The Buffalo Bills continued their hot-streak in week six when they dominated the San Francisco 49ers at home, 45-16. The Bills are currently on a four game winning streak.
312 rushing yards. That was the total rushing yardage against the 31st ranked 49ers run defense. A large part of the credit should be obliged to the former running backs coach now offensive coordinator, Anthony Lynn. He has completely refined this offense ever since Greg Roman’s firing. He rejuvenated, and has featured, the dynamic playmaker in LeSean McCoy through newly deployed running concepts that we didn’t anticipate from Roman. Furthermore, Lynn’s reinvigorated the Bills passing methodology by means of simplifying their approach: get the ball into your playmakers hands. We’ve been witnessing these modifications in the Bills offense ever since Lynn seized control as offensive coordinator. His variations has undoubtedly engendered a more efficient offense, and they were utilized in the win over the 49ers. Let’s dive in.
In previous weeks, I’ve pinpointed the use of ‘Speed-option’ and ‘Wildcat’ in which they paid dividends on account of scoring plays. Heading into this matchup, the Bills had the upper hand on a talented, but raw, 49ers front-seven thanks to the diversification, and unpredictability, of Lynn’s scheme. It appears the offense is buying whatever Lynn is selling because the group has displayed more urgency and effectiveness during the winning streak.
On the first touchdown drive, ‘Speed-option’ is the call again near the goal line. The concept has been successful for the Bills due to it’s ability to horizontally stretch the defense while causing the ‘Force’ defender to make a quick decision diagnosing the play. Here, the ‘Force’ defender, Ahmad Brooks, aggressively over pursues and lunges at Taylor after he pitches to McCoy enroute to the touchdown. It’s an unbalanced line to the left, option to the right. Charles Clay executes a nice block to seal off the middle linebacker, Nick Bellore, while the speed, agility, and vision of McCoy are favored over the 49ers goal line defense. Take a look:
The ensuing offensive possession brought another trip to the red zone thanks to a big 38-yard run by McCoy. A familiar running concept we’ve seen the last few games is the ‘Wildcat’, and to a certain degree it has produced yardage and touchdowns for the Bills. On the second touchdown of the day, Lynn calls another unbalanced offensive line type of look. McCoy receives the direct snap out of the wildcat. He obtains great blocks from Wood, Incognito, Mills, and the two tight ends in Clay and O’Leary as the line paved the way for McCoy’s second rushing touchdown of the day. Here’s the play in full:
When the game was there for the taking in the third quarter with the score at a 17-13 deadlock, the Bills defense produced a big stop on 4th-and-short in their territory which set up the Bills with good field position. After Tyrod scrambled and found a wide open Nick O’Leary for a 23-yard pick up entering 49ers territory, the following play Tyrod drops back and connects with Justin Hunter for a 30-yard touchdown. The Bills come out in ‘11’ personnel with ‘Trips’ to the left of the formation. Justin Hunter is located in the slot, and is matched up with the free safety, Eric Reid. The play is a ‘Smash’ concept with Hunter running the corner route to the end zone. Taylor sets up the defense with a pump fake, which freezes Antoine Bethea (high safety) slightly, but that was apparently enough for Hunter to beat Reid and develop enough separation from Bethea to catch the touchdown in-stride to put the Bills up 24-13. Here’s the play all together:
As superior teams prove week-in, week-out, they eventually separate themselves from inferior squads. The Bills began pulling away from the 49ers accompanied by McCoy’s third rushing touchdown of the day. The Bills lined up with two backs via Felton and McCoy. Lynn dials up a ‘Trap’ with Incognito pulling out. Felton does a tremendous job occupying two blockers buying time for McCoy to hit the hole and collect his third rushing touchdown on the day. Woods also deserves credit sealing off cornerback Tramaine Brock. Have a day, Shady!
