Sunday, February 5 2023

By Henry McKenna
FOX Sports AFC East Writer

Twenty-five seconds can feel like forever. Or it can fly by.

An NFL play clock is 40 seconds, but the quarterback and offensive coordinator get only 25 seconds to communicate on each play. That’s all the time an OC has to make his decision on a play and relay that call over a headset to the quarterback. It sounds like plenty of time. But the headset shuts off without discretion. If the OC misses his window, that’s it.

During that short time span, he has to think about much more than just the play-call. Does the personnel package require a substitution? Does the head coach have input? Are there player injuries that might interfere with execution of the play? Are they in hurry-up mode? Are they trying to slow the pace of the game? Did the players get the proper coaching on adjustments between drives? Did the defense make a substitution? And so on.

That whole process is in development for the Bills as Ken Dorsey is replacing Brian Daboll, now the Giants‘ head coach, as Buffalo’s offensive coordinator. The process seemed to go just fine in preseason Week 2, when the Bills pummeled the Broncos 42-15. But then again, preseason is never an indicator of success. The Bills are a long way from winning the Super Bowl, which is the team’s expectation for 2022, according to star quarterback Josh Allen

Josh Allen on Bills’ chances in 2022

Josh Allen joins Colin Cowherd to share his expectations for the 2022 season. The two start by looking back at the disappointing end of last season, when the Bills lost to the Chiefs in the divisional round.

That’s what’s at stake for Dorsey, who must keep one of the NFL‘s best offenses at the top of the league.

Among his many pressing decisions as offensive coordinator, Dorsey must decide whether he’s going to call plays from the booth or from the field. It’s actually a complex decision. Daboll spent time as a booth play-caller but also moved down to the field at other points. If Dorsey is in the booth, he has a substantially better view of the field. 

The trade-off, however, is that he must relay his message to players by phone, headset or through quarterbacks coach Joe Brady. When on the field, the OC and QB can sit together between offensive series and look at the same play on a tablet. In the booth, the OC must leave that to his quarterbacks coach.

“The trust of the coaches on the sideline to deliver the feel of the guys, the messages that guys have and what they’re seeing on the field is critical,” Dorsey said. “So that communication is huge when you’re up in the box.”

There’s also another factor to consider.

“Coach [Sean] McDermott said there was quite a hefty fine for any flags from the refs for the coaching staff, so I think that also entices Dorsey to go up in the box,” Allen joked. “He gets fiery, man.”

Dorsey is Buffalo’s most animated coach on the sideline. He literally jumps for joy after big plays. 

“He’s very vocal, and he’s loud,” Allen said.  

Dorsey, for his part, thinks his sideline reputation is a little overblown.

“I don’t know where this all comes from,” he said. “I feel like I’m pretty calm and composed no matter what.”

Then he added: “I’m not too much of a psychopath.”

Dorsey is a former quarterback. After four years as a Miami Hurricane, he played for the San Francisco 49ers, the Cleveland Browns and the Toronto Argonauts. The fact that he continued his career in Canada demonstrates his commitment to the game. There aren’t many players who leave the NFL after seven seasons and decide they want to play for North America’s second-tier pro league.

Dorsey’s glory days came in Miami, where he had a 38-2 record, which he loves to mention when chatting with his quarterbacks.

Allen regularly pokes at his coach: “36-2?”

And every time, Dorsey corrects: “38-2.”

Allen said Dorsey has grown into a big-brother figure as they enter their fourth year of work together — Dorsey had been Buffalo’s quarterbacks coach since 2019. And while players and coaches sometimes say they’ve come to love each other like brothers, moments like that indicate it’s actually happening between Dorsey and Allen. 

They seem to already be of one mind. So if Dorsey coaches from the booth, the pair will need to bring Brady into their mind meld. Brady was the Carolina Panthers‘ OC the past two years, so he understands the transition that Dorsey is experiencing. 

McDermott will chime in with situational decisions: fourth-down calls, two-point conversions, hurry-up, etc. That trio of offensive minds (Dorsey, Allen and Brady) will take charge of the plays. Allen will have the power to audible at the line of scrimmage. Finally, center Mitch Morse will handle protections at the line of scrimmage.

Dorsey said he had a good feel for calling plays on the field during training camp, which is why he spent the first two preseason games in the box. 

“I really felt like there was a great job between the coaches back and forth and telling me what they saw and the communication between me and Sean,” Dorsey said. “In terms of those different situations that come up, whether it’s a fourth down situation or a two-minute situation, it was incredibly smooth.”

Dorsey was also pleased with how he and Allen communicated in the time allotted. The OC felt like the offense got the tempo right and got the substitutions done on time. That gave Allen plenty of time to break the huddle and survey the opposing defense at the line of scrimmage.

“He’s doing a really good job [with] his call sheet, how he’s talking to us before games, preparation for games, making sure that the call sheet that he has for each quarterback is plays that we are comfortable with,” Allen said. “And I really appreciate how he’s doing that.

“In terms of operation, we were getting plays in really quickly in order to get to the line of scrimmage to make checks, to make calls. I think that’s sometimes a growing pain that some offensive coordinators don’t see.”

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Buffalo QB Josh Allen says of the Bills: “We’re here for one goal and that’s to win a world championship.” Marcellus Wiley and Emmanuel Acho ponder if Buffalo is the team to beat in the AFC.

Allen said he’s getting to know Dorsey’s preferences — and how they’re similar or different to Daboll’s. Given that Dorsey has never called plays, he will surely fine-tune his habits and communication style over time.

“Everyone’s got their own style: personnel they like using, concepts that are their favorite, if they’re willing to call the same play over and over if it keeps working or if they want to switch it up,” Allen said.

After calling the play, coordinators then have one more decision. They have to ask themselves: Do I say more? Because coaches are always studying tendencies. They know exactly why they called the play and what about it is likely to work. So sometimes, they sneak in a suggestion on passing plays of where the quarterback should look to throw the ball. 

Not Dorsey. 

“You’ve got that little mic to the quarterback, but you never want to say, ‘Hey, think about this here.’ Or: ‘Look for this here,'” he said. “Because then that’s the last thing they hear, and they get locked onto that.”

Talking about each other, Dorsey and Allen repeatedly mention the word “faith.” They have “faith” in one another. At the risk of sounding too philosophical, there’s something blind about faith. These two haven’t done it yet. They know it works in preseason. But in a regular-season game? That’s uncharted territory. 

They need it to click — and right away — if Buffalo is to win in Week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams, the defending Super Bowl champions. If the Bills want to show the NFL they’re a true title contender, they can start by knocking off the Rams.

And that will largely depend on the star QB and his big brother.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.

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Source: FOX Sports


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