With Zack Moss out, it's time for Devin 'Motor' Singletary to speed up
As the cart was driving onto the turf at Bills Stadium last Saturday afternoon, its purpose to load injured Zack Moss onto the flatbed and transport him back to the locker room, Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott sought out Devin 'Motor' Singletary.
“I just told him it’s his time to step up and this is what he’s worked all his life for,” said McDermott, who had put his arm around Singletary’s shoulder pads as he said this. “Devin’s a guy that has worked extremely hard over the course of his career, even before he got to the NFL. He’s no stranger to hard work and he’s no stranger to having to carry the load and I know this team is 100% confident in Devin Singletary.”
Moss suffered a season-ending ankle injury while he was being tackled by Indianapolis’ Darius Leonard and T.J. Carrie, a play on which he nearly fumbled the ball away.
Once the cart came out, everyone knew the seriousness of the injury, and that Singletary – the second-year running back who had a promising rookie season but hasn’t really taken a step forward in 2020 – would have to fill the void.
He took the remaining 16 offensive snaps in the fourth quarter as Buffalo finished off the 27-24 AFC wildcard victory over the Colts, and now, starting with Saturday night’s AFC divisional round showdown against Baltimore, Singletary will likely have to carry the sizable burden for as long as the Bills remain alive in the playoffs.
Bills options at running back
McDermott won’t share his plans, but the options to replace Moss are limited: Either the Bills activate veteran T.J. Yeldon for just the fourth time this season, or turn to undrafted rookie and practice squad player Antonio Williams who played well in the season finale against the Dolphins.
The team signed veteran DeVonta Freeman to its practice squad Tuesday, but due to COVID-19 protocols, it is unlikely Freeman would be available to play against Baltimore.
Regardless of who it is, it will not be the near 50-50 split of reps that Singletary and Moss had in the 13 games they played together (Moss missed three games early in the season). Unless offensive coordinator Brian Daboll surprises us, which is not out of the question, Singletary is going to get the bulk of the snaps.
“Well, that’s where we’ll start, and he’s very aware of that and more than capable and he’s done that before,” McDermott said.
T.J. Yeldon has played sparingly over two years
Yeldon signed with the Bills prior to 2019, but his time in Buffalo certainly isn’t what he was hoping when he left Jacksonville as a free agent.
Not long after, the team also signed free agent Frank Gore and drafted Singletary in the third round, and those two players ended up sharing the running back duties the entire year. Yeldon played a total of just 150 snaps in six games and had 30 touches (17 rushes for 63 yards, 13 receptions for 124 yards).
This year, Gore left and was replaced by third-round draft pick Moss and Yeldon became a ghost. He played in only three games for 42 snaps, compiling 10 carries for 70 yards and just one catch for 22 yards.
Rookie Antonio Williams was undrafted
Williams played three college seasons at North Carolina but rushed for only 1,144 yards and 11 TDs and was not picked in the 2020 NFL Draft. He signed with the Bills and spent all season on the practice squad before being activated for the Miami game when McDermott rested Singletary and Moss in the second half.
Against a sagging, deflated Miami defense, Williams rushed for 63 yards on 12 carries and scored two TDs. It was eye-opening when you consider Singletary’s season-high rushing total was 86 yards while Moss’ was 81.
“It doesn’t always work out like that, but we’re fortunate that it did so we could take a look at Antonio,” McDermott said of the opportunity to play Williams in the Miami game. “He certainly popped when you looked at the film and how it felt down there on game day. Great experience for a young man who had really worked hard. I thought that was one of the cool pieces about that week is we were able to get some guys who had worked their tails off all season long a chance to go out there and show us what they got.”
Running game hasn't been a strength
There is never a good time to lose a frontline player to a season-ending injury, not during the regular season and certainly not in the postseason. But if the Bills had to suffer one, running back was the spot.
Moss has had a decent rookie year, but he totaled just 481 rushing yards and 95 receiving yards. This isn’t the Titans losing Derrick Henry, or even the Ravens losing their own rookie, J.K. Dobbins.
The Bills haven’t been able to run the ball effectively all season and it really hasn’t mattered as they’ve won 14 of 17 games primarily because of Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley and the overall passing game.
Singletary, while not a player you can count on for a game-breaking play, can occasionally flash with the ball in his hands, he has improved as a receiver, and for the most part he can be trusted in pass protection when needed.
If he needs a rest, either Yeldon or Williams will be able to come in and the drop-off will not be that significant.
“It’s why we got those guys on our team,” Daboll said of Yeldon and Williams. “You keep the players on your team that you think can help you. Maybe they’re not active one week or they’re on a practice squad, but everybody in this organization is here for a reason. That’s to help us win, and when your number’s called, we expect you to be ready to go. That’s what we’ll expect this week, whoever that may be.”
Sal Maiorana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.