After Robey-Coleman forced a fumble on the ensuing kick return, the Bills set up shop deep into 49ers territory. Taylor’s second touchdown pass of the afternoon was granted to Woods. It’s ‘11’ personnel once again with Clay in motion along with Gillislee in the back field. It’s clear where Taylor was going on this play, as he stared down Woods the whole play. Hunter and Goodwin ran fade routes that took their respective defenders out of the play. This sets up Woods to run a nifty route from the slot in which he sold the slant and immediately turned back outside diving down to catch the touchdown reception. This was one hell of a route:
With the game out of the 49ers reach, Taylor and McCoy were benched with a little over 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, and were replaced by Manuel and Gillislee. The Bills put the final nail in the coffin with a 44-yard touchdown run by Gillislee. It’s a ‘Sweep’ to the left side of the formation. Tackle Ola and tight end O’leary do a great job blocking defensive end DeForest Buckner at the point of attack while Felton and Powell carry out key secondary blocks to spring Gillislee for the touchdown. It was a miserable day for the 49ers on the ground, defensively:
Summing it up, the formula for the Bills’ success in 2016 will be relied upon a diverse running scheme in togetherness with a low volume, but high percentage and efficient passing game. Unlike Roman, it’s noticeable Lynn is placing his players in more favorable formations and situations. Being diverse and unpredictable while exploiting any potential mismatches seems to be what Lynn is ordering from Taylor and the Bills offense. His plan has paid off so far in the light of four straight wins. As I said many times in the offseason, LeSean McCoy will be the engine to this offense, and therefore he’ll have the opportunity to record the stats he’s capable of putting up. Through six weeks, he’s second in the league in rushing behind only Ezekiel Elliott with 587 rushing yards. He also has six rushing touchdowns and is currently averaging 5.6 yards-per-carry. With Tyrod playing mistake-free football, together with the dominance of McCoy and the entire running game, it’ll be hard for any opponent to keep up with a Bills team that also possesses one of the league’s hottest defenses right now. The Bills have the recipe for success, but can they sustain their quality of play heading into the thick of their schedule with the Patriots, Seahawks, and Bengals on the horizon? Time will only tell, but the Bills are on the right track, as of now.
Similar to last week’s contest against the Rams, the game plan was to shut down a power back and cause a not-so-good quarterback to beat you with his arm. After conceding 271 yards from Case Keenum, the Bills only allowed Kaepernick to complete 13-of-29 passes for a mere 187 yards passing. They also limited Carlos Hyde to a total of 52 yards on 14 carries, and the 49ers leading rusher was Kaepernick with 66 yards on eight carries. All together, the defense allocated 300 total yards including 133 yards rushing, but in fact the front-seven was constantly swarming to the ball-carrier while the secondary restricted the 49ers passing assault.
Carlos Hyde entered the game as one of the more touted backs so far this season. However, the Bills front-seven contained him for a majority of the game, despite the running threat of Kaepernick. The Bills displayed the talent and discipline to restrain the 49ers option-based scheme. The size, athleticism and pursuit played into the Bills’ hands.
Two specific players that stood out were linebackers Zach Brown and Lorenzo Alexander. They were disruptive and causing havoc in the 49ers backfield all day.
On this play, Brown chases down Hyde for a loss. Nose tackle Corbin Bryant does a great job absorbing the double-team, which allowed Brown to a free passage to tackle Hyde:
This next play shows 49ers deploy their read-option personnel. Kaepernick reads the outside-linebacker in McCray who crashes down on the running back. Kaepernick pulls the ball and runs with it, but Brown beats the 49ers offensive line from reaching him and he brings down Kaepernick. Brown is one of the very few linebackers in the NFL that can run step-for-step and tackle a big, mobile quarterback like Kaepernick:
Here’s what can happen when you don’t permit a spy on Kaepernick:
Meanwhile, the secondary contained Torrey Smith and the likes of the 49ers receivers from generating any space. On this play, the Bills bring three to pressure Kaepernick with eight dropping in coverage. The secondary absolutely swallowed up their pass-catchers, which devised Kaepernick to scramble but Brown, once again, is there to greet him near the line-of-scrimmage:
Another option play by the 49ers, but it’s the same result. Brown diagnoses and finishes the play on Hyde…again. If he is unblocked by the offensive line, Brown will pile up these tackles on a weekly basis. That’s also a testament to the Bills defensive line, as they’ve done an incredible job clogging rushing lanes and allowing the linebackers to flow in for the tackles:
Switching tabs now to Lorenzo Alexander, he equally enjoyed an impressive game, and campaign for that matter, as Zach Brown. There are a few plays that held good from his standpoint.
