It was clear from the start Sunday that New York Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams did not want to give up the big pass play to the Buffalo Bills.
The Jets played heavy zone coverage to try to make the Bills march down the field in small chunks.
Fortunately for the Bills’ offense, their elite slot receiver made the Jets pay for their approach.
Cole Beasley caught a career-high 11 passes for 112 yards in the Bills’ 18-10 victory.
“With them taking the deep stuff away, that gives a lot of room for me to work inside and underneath,” Beasley said. “When we play teams like that, that’s got to be games where I have my best games, and I’ve got to be on point for him.”
“Him,” of course, was Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who did a mostly excellent job of getting the ball out of his hands and distributing underneath throws with accuracy.
Allen was 30 of 43 for 307 yards with no interceptions.
Allen completed only two passes on throws more than 10 yards downfield. But he was 28 of 33 on passes 10 or fewer yards downfield.
“He was great for us today,” Allen said of Beasley. “That’s the benefit of having a guy like Cole. Super smart. He sees zone defense very well. He knows when to find zones and sit down and give me good body language. We worked him there for better part of the game, so he stepped up for us.”
“When teams want to drop back and put seven or eight in coverage, we’ve got to find ways to continue to move the ball,” Allen said. “He’s been awesome for us.”
The Bills had 21 pass plays of 20-plus yards the first four games. They had two total against the Titans and Chiefs and two more against the Jets.
Allen and Beasley have a good thing going.
Beasley has 39 catches for 470 yards, a pace that would give him career-best totals of 89 for 1,074 for the season.
“They give me a lot of freedom,” Beasley said of option routes on which he and Allen have to read the coverage and adjust. “I can’t really do anything that he’s not ready for. I’ve got to be very quarterback friendly with all the freedom they have. It was OK today. It can still be a lot better.”
Last season, Beasley caught 67 passes for 778 yards. He ranked 12th last year in catches from the slot. He entered Week 7 third in the NFL in slot catches.
“Dabs does a good job of giving guys stuff that plays toward their strengths,” Beasley said. “He’s done that for me since I got here. He’s made it a lot of fun for me. And he allows me just to do what I do. I’m glad he leaned on me a little bit today, and he gave me a lot of opportunities. I’m glad I could find some open spaces for Josh and get open for him.”
Here’s a breakdown of some of Beasley’s key catches:
Good step-up. Allen’s pocket presence created Beasley’s first big play, a 23-yard catch and run on the first drive.
The Bills were in an empty backfield set with five receivers spread out and Beasley in the right slot. Jordan Jenkins got inside of guard Ike Boettger on a twist stunt to force Allen out of the pocket. But the quarterback hit Beasley in perfect stride on a shallow crossing route at the Jets’ 48. The Jets were in a two-deep zone coverage, and Beasley ran 18 more yards to the New York 34.
The Buffalo Bills had a kicking problem at about 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
Inside release. With seven seconds left in the first half and the Bills at the Jets’ 44, New York sent a rare six-man blitz. That left Beasley open on a quick slant from the left slot. Allen took a snap from under center and made a dart throw for 14 yards. The play gave the Bills a field goal that cut the deficit to 10-6.
Easy picking RPO. Leading 12-10 and facing first down at the Jets’ 46, Allen again saw the Jets in a two-deep zone. The Bills put three receivers to the left of the formation, and the Jets had only two cornerbacks to that side of the field. Allen could have handed off. But he pulled the ball out of Devin Singletary’s belly and threw a quick screen pass to Beasley. Outside receiver Gabriel Davis blocked up cornerback Bless Austin, and Beasley gained an easy 8 yards to help set up a field goal that made it 15-10.
Seam route. Beasley caught an 18-yard pass down the right seam to the Jets’ 40 to set up the last field goal. It was an empty backfield with three receivers to the right against another Cover 2 zone. Singletary, the inside man, ran to the flat. Davis, on the outside, cleared out deep.
Allen did a nice job of looking at Singletary so that cornerback Brian Poole didn’t get deep enough on Beasley. Allen fired a pass over Poole’s head for a big gain.
Tennessee played a heavy zone coverage game in beating the Bills two weeks ago. Kansas City did it to some degree last week, although the Chiefs blitzed more than the Titans or Jets.
“I would expect teams to play us like that more often,” Beasley said. “I feel like defenses are having some success doing that, so until we prove otherwise that might be something we see. ... They’re really just making us be patient and sustain drives and really go the length of the field with a lot of plays on any given drive. They’re basically saying we can’t do that. We have to do a better job vs. those types of teams that are keeping everything in front.”