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Madness Ensues When Two Negatives Occlude a Positive

Like you, dear reader, I too will try my darndest to tune-out the “Naboobs of Negativity” that pop up like mums, every Fall. Following a Bills loss, they are nearly as unavoidable as the porch-planter bloom-buckets that dot every roadside Rt. 20A farmer’s market from Big Tree to Bloomfield; however, I tend to tune-into those doom-purveyors on the heels of Bills butt-whipping, like what we witnessed this past Sunday.

While Hype-Train Howell was busy hurling wounded ducks to the recently-anointed TB43–God, I love how swiftly the Bills Mafia snatched that moniker from the Ugg Boot Wearing, Bellichick-open-mouth-smooching, Cheatriot-in-Chief–and inspecting the FedEx Field turf, up-close and personal, many of the more insightful doomers on the message boards, and not a few reputable Bills journalists coalesced around a common point of contention with the Buffalo offense: Namely our second and long play-calling.

I feel as though Cover 1 Buffalo’s Greg Tompsett put it best, in the 9/24/23 Cover 1 post-game podcast. Here’s a snippet:

"I swear to God, the first five 2nd and 10's were all inside hand-offs, straight into their two $50 million dollar defensive tackles. Five runs for a total of 1 yard, every single time just making it 3rd and 10. YAHH! It makes me crazy!"

While I added the emphasis on the “YAHH”, Tompsett delivered that barbaric yawp in what I can only describe as a stellar Howard Dean Scream impersonation. You could feel the aggravation in his voice, it was so visceral, and you could hear that sentiment echoed down the pages of the Bills postgame thread, over at Two Bills Drive.

Nestled among all the flowers Greg and Aaron threw at the feet of the Bills, in their postgame review, this take stood out as one of the few negatives.

Another negative take, in the bloodbath aftermath, was the recurring question: Why did Dalton Kincaid pull a houdini act in this matchup?

In his 5 predictions from the Locked on Bills podcast, the day prior to “The Washington Whooping”, Joe Marino had predicted Dalton Kincaid’s first touchdown (26:35), and the prevailing logic, among Bills aficionados, was that this defensive front, studded with four first-round picks (nearly all inside of the top 10), was going to force Allen into quick-slants, and short passes across the middle of the field. I was of the same opinion, leading up to the game. Washington’s line had amassed 10 sacks in two games: A fear-inducing statistic for any Bills fan who has lived through the five-man-turnstile the past few years of our o-line has been!

But the question I have, on the heels of this game, is can two negatives occlude a positive?

No, I’m not asking if two negatives equal a positive; we’re talking higher-metaphor math, here, folks. What I’m asking is if you consider the defensive front Dorsey, Allen, Diggs, and company

were up against, does Kincaid’s lack of targets plus Jimbo Cook’s relentless 2nd-and-long up-the-gut runs hide a positive?

Let me elucidate what I’m trying to math out:

In week one, we all bemoaned the 80+ yard scamper by Breece “I Don’t Care if I Recently Tore my ACL, I’m Still Gonna PwN You” Hall. We all still fear the footsteps of Dalvin Cook, from his dagger-to-the-heart, long TD run from last year that helped steal a “W” for the Vikings. And we haven’t forgotten the long Derek Henry TD run–assisted by an uncalled, blatant hold on Jordan Poyer–that essentially stole the #1 seed from us a few years back.

But what is it these three Mafia-heart-crushing plays all boil down to?

Math... And a little bit of psychology.

We all know the famous Einstein quote: “The definition of Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.” That is, for the most part, true when you’re lining up against science or math; however, while the game of football can be thought of as a “numbers game”--hats on hats, numerical advantages, the rise of analytics departments, R.A.S. scores... etc–it’s really numbers superimposed on a malleable, psychological map. As much as there are huge dudes battling for the slightest advantage out on the turf, there is also a quiet mind-war of offensive and defensive coordinators, underlying that turf.

You could think of this quiet war as the dirt the grass field grows in.

And when one coordinator decides to lean hard into the expectation set out by the other, and that other coordinator suddenly slips aside, the heavy-leaning coordinator falls flat on their face.

So, let’s look at Cook’s 2nd and long usage and Kinkaid’s disappearance in the Washington matchup, under that lens.

We all bemoan how frustrating it was, in the past, to watch Brian Daboll call the same play over and over and over, until we forgot that on the 7th or 8th time, he would throw in a twist that resulted in a huge gain for the Bills “O”. This is the same sort of play-calling psychology that I believe underpinned the mind-numbing usage of Cook in the Washington game. While I cannot say whether or not Josh checked into these runs; we can speculate that Dorsey understood the following:

  1. Washington has one of the best D-lines in the game.

  2. Their D-line is made up of penetrating, havoc-bringing berserkers.

  3. When you have a group of penetrating D-linemen that are dead-set on bringing down your QB, there is an inclination for them to over-run plays (See also: Hughes, Jerry).

  4. Additionally, Washington’s defensive coordinator would not tend to expect us to continue to use our 190-lb, slippery running back–instead of the more logically suited Harris or Murray–to run into the teeth of your D-line.

  5. So, if Washington’s D-coordinator didn’t expect us to run Cook up the gut once on 2nd and long, how much less would they expect it a second time? How about a third? A fifth? An eighth?

Einstein was right, in math and science; however, in the multi-layered mind-and-body game that is NFL football, doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results is genius...

When it works.

Now, to the Kincaid usage, or lack thereof. I don’t have the All-22, but the two penalties levied on Kincaid in the Washington game were a tripping and illegal shift. The tripping was more of a failed attempt at chipping, which is what Dorsey and Co. decided to retain Mr. Kinciad’s services for this game. After two catches in the first drive, one half of “DK2” was a passing threat in psychological terms only.

I think that Dorsey believed that Washington’s defensive coordinator thought we would rely heavily on Kincaid, because he could attack the part of the field that would be more likely to be open, given that Allen–in theory–wouldn’t have time to go deep, with that ferocious Washington line bearing down on him.

Instead of trying to lean into this logical usage of Kincaid, I speculate that Dorsey knew that Washinton’s defensive coordinator would expect Kincaid to be heavily targeted in the flats and middle-of-the-field, this game. Dorsey even–if my exegesis is close to on-point–baited Washington’s defensive coordinator in that first drive: Showing him the flashy, new TE toy, in order to get the D.C. D.C. to believe Kincaid would be a threat all game, thereby forcing him to allocate defensive resources accordingly.

And then, with a couple of baiting plays under Kincaid’s belt, Dorsey relegated the tight end to chipping and protection duties, to counter Washington’s front. Dorsey was effectively trying to get Washington’s defense to apply Einstein’s quote, and doubt that he would not use Kincaid.

Now, of course, this is all speculation, but I feel as though there’s a good argument to be made that what Dorsey was doing with Cook and Kincaid was a Hamlet quote played out on turf: “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” He was doing the same thing over and over again, and anticipating that Washington wouldn’t expect this.

I quite enjoyed how two of the perceived negatives in this big win may have been occluding a positive: Namely’s Dorsey’s increased incorporation of psychological nuance into on-field play. If I am right, then I’m looking forward to us leaning into a little more madness. -Tim Avery - 9/25/23

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