After a horrendous start to the 2016 campaign, the Buffalo Bills have officially erased a 0-2 hole by collecting their third-straight win beating the Rams in Los Angeles by a final score of 30-19.
The matchup with the Rams revealed how the Bills will win their games this season: playing stingy, opportunistic defense while leaning on a diverse running scheme employed by Anthony Lynn.
With star receiver Sammy Watkins out, this offense will flow through LeSean McCoy. This is evident as he recorded his third-straight 100-plus total yard game, which included 150 rushing yards on 18 carries (his most as a Bill).
Right off the bat, LeSean McCoy looked primed for a breakout day on the opening possession with a couple solid runs. Here against the Rams banged up defensive line (Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, and William Hayes all out for the game) on the lead-draw with good blocks from Felton, Incognito and Wood clears the path for McCoy to run through a gaping hole for a 15-yard scamper:
After advancing to midfield, a missed snap with Taylor lined up behind left-guard (Incognito) instead of the center (Wood) hemmed the Bills back to their own 20-yard line. McCoy gets a chunk of that yardage back on a nine-yard misdirection run. It’s the right tackle Mills pulling and paving the way for McCoy here. Once McCoy gets to the second and third levels he can be a pain to tackle:
On 3rd-and-19, the Rams bring pressure, and if it weren’t for a great blitz pick up by McCoy, Taylor may of been brought down for a loss. However, the great block by McCoy allows Taylor to escape the pocket and convert the first down on a 22-yard scramble:
Another key play on the first drive was a 29-yard catch-and-run by Charles Clay that propelled the Bills down to the Rams four-yard line. Clay runs a nifty post-route against the safety and gets immediate separation. From what we’ve witnessed this season, this is a rare throw down the middle for Taylor. It shows how open Clay, and other receivers for that matter, get open in the middle of the field, yet plays are wasted because Taylor hasn’t displayed the vision to fully scan through his progressions. Although it was behind Clay, Taylor finally locates a receiver open in that area of the field:
The Bills acquired Justin Hunter off waivers not only to alleviate the loss of Watkins, but to acquire a big, fast and physical receiver that can establish himself as a red zone threat and compete for jump-balls. Hunter’s first reception as a Bill is a touchdown. The play starts with Taylor under-center with McCoy the single-back. Taylor drops back and looks to his left and right only to see no one open. It appears Taylor leaves a well-protected pocket in which he had to evade a few incoming defenders in the process of scrambling to the left. Taylor soon squares his shoulders and makes an impressive thrown on the run to an open Hunter in the back of the end zone. Few quarterback’s, in my opinion, can make this play in the NFL. His ability to extend plays is what makes Taylor a special player:
Back to McCoy’s big day, on the Bills ensuing offensive possession, the Bills deploy an unbalanced line and catch the Rams front-seven off-guard with a counter-run to the left side which springs McCoy for a 53-yard gain:
The 53-yard run results in a touchdown-drive for the Bills as Mike Gillislee caps it off with a six-yard run. Once again the Bills utilize ‘Speed-option’ where it usually works best near the end zone. Aaron Donald nearly blows this play up, but the strong-side defensive end loses contain, and therefore this allows Gillislee an open path to the end zone:
Late in the game, the Bills finally put the Rams away with Taylor’s second touchdown pass to Goodwin. Taylor exhibit’s the necessary patience, ball placement and toughness of a franchise quarterback on this throw to Goodwin. Despite the oncoming pressure, Taylor hangs in there until Goodwin cuts back to the pylon and he delivers a strike. Goodwin also runs a great route, and makes a great catch on a low pass in tight coverage. Ball game:
The Bills scored three touchdowns the entire game with two of them occurring in the first-half and the third transpiring after a fake-punt deep in Rams territory. The offense had an ample amount of opportunities to put the game away. However, too many times do they put themselves in jeopardy via sloppy play. You can argue that a majority of the blame may rest upon Taylor’s rather inefficient passing.
In what could’ve put the game away in the third quarter, on third down, Taylor makes an audible with Woods at the top of the screen. The Rams send pressure again, and Woods runs a nice double-move against the corner. He slightly stumbles, but he recovers in time to still have a chance to catch the ball. Taylor doesn’t step up in the pocket, and therefore just barely overthrows Woods in a diving attempt. If Woods doesn’t stumble he takes this for six. If Taylor didn’t panic there’s still a chance for Woods to catch this ball. These are the clutch plays franchise quarterbacks execute when the game is hanging in the balance. Take a look:
Taylor finished 12-of-23 for a mere 124 yards passing. Although that total is extremely low in today’s pass-happy league, the Bills are masking their passing deficiencies through a dominant running game. What many people fail to realize is Taylor won’t produce many 300-plus yard passing games with multiple touchdown passes every week. That’s not the type of quarterback he is, and that’s not what the offense is based upon. Yes, I can acknowledge he does leave some throws on the field that’ll leave you scratching your head, but Taylor won’t blow a game for you by throwing into double, tight coverage often (see Derek Anderson).
Above all else, Taylor must improve his consistency. There are times he’ll make the great throw (TD pass to Goodwin) and times where he’ll miss a crucial throw (missed potential TD to Woods). He is a fairly accurate quarterback for a more athletic, mobile playing style. The next step he still has to apprehend is developing his pocket presence. Once again, the missed throw to Woods is a prime example of this. If Taylor takes the extra split-second to step up and drop that pass into a streaking Robert Woods the narrative after the game may of been different. To his credit there were some drops which contributed to his pedestrian stat-line. Rex Ryan went on to state after the game that Taylor has been ‘better than what people give him credit for’, and to an extent I agree with Rex. Taylor impacts a game through his athletic scrambling ability, his dynamic deep-ball passing, and by virtue of his toughness and willingness to win.