While Zach Brown was mustering all of the love in his efforts shutting down Hyde and Kaepernick, Alexander manufactured a big play against the run, as well. Here on second-down-and-short in the first quarter, Alexander maintains good leverage and breaks contain of left tackle, Joe Staley, as he encounters Hyde on the sweep and ushers him for a big loss:
On the same possession facing third down, Alexander easily maneuvers through Staley and rejects a screen pass—one in which he nearly picks off. The diagnosis and disruptive ability lead to the pass breakup:
To cap off the day, Alexander forces the strip-sack on Kaepernick in which he clearly beats Staley around the outside. The 49ers recovered the fumble, but Alexander’s effort acquires his eighth sack of the season:
Individual performances be damned. The two game-changing plays that swung momentum in the Bills favor were two key third and fourth down stops just inside Bills territory. Here the entire front-seven combined their efforts to halt Mike Davis and Carlos Hyde on back-to-back attempts to gain a single yard. As you can see with both plays coming up, the Bills defenders do an impressive job flooding lanes to gang-tackle and put a stomp on any hope for a comeback.
With the turnover on downs, the Bills would score on a 30-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hunter to ignite the blowout. In the end, the 49ers didn’t possess the firepower to keep up with the Bills.
With a solid outing for the majority of the contest, the one critical, and lonesome, mistake the Bills granted was an apparent blown coverage between corners Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby. It seems to be that Gilmore was responsible for the streaking Torrey Smith, while Darby was assigned to cover the underneath crossing route. Consequently, Smith is left wide open, and he takes it for six to allow the 49ers to hang around up until their collapse that commenced midway through the third quarter.
Overall, the Bills defense churned out another solid showing at home. With supposed ‘backup’ linebackers in Zach Brown and Lorenzo Alexander playing at a pro bowl level, the entire defense is benefiting from their play, which increases the capability and reputation of the group. With each win piling up, more confidence and swagger will be injected into each player, and the belief in each other will be advertised when the Bills conclude the season as one of the elite defenses in the league, once again.
It was a game the Bills needed to win to show the fans that this isn’t the ‘Same Old Bills’. Often times in the past, the Bills would squander games against inferior opponents to the tune of the Rams and 49ers. However, I’m beginning to sense that this roster is capable of beating anyone in the league. I’m beginning to sense that the Bills are coming together, both the coaches and players. I’m beginning to sense that the Bills may finally be turning the corner—The corner to the playoffs and beyond.
Now riding a four game winning streak, the Bills will take their momentum down to Miami to face the Dolphins in another very winnable game. The Bills will have to take care of business as they cannot underestimate this pesky Dolphins squad that doubled up the Steelers last week by a count of 30-15. With the Patriots looming ahead, it’ll be vital for the Bills to advance to 5-2 instead of 4-3 in their week eight date with Patriots in Orchard Park.
- McCoy experienced ‘Tightness’ in his hamstring that caused him to leave practice early on Wednesday. His status for Sunday is unknown.
- Robert Woods aggravated his foot in Sunday’s game. His status for Sunday TBD.
- Charles Clay suffered an ankle injury in the fourth quarter Sunday. His status for Sunday TBD.
- Shaq Lawson is eligible to return to the lineup after enduring ‘PUP’ for the first six weeks of the season.
- The Bills boast the NFL’s best rushing attack with 166.3 rushing yards-per-game.
- McCoy is the first player in the NFL since 2010 to rush for 140+ yards and three touchdowns on less than 20 carries.
- McCoy is the first Bills running back since 1991 to crack the century mark in back-to-back games.
- The Bills are the top ranked red zone defense in the league.
- The Bills only allowed three passing touchdowns all season.
- Zach and Preston Brown are ranked first and fourth respectively in the AFC in tackles with 67 and 53.
Next Game: Sunday, October 23rd in Miami against the Dolphins. Kickoff is at 1:00 PM EST.
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