It’s time for Zack Moss to be the Bills RB1
By: Jason Ferris
At 15-3, and one win away from the Super Bowl, one glaring offensive weakness was exposed in Buffalo Bills’ second-ranked offense in the league in their 38-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2020 AFC Championship.
Statistically, the Bills’ offense was not terrible in that game. Josh Allen played well, throwing for 287 yards and two touchdowns. On the ground, the Bills ran for a combined 126 yards.
On the surface, it all looks like a balanced offensive output but in reality, the Bills’ ineffective running game was exposed. Of the 126 yards rushing, 88 of those came from quarterback Allen himself. He led his team in both attempts and yards, generally not a recipe for success in any game, let alone a conference championship game.
Yearlong starter Devin Singletary managed just 17 yards on six carries. The lack of a legitimate running game had finally caught up with the Bills.
In Singletary’s final year of college at Florida Atlantic, the bruising back rushed 235 times for 1,416 yards and 17 touchdowns. That is the type of production the Bills were looking for when they drafted him in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. But in the two years since being drafted, Singletary has regressed.
As a rookie, he carried the ball 151 times for a healthy 5.1 yards/attempt and 20 broken tackles. It was a promising start. But by the time he had finished his sophomore season with the Bills, Singletary carried the ball 156 times for a very mediocre 4.4 yards/carry. He was 25th in the league in yards with 687 and 31st in broken tackles with nine.
The biggest elephant in the Bills’ running back’s room is that Singletary has scored only six total touchdowns, which translates into a scoring rate of 1.6% per touch, while fumbling five times over his first two years. By contrast, David Montgomery of the Chicago Bears, who was drafted one spot before Singletary, has scored 17 touchdowns on 568 touches over the same period. That is a scoring rate of 3.0% per touch, even with the bigger workload. Singletary simply isn’t measuring up to what he was drafted as.
It is hard to rest the entire blame for the Bills’ lack of running attack solely on the shoulders of Singletary. The Bills obviously believe in Allen as an elite NFL quarterback and they built their offensive line with preserving his health in mind.
As the third-ranked passing offense, the Bills offensive line was blitzed a league leading 254 times. Yet Allen was given the luxury of protection with 2.6 seconds of clean pocket time (T-1st) and was only sacked 26 times (24th) and hit 47 times (20th). For an offensive line that was called upon the most to protect its quarterback in 2020, the Bills’ line certainly delivered. This allowed Allen to have a career year with 4,544 yards passing and 45 total touchdowns.
That same offensive line play, however, did not happen for the running game. The Bills struggled to 20th in the NFL with 1,168 yards rushing and Allen put up 421 of those himself.
So was Singletary’s lack of production in 2020 a reason for a running back to lose his job? Not necessarily, but it does point to a need to try at least try something else. The Bills 2021 draft class included Spencer Brown (OT), Tommy Doyle (OT), and Jack Anderson (G) to help beef up the run blocking but the Bills surprisingly did not draft a running back. In fact, the Bills passed up on highly-touted North Carolina running back Javonte Williams, instead choosing to pick edge rusher Gregory Rousseau with their first round pick. So who now emerges as the Bills’ lead back to start the season?
It has to be Zack Moss. As a rookie in 2020, Moss was limited to 37% of the snap count but made good use of those. Moss appeared in 13 games, had 126 total touches for 576 yards and, more importantly, produced 5 touchdowns. That is a scoring rate of 4.0% per touch, much more productive than Singletary’s 1.6%. Moss ran hard, breaking 16 tackles and also playing a role in the receiving game with 14 catches for 96 yards and a touchdown.
Moss has proven that he deserves at least a shot at being the starter. Heading into the 2021 season head coach Sean McDermott may be saying all the right things to the media about his total confidence in the running game, but he better be game-planning with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll on how to utilize Moss as their lead back in 2021