The Buffalo Bills reached .500 with their second-straight win on the season. This time, it was against the New England Patriots in shutout fashion, 16-0.
The Bills put together a solid game-plan offensively. With a mixture of multiple running concepts (Read-option, Speed-option, Wildcat) while utilizing short-to-intermediate passes kept the Patriots defense off-balance. The balanced attack by the Bills helped sustained their drives, and therefore were able to dominate in time-of-possession with 36-minutes—Leaving the Patriots to play catch up on offense with an injured third-string rookie quarterback.
After forcing the Patriots into a quick three-and-out, the Bills offense opened their first drive taking a good chunk of time off the clock in the first quarter. The Bills conducted a methodical drive that involved unique running plays with quick, short passes.
One of the primary plays that jump-started the Bills touchdown drive was a 15-yard completion to tight-end Charles Clay:
The Bills line up in an ‘I-formation’ and Tyrod executes a play-action bootleg rolling out to the right, and he connects with Clay crossing the field. It was a tight area to fit the ball in, as linebacker Jamie Collins was in the vicinity, but also what aided Clay in getting open initially was the safety (covering Clay) running into cornerback Logan Ryan in the middle of the field.
Another play later, LeSean McCoy’s quickness and elusive ability give him an advantage over bigger linebackers like Collins and Dont’a Hightower. So it’s logical to feed McCoy the ball in space. In this case, Tyrod identifies LeSean underneath on the check down, and picks up healthy yardage heading into Patriots territory:
After two plays generated by Clay and McCoy through the air, the running element Anthony Lynn installs here keeps the Bills offense unpredictable. Here, backup running back Mike Gillislee takes the direct snap in the ‘Wildcat’ formation:
The offensive line deserves credit here. Not only does Gillislee locate the hole and slice through the Patriots front, but the down-blocking by Richie Incognito (#64) and Eric Wood (#70) on Jabaal Sheard and Alan Branch, together with the pulling guard John Miller (#76) and tackle Jordan Mills (#79) sealing off Dont’a Hightower creates a running lane allowing Gillislee to pick up a first down, and more, on the play.
The Bills kept the ball on the ground through the use of ‘Speed-option’. McCoy receives the pitch and gains the edge to pick up eight-yards on the play:
Nick O’Leary makes a great block on the play with Hightower being the recipient once again. The block gives McCoy access to the edge where he can use his great cut-back ability and vision to run in or outside. Here, he cuts back and gains additional yardage. Notice that Tyrod (sort of) eliminates himself as a running threat because he doesn’t appear to look to run up field with the ball. However, I’m not sure any coaching staff would want anyone not named Cam Newton to risk running the ball into heavy traffic, while possibly hurting your starting, or better yet, franchise quarterback. Nevertheless, it was a good decision by Tyrod to pitch the ball to McCoy on this play.
Continuing on the touchdown drive, the utilization of the quick, short throws is displayed here with a crucial third-down completion to Robert Woods:
Woods (#10) sells the look of a wheel-route with a nifty slant back inside in man coverage, and makes a good catch outside his body to set up the Bills with 1st-and-Goal. The short, high percentage throws like this are plays the Bills should call more often—Especially when you have a good route-runner in Woods who knows how set up his routes at the top of the stem and get open.
Finally, the lone touchdown of the day:
McCoy runs into the flat with Woods setting up a legal pick on Hightower which creates space for McCoy to run into the end zone. Cornerback Malcolm Butler was the only defender in the area to stop McCoy, but he wasn’t quite fast enough to cut him off before he got to the end zone. There’s the game-winning score right there.
Although the offense couldn’t muster anymore touchdowns on the day, there were a few plays that stood out:
First, here is another example of a high percentage throw to McCoy via a check down pass that matches him up with the Patriots linebackers. McCoy makes a few defenders miss enroute to picking up a first down. Right here, this is playing to your players strengths and therefore putting them in favorable matchups and situations:
This second play is something obvious, but fairly ‘new’ to the Bills passing attack this year. A three-step drop that results in a catch by Woods on the slant is an efficient way to gain yards and move down the field:
Another play-call that worked was a slant to Charles Clay. Not your regular slant from the tight-end spot, either. Here, Clay is isolated at the top of the screen against Logan Ryan. Clay uses his bigger body to shield Ryan from making any play on the ball, and the result is a successful completion on the tight-end ‘Iso-slant’. If Lynn wants to maximize Clay’s involvement in the offense, easy pitch-and-catch plays like this should be in the game-plan more often:
Finally, here’s another ‘Read-option’ in which Tyrod pulls and runs with. He leaves Hightower in the dust, while the full-back Jerome Felton pancakes Logan Ryan to pave the way for Tyrod’s first-down run:
Summing it up, it wasn’t the greatest offensive performance from the Bills. They only scored one touchdown while failing to get in the end zone on multiple occasions, leaving them to settle upon three field goals. It’s always important to cap off drives in enemy territory with seven points instead of three. However, the unpredictability, the innovation in the run and pass game by Anthony Lynn provides hope for the Bills offense moving forward—All without their top wideout, Sammy Watkins.
