Big picture: Diggs’ addition to the Bills receiver corps has been the catalyst for Allen’s MVP form. By trading for Diggs, Josh Brown was able to move into the Z roll on offence as Cole Beasley was able to return to the slot where he excels. In short, Diggs’ landing in Buffalo has allowed the entire passing offence to slot into place and make life that much easier on Josh Allen.
Diggs and Allen have impressed all season long and it was no different on Saturday as the partnership lead Buffalo to victory against a strong and stout Indianapolis Colts defence.
Matt Eberflus’ Colts’ defence was consistently one of the best, most secure units in the NFL this past regular season. Per Football Outsiders, the Colts defence never left the top ten best defences in DVOA this year. That’s despite losing former first-round pick Malik Hooker at safety.
Despite Eberflus mainly running a Tampa 2/ 2-high safety system, as opposed to the conventional ‘bend don’t break’ defence that usually deploys a cover 3 type shell, the philosophy is the same; the Colts are going to force the offence to string together long drives full of checkdowns and short passes. Forcing the quarterback to stay disciplined and play a clean game.
Kyle Shanahan spoke on the Chris Simms Unbuttoned Podcast this past offseason about how this type of defence is the toughest to go up against from an offensive standpoint. To paraphrase Shanahan, it is much more difficult to string together a 20 play drive rather than a 4 play drive.
The personnel that Eberflus has at his disposal is also perfectly suited to this system. Despite Hooker going down with a season-ending injury during the regular season, Khari Williams and Justin Blackmon have been fantastic at safety for the Colts this season. Moreover, the Colts have given cornerback Xavier Rhodes a new lease of life after the former all-pro looked cooked in Minnesota.
With the Vikings, Rhodes was asked to cover a third of the field by himself in a cover 3 system, something that he struggled with as time went on. In Indy, Rhodes is allowed to play much shallower with the safeties behind him in that soft squat zone most commonly found in cover 2 defences. With a sound secondary securing the backend, the Colts also have two all-pros causing havoc in the front 7 with DeForest Buckner at defensive tackle and Darius Leonard at linebacker.
Going into the Bills game, it is clear that the Colts’ plan from a defensive perspective would be limit Allen’s deep shots, frustrate the young gunslinger and force him to be disciplined and accurate throwing in-between the numbers. A perfectly sound strategy, but as legendary boxer, Mike Tyson, said, ‘everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.’
Diggs finished the game on Sunday with a statline of 6 receptions, 128 yards receiving and 1 touchdown. Clearly, Eberflus’ strategy did not have the outcome it was looking for.
Instead of Allen staying disciplined, taking his checkdowns and working between the numbers, the gunslinger played to his strengths and continued to throw it deep to Diggs despite the Colts’ two high safeties.
The first example of this came in the first quarter. After the Colts had forced an impressive 3-and out for the Bills opening offensive drive, Allen came right back and went for the jugular.
This is a really nice play design by the Bills to exploit the Colts’ cover 2. Tight end Dawson Knox runs a corner route to the right-side boundary as Stefon Diggs runs a sluggo (slant and go) from the slot right up the seam of the Colts defence.
Allen’s pump fake forces the safety to take a step towards the boundary before the Bills quarterback unleashes a 36-yard dime up the seam without even setting his feet.
In short, Allen and Diggs are so good separately, and even better together, that they don’t have to scheme around the Colts’ defence, they’ll just run right through it.
Another example of Allen and Diggs’ prolific connection came in the third quarter on a long touchdown.
The Colts did a good job of disguising their coverages multiple times on Sunday, often giving Allen a single-high look before rotating back to their traditional cover 2 post-snap.
Here the Colts attempt to disguise their blitz in a single-high look, but Allen recognises the incoming pressure, changes the play at the line of scrimmage and, knowing Diggs will be one-on-one on the outside, takes advantage.
The Colts cornerback, T.J. Carrie, is used to playing underneath coverage and is not adept at covering down the field. Diggs, the best receiver in the NFL right now, easily flies past him and makes the easy grab for the score.
The third and final clip we’ll look at demonstrates the third facet of Diggs’ and Allen’s relationship: plays out of structure.
The Colts do a good job of getting pressure on Allen by sending the cornerback blitz. However, this is what makes Josh Allen so valuable: his ability to extend plays and make something out of nothing.
Allen eludes the pressure with a pump-fake before rolling out to his left and throwing a laser to Diggs. From Diggs’ point of view, the receiver runs a fantastic out-and-up route to expose the ‘turkey hole’ between the corner and safety in a cover 2.
Diggs and Allen are currently playing like a super-charged version of Davante Adams and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. Sure, Adams and Rodgers may boast the best numbers and touchdowns, but what Adams and Rodgers possess in veteran savviness, Allen and Diggs possess in explosivity.
The ability to will your way through an opposing defence’s scheme, to take the top off at a moments notice and punish a defence for blitzing and the ability to make plays out of structure have made Diggs and Allen the most formidable wide receiver-quarterback duo in the NFL.
Bills vs Ravens
The Bills will meet the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round of the playoffs and with that comes an enticing matchup between Stefon Diggs and the Ravens cornerbacks.
The Ravens present a different challenge than the Colts. Possessing an even better secondary, the Ravens excel in man coverage, with cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters able to shutdown receivers one-on-one. Peters especially is proficient at baiting opposition quarterbacks into throwing aggressive passes that usually end up as interceptions.
The duel between the aggressive Allen and the two pick-happy corners of the Ravens is sure to be box office stuff. Whatever the case, Allen and Diggs will have to be at their usual best to beat the Ravens defence.