If the Buffalo Bills want the offense to move forward, they should take a page out of the 49ers playbook.
The Buffalo Bills are looking to take that next step this upcoming season, with hopefully a division title and a playoff win. With a defense that is already one of the best in the league, the pressure is on the offense to catch up and move out of the bottom half of the league.
The NFL is very much a copycat league and the Buffalo Bills, with the talent they have, should look to build an offense similar to what the 49ers did last year. In 2018, the 49ers were 16th in total yards per game (360.6), 15th in passing yards per game (241.7), 13th in rushing yards (118.9) and 21st in points per game (21.4).
However, last year the 49ers jumped to 4th in total yards per game (381.1), 2nd in rushing yards (144.1) and 2nd in points (29.9).
The 49ers have some unique pieces that made their offense work and the Bills have similar personnel.
Talent and depth at running back? Check
Speedy wide receivers on the outside? Check
Athletic tight end to stretch the field? Check
Versatile fullback? Check
That last point is key and probably the biggest reason the Bills are well-equipped to run the 49ers offense. According to Sharp Football Stats, the 49ers ran 2-1 personnel 28% of the time last year and had a successful play rate of 55%. This is significantly higher than the rest of the NFL, with the 2-1 personnel used on only 8% of the total offensive snaps with a successful play rate of 50%.
Why are the 49ers so successful with the 2-1 personnel?
The 49ers have one of the best rushing attacks and one of the top tight ends in the league in George Kittle. However, their fullback Kyle Juszczyk is the difference maker and Kyle Shanahan provided some insight recently in why he used this personnel grouping as frequently as he does.
Warren Sharp tweeted a quote from San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and why he uses this personnel grouping as much as he does:
"“Anytime you have a fullback on the field, it limits what the defense does”"
It is simple but makes perfect sense as the 49ers can use the same personnel grouping but with a player Juszczyk they are not limited to just running. An athletic player like Juszczyk gives the 49ers the opportunity to set up for a run but go with an empty set by splitting him and the running back out wide. They now have the advantage in a passing situation against what is likely a base defense.
Patrick DiMarco is the key to the Buffalo Bills offense
Last year, the Buffalo Bills were close to the league average in using the 2-1 personnel, running it 10% of their offensive snaps. However, in terms of successful play rate, there were a little better than the league average of 50% at 52%.
Entering 2020, the offense has all the pieces to run a playbook similar to what the 49ers ran last year but Patrick DiMarco is the key to making it work. The fullback was signed as a free agent in 2017 but hasn’t been used much on the offensive side of the ball, playing 25% of the offensive snaps his first year with the team but only 16% each of the past two seasons. This is a significant drop from the over 30% he played in his last two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons in 2015 and 2016.
In the passing game the opportunities really haven’t been there with only 15 receptions and 131 receiving yards in three seasons but that isn’t to say DiMarco isn’t capable of being a threat in the passing game if used more. If he is split out wide with a linebacker covering, this is a matchup that he should have the advantage.
The one wrinkle the Buffalo Bills could add to this offensive scheme, that the 49ers aren’t, is designed runs with the quarterback. Josh Allen is one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in the league and in this 2-1 personnel set, the Bills could split the running back out to spread the defense and use DiMarco as a lead blocker for Josh Allen.
The Buffalo Bills offense is hoping to move out of the bottom half of the league and the key for this group in 2020 could be to use the 2-1 personnel more and replicate the 49ers blueprint.