won’t stray too far from what they’ve shown to work. Devin Singletary was a key cog in an efficient Bills run game. There’s no reason to think that will change next season.
*Allen and Rashaad Penny tied for the league lead this year with 6.3 ypc, which was half a yard higher than third place.