Bills may turn to James Cook in 2023, but it'll take more to improve run game
Bill Parcells is now 81 years old, and the NFL is a vastly different league than the one he last coached in when Drew Bledsoe was his quarterback with the Dallas Cowboys in 2006.
But that doesn’t mean the Pro Football Hall of Famer and two-time Super Bowl winner is just some old guy barking at the moon when he offers analysis of these new-age players and teams. Parcells remains an astute judge of talent and schemes, and he regularly shares some of his thoughts for the website the33rdteam.com.
Last week, he wrote an article analyzing all 14 teams that made the 2022 postseason, and his comments about the Buffalo Bills were succinct and dead on. After saying that “I love their team” and then adding that “I think they need a lot of work on defense” he wrote about what he perceives as the problem with the offense.
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“Conceptually, they need a different style of running game and maybe even different personnel in their running game if they’re going to improve,” he said. “They need to improve their offensive line as well. I think Tampa Bay and Buffalo were similar teams. Each was a one-man show. Buffalo has a great receiver in Stefon Diggs; Tampa has a great receiver in Mike Evans. But it was too much on (Tom) Brady, and it was too much on Josh Allen.”
Now, you would expect someone like Parcells to point to the need for an improved running game; that’s the NFL he grew up and excelled in. But he’s not wrong in pointing out that there was way too much of a burden on Allen in 2022 and when the Bills came up against a Cincinnati defense that was perfectly schemed by coordinator Lou Anurumo, the Bills simply didn’t have any answers, especially on a snowy and sloppy field.
No one, including Parcells, thinks the Bills have to revamp their entire approach on offense in 2023 and become a dominant running team. In fact, what they need most is to bring in some new pass catching weapons for Allen because what he had at the end of 2022 wasn’t good enough.
Bills 2022 report card: Buffalo had one of best offenses in NFL but flaws were exposed
Josh Allen took too many hits running the ball
This team has to find a way to be more consistent and more threatening in the run game because that would force defenses to play the Bills a little more honest rather than dropping six or seven men into coverage and making things harder for Allen. If teams dare the Bills to run, the Bills need to make them pay.
Buffalo ranked seventh in the league in rushing yards per game, but we all know the caveat is that Allen contributed 762 yards, and if there’s one thing that needs to change in 2023, it’s Allen carrying the ball less often.
“The only thing I’d get on to him is he’s got too many bruises on him,” general manager Brandon Beane said after Allen ran a career-high 124 times, giving him 546 carries in five seasons. “And we’ve got to work on taking less hits. That’s the only reason I’m going to ever criticize Josh is just take less hits.”
Buffalo Bills running backs: Is James Cook the answer?
When you factor in just running backs with Devin Singletary and James Cook shouldering the load with a few attempts mixed in from Zack Moss and Nyheim Hines, the Bills had the fewest carries by running backs (291) of any team, and their average production was 88 yards per game which ranked 22nd in the league.
Singletary and Cook combined for 36 carries of 10 yards or more which was fewer than Nick Chubb, Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders and Derrick Henry had on their own.
Singletary is a free agent and it’s tough to imagine the Bills will re-signing him, and Hines might become a salary cap cut. If so, the Bills will turn to Cook as their lead back and then they’ll have to find someone - be it in the middle rounds of the draft or the lower tier in free agency - to be a productive backup.
Buffalo Bills offensive line needs to be shored up
Now, was the running game struggles all the fault of the backs? Absolutely not.
The offensive line, once again, was an underwhelming unit and in grading by Pro Football Focus, two of the starters (right tackle Spencer Brown and left guard Rodger Saffold ) were among the worst at their position, right guard Ryan Bates was in the bottom tier, and left tackle Dion Dawkins and center Mitch Morse were middle of the pack.
Yet, incredibly, Morse was voted to the Pro Bowl and Dawkins and Saffold were added Monday as replacements which Parcells must have found flat out comical. The Bills brought in respected offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, and it will forever go on his resume that he coached three “Pro Bowl” players in 2022, but anyone who was paying attention is laughing about that. Kromer did not improve this line the way we were told he would.
Saffold will be gone, and while the other four starters return, Beane has to bring in quality players who will either push the holdovers to new heights, or replace them.
“I’d love to have the perfect line and I’d love to get as many weapons,” Beane said. “We’re always looking.”
Looking is one thing, but finding them and hitting on them is another and during this offseason, Beane is going to be facing perhaps more pressure than he’s ever had in Buffalo to shore up several position groups, and none more than the offensive line.
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This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Buffalo Bills may turn to James Cook in 2023. Will it help run game?