Relying too much on Josh Allen? Bills could need stouter run game for long-term success

Running back Devin Singletary leads the Bills in carries (34) but quarterback Josh Allen is right behind him (30). Patrick Smith/Getty Images

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- After four games, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen is in the thick of the MVP conversation.

He's the betting favorite at Caesar's Sportsbook (+300). He is coming off his 12th game-winning drive of his career and first since 2020 in last Sunday's comeback win over the Baltimore Ravens. The Bills' offense leads the league in third-down conversions (55.8%) and has looked unstoppable at times.

But the Bills have struggled to get their running game going to complement Allen.

Allen leads the team in rushing yards (183), rushing first downs (15) and rushing touchdowns (2). He is the only Bills player with a rushing score. Allen has accounted for all 12 of the Bills’ offensive touchdowns. Only Minnesota Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper in 2004 accounted for more of his team’s total touchdowns through four games (14), per Elias Sports Bureau.

“We’re always going to do what we feel like we need to do to win,” coach Sean McDermott said when asked about Allen being the leading rusher. “… It’s important that we can develop an added dimension to our offense and so, answer to your question, I’m not overly comfortable with that being the stat week to week or as much as it has been.”

Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers (1 p.m. ET, CBS) provides a good opportunity to turn that around. The Steelers have allowed the ninth-most rushing yards to backs this season (445).

Do the Bills need to establish a more traditional running game to have long-term success?

Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey has called a designed run 28% of the time, which is the lowest rate in the league. Over the previous 15 seasons, the lowest designed run percentage called by a playoff team was the 2016 Green Bay Packers (30.8%). Playoff teams over that timespan have called a designed run 41% of the time on average.

Some of what has held the running game back starts up front, as Buffalo ranks last in the league in run block win rate (RBWR) at 63.8% -- with troubles specifically at guard (56.3% RBWR, 32nd).

“I think we're getting better [at run blocking]. Are we where we need to be yet? No. But I think 'yet' is the key word,” McDermott said. “… Sometimes it just takes time, and we're gonna continue to work at it. It is a point of emphasis, it is a focus of ours, but I'm confident in those guys. It takes not just the blocking, it takes the detail of the blocking, it takes the detail of where the back is supposed to be.”

The Bills continue to slowly bring along second-round rookie running back James Cook, both as a runner and receiver. He has played just 12% of offensive snaps. Running back Zack Moss has just 16 carries on the season and hasn't converted a third-down rushing attempt (0-for-2).

Running back Devin Singletary, in the final year of his rookie contract, leads the team in attempts with 34. While he fumbled the ball early in the win against the Ravens, he made multiple plays late in the game to keep the Bills’ comeback alive, including an 8-yard run on the final drive, when he knowingly stopped short of the goal line to keep the clock moving.

“I can't rave enough about what [Singletary] is, who he is and what he does for this team,” Allen said. “I urge everybody that's watching football, if you're a young kid, if you're in college, whatever, you turn on Devin Singletary tape and you watch him, how he strains to the ball, whether he's got it or not. … The dude, all he knows is work and that's why his [nickname] is 'Motor.'”