The Bills suffocating defense held Jacoby Brissett and the entire Patriots offense in check as their offense looked out-of-sync without their future Hall of Fame quarterback, Tom Brady.
After Legarrette Blount torched the Houston Texans in week three on Thursday night football for 105 yards, two touchdowns on 24 carries, the Bills shut down the Patriots power-running game, which resulted in the Patriots relying on Brissett to throw. A majority of Blount’s rushing was gained in the second-half, but the Bills held him to a total of 13 carries for only 54 yards.
Here, the defensive line and the linebackers do a good job absorbing blocks, which frees the safety Corey Graham (who is the eighth man in the box) to come down and make the tackle for a minimal gain:
The Patriots came out in a lot of two tight-end sets to establish the run. This time the Bills are in a nickel set, but Zach Brown finds a gaping hole and brings down Blount for the tackle-for-loss:
Speaking of Zach Brown, the linebacker was arguably the ‘MVP’ of the game for the entire Bills team. Brown finished with 18 tackles (!), two forced fumbles, one sack, and three tackles-for-loss. To put it in perspective, Brown was all over the field Sunday. Brown is at his best when he’s a run-and-chase, playmaking type of linebacker. His outstanding athleticism at his position enables him to make the plays he generates on a regular basis.
With the Patriots threatening to get on the board in the second quarter, Brown makes a big play forcing the fumble on a scrambling Brissett with Preston Brown recovering the fumble:
As I mentioned just above, Brown is at his best using his speed as a run-and-chase linebacker. The Patriots attempted a few swing passes to Blount, but in essence the play-call is a mismatch because of Brown’s speed and pursuit after the ball-carrier. Here are two examples of the Patriots throwing to Blount out wide into space, but these type of plays are low percentage when matched up against an athletic linebacker like Zach Brown.
Play #1 – Brown beats fellow teammates to the sideline to tackle Blount for a stop on 3rd & 4:
Play #2 – Here, Brown is strictly one-on-one with Blount. Nearly 100% of the time Brown will make this play – mismatch:
The only negative play for Brown, and the entire team as a matter of fact, was a 58-yard completion to Martellus Bennett. Brown was stride-for-stride with Bennett but he was never able to turn his head around to make a play on the ball:
If you take away the 58-yard reception by Bennett, then Brown only allowed six receptions for 18-yards on seven targets.
On a 3rd & 15, the Bills send an ‘overload-blitz’ to the right side of the offensive line. The coverage in the secondary holds up long enough for Brissett to escape the pocket, but by then it’s too late as Preston and Zach Brown bring the quarterback down:
It was a heck of a day for all of the Bills linebackers. A big play at the end of the first-half was Jerry Hughes sacking Brissett that ended any hopes of a scoring drive. Here, Hughes goes unblocked on the play-action bootleg and Brissett is left with no choice but to hit the ground:
Jerry Hughes is continuing his bounce-back campaign as he’s been consistently disruptive, and he’s already recorded four sacks on the season.
Overall, the defense hauled in another stellar performance regardless of the Patriots missing Tom Brady and playing an unhealthy Rob Gronkowski. The front-seven set the tone early shutting down Blount, while eliminating Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and confusing Brissett through multiple coverages. It was apparent Brissett never developed any rhythm because the Patriots only threw three times in the first-half. As you can see, the Patriots are a very different offense without the knowledge and experience of Brady leading the way. This game played in the Bills hand defensively because the limited experience of Brissett allowed Rex to throw different coverages and pressures at the former N.C. State product. Shutting down two of the more potent offensive minds in Bruce Arians, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels should elevate the Bills confidence heading into week five against the Los Angeles Rams.
What They Said:
Q: You know, your defense has played consistently well here when you’ve lost in last four years or so. So, it wasn’t surprising to play well defensively, was it? Read
A: No, I thought we had a great plan. I thought our guys went out and did a great job executing the plan, but you’re right, there have been several times that we got beat. I get the record. Everybody knows my record. I thought we had a chance at about half those things, but they did a great job, they always outcoached us. Today they had a player out guys, and we had our team here.
Q: The quick slants, were something that you hadn’t utilized in your offense, can you expound on just how those factored in? Read
A: Well, it’s kind of what they were giving us too. We know Tyrod does a good job of throwing that ball, we just have to give him some opportunities to throw that and obviously we put that in today.
Q: Was that one of the more well-balanced game plans from the offensive side from Anthony Lynn that we’ve seen? Obviously kept them on their heels all day…
A: He did a good job, that’s a very well-coached football team. Offense, defense, everything about them. And I thought he did a great job.
Q: Did you feel as good about that game as it looked from watching it in terms of your control and everything?
A: I definitely felt confident with our approach and our game plan going into this game. We had the right plan as far as matchups and getting guys the football. I think guys did a good job of winning their matchups and it made my job easier. I think as far as me being in control, it was a collective thing. The offensive line blocked their butts off and the receivers did a good job of creating a pass slants for me to go out there and make throws.
Q: Those quick slants – it seemed like a wrinkle that this offense hadn’t shown before and you were executing those pretty effectively.
A: Yes, that was something we were seeing watching film all week. We thought we had the right type of guys to run those routes inside and beat some of their man-coverages and just the leverages… We had the right guys to run those routes.
Q: Coach Anthony Lynn said on Thursday that he was harping on you focusing on the matchup as you came up to the line as oppose to the reads you were going to have to execute. How much did that help in terms of finding your playmakers today?
A: I think that helped a lot. Our offense is definitely a matchup – as far as the passing game – definitely a matchup based attack and today we did a good job of winning those matchups and I was able to give the ball to those guys.
Q: For a team that is known for their sound execution, it looked like you certainly out-executed them today right?
A: It’s one game for us. We needed a win and that was a must-win situation. They’re a heck of a team. We were favored for sure. Going into the game without one of the best players to ever play the game we kind of figured we should win this game. It wasn’t a doubt in my mind that we were going to win this game without having Tom [Brady], and our offense – we just played hard. We ran the ball; we threw the ball extremely well. Guys made plays, Tyrod [Taylor] really stepped up and did a lot of things on his own. So, that’s how that game went today.
Q: What do you think you guys did really well that seemed to affect them?
A: Just control the tempo, control the ball. We got first downs when we needed to get first downs. When we needed to get certain runs we got them. Key plays, turning small gains into big gains, you’ve just got to convert and stay on the field. That’s the type of game plan you have when you’re facing a guy like Tom. You want to stay on the field, convert on third downs and just control the game.
Q: They seemed to have a lot of one-on-one issues covering you out of the backfield. Was that a part of your game plan?
A: Sure. Just to get the matchups. 91 [Jamie Collins] is a hell of a player; Collins. [Dont’a] Hightower is actually very good himself, but those guys are bigger, more fit for the run, kind of stand-up backers at that, so we wanted to kind of get the matchup’s one-on-one and we got them. We got them and made the best of them.
Well, well. Who expected the Bills to lose to the Ravens and Jets in week’s one and two, but to beat the Cardinals and Patriots in week’s three and four? Already at the quarter mark of the season, the Bills, and fans, have already been on a roller coaster ride. The 0-2 start plus the firing of Greg Roman had many fans believing this was going to be a long season. That was until Anthony Lynn took over as offensive coordinator and the team found a spark these last two weeks to beat two perennial super bowl teams. Yes, the Patriots were without Tom Brady, and the Cardinals are not looking all that sharp in the early going with a 1-3 start to their season. However, considering the circumstances the Bills were facing—Suspensions to Marcell Dareus, Seantrel Henderson and the injuries to Sammy Watkins, Shaq Lawson, Reggie Ragland, and others like Ronald Darby missing week three—they overcame early season adversity to climb out of a 0-2 hole to reach 2-2. A 2-2 start should be considered an accomplishment at this point for the Bills.
With the defense returning defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, along with getting Shaq Lawson back in a few weeks, should only bolster this unit. The week two game against the Jets is surely looking like an outlier at this point. The Bills defense is playing at a very high level, and I expect that to continue going into Los Angeles to face a rather pedestrian Rams offense.
Offensively, I think Anthony Lynn is doing a tremendous job as the offensive coordinator. You can already tell the differences in his offensive schematics when looking at Roman’s old offense. Instead of attempting to trick the opponents with multiple formations and full-field reads, Lynn is looking for matchups to exploit. I personally prefer Lynn’s offense because it maximizes your playmakers talents, while taking advantage of any potential individual matchups. Even without Watkins, this type of offense will flourish with the current personnel including McCoy, Woods, Clay, Goodwin, Powell, and maybe even the newly acquired 6’4” receiver in Justin Hunter off waivers.
If the Bills can keep up their stout defensive play, while putting up enough points on offense, I think this team will be in a good position moving forward as they enter the soft ‘underbelly’ of their schedule with the Rams, 49ers, and Dolphins in the next three weeks.
- The Patriots were shutout at home for the first time since 1993.
- The Bills only allowed one third down conversion the whole game.
- Zach Brown earned AFC defensive player of the week honors.
- Zach Brown currently leads the NFL in tackles with 52. Preston Brown is rated top 10 in tackles as well.
- Marcell Dareus returns from suspension and can play in week five.
- The Bills are 4th in the league in red zone defense.
- The Bills are ranked 3rd in the NFL in sacks with 13.
- Despite missing one game, Ronald Darby is 4th in the NFL in passes defended with six.
- The Bills claimed wide receiver Justin Hunter off waivers. He stands at 6’4” and runs a 4.4 40-yard dash.
Next Game: Sunday, October 9th at Los Angeles to face the Rams at 4:25 EST.
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