Whatever the case may be, the fact is the Bills offense has done enough to enable a three-game winning streak. Like I said previously, the Bills will live-and-die by the run with Sammy Watkins out for an unknown amount of time. Robert Woods and Charles Clay deserve more credit than what they’re given for, but they don’t necessarily threaten defenses like a Watkins or a McCoy. So in the end, it’s up to Tyrod Taylor to be responsible to elevate the Bills’ passing attack. With a big decision coming up after 2016, Doug Whaley may need to see more out of Taylor if he is to trigger the rest of his six-year, $90 million contract he signed in August.
The other vital aspect the Bills will rely on this season is their stingy defense. On Sunday, they set the tone by shutting down the Rams best offensive player in running back, Todd Gurley.
There was no operating room for Gurley. There was never a moment where he broke free for a long run nor was there any consistency from the sophomore running back. The lack of running space is a testament to the Bills front-seven.
On the Gurley fumble, the defensive line and linebackers, specifically Zach Brown, do a nice job diagnosing and clogging the running lanes. Lerentee McCray causes the fumble, and Corey Graham recovers:
Zach Brown is continuing his stellar year. Here, Brown shows off his versatility at ‘SAM’ linebacker. He sets the edge and brings Gurley down for a minimal gain:
Once again, the Rams come out heavy, but the Bills hold their ground and leave Gurley nowhere to run. The Bills did a good job shutting down any cut-back lanes. Zach Brown racks up another tackle.
Do you dare want to guess who makes this next tackle on Gurley? Don’t. Kyle Williams does an outstanding job occupying the left tackle and left guard, which allows Zach Brown to take a great angle on the ball-carrier, and quickly bring him down.
They contained Gurley with allowing only one touchdown for 72-yards on 23 carries with an average of 3.1 yards-per-carry. The Bills were able to force, and recover, a Todd Gurley fumble. All together, the Bills allocated 102 rushing yards—an average of 3.5 yards-per-carry. The run defense continues to be the mainstay for the Bills.
Surprisingly, the secondary struggled in the early-going. Case Keenum and the Rams offense made a living off short, quick passes. What didn’t help defend those quick passes was the off-coverage the Bills were playing. Here is an example of Darby playing off on receiver Kenny Britt. Darby is practically giving Britt a free five yards here:
This clip furthers the off-coverage portrayed by the defense. Receiver Brian Quick is given a free release via Gilmore on the out-route:
One more example here of Gilmore playing off and soft on Tavon Austin. The pressure doesn’t quite get there in time:
Rex said himself the Bills played a lot of off-coverage in fear of being ‘afflicted by the deep-ball’. Another reason they played off was because they wanted the safety to act as an eighth-man in the box to slow down Gurley. In retrospect it was ideal they eliminated any opportunities down field since it would’ve unlocked the entire playing field for the Rams to exploit.
With the offense stalling-out for the majority of the second-half, the Bills defense was called upon to carry them to victory. At last, the Bills defense breaks the game open via a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown by Nickell Robey-Coleman. Robey did a nice job reading Keenum and under-cutting the out-route on Pharoh Cooper.
The final nail in the coffin for Jeff Fisher and the Rams was a questionable fake-punt attempt deep in their own territory. After playing conservative by kicking a field goal on the Bills four-yard line in a 23-16 game, Fisher tries to trick the Bills with a direct-snap to Bradley Marquez, but Ronald Darby and Walt Powell are not fooled as they quickly flood to Marquez and bring him down for a two-yard gain. The Rams became their own worst enemy, and therefore came up short. Here’s the great play by the Bills special teams on the fake-punt:
Overall, still without their star defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, the Bills continue to be impressive in all facets. Even though they allowed 345 yards of total offense to the Rams, they were the reason the Bills won this game. You don’t have to look further than the Robey pick-six that ended up sealing the win. With the Bills playing stout against the run, it causes team’s to become one dimensional and it allows Rex to dictate which coverages and looks he wants to utilize. Therefore, it permits the Bills pass rush to get after the quarterback. Jerry Hughes and Lorenzo Alexander have been a deadly duo on the outside, and are the primary reason the Bills are ranked at the top of the league in sacks. With the complete shift to Rex’s defense, the difference from this year’s squad to last year’s is astounding. The Bills defense is definitely looking like their elite-selves from previous years. If the Bills offense can generate a little more production to go along with the strong play of the defense, they can quickly become a serious contender in the AFC.
This week, I’ll introduce a new segment via ‘Player Spotlight’. I’ll take a look at who had a great, underlying impact on the game. Today, I’ll look at Adolphus Washington.
Washington clearly had his best game as Buffalo Bill thus far. Through five games, you can see the improvement he’s displayed. Pre-draft, there were questions about his ability to stop the run, along with the knack he would never progress to a full-time starter in the NFL. With Dareus out due to his suspension and hamstring injury, Washington has become a serviceable starter. He hasn’t been blowing anyone out of the water, but he has kept his mistakes to a minimum.
One of Washington’s area’s of improvement is his run defense. Being 6’3” 300 Lbs, Washington has the size, length, and athleticism to be a menace as a three, or five-technique. There’s never been a question about his pursuit and effort. Here against the Rams, Washington puts his burst and speed to use to track down the ball-carrier:
Here’s another play where Washington flashes by getting in the backfield and throwing the running back off of his primary running lane. He cuts back only to greet a wall of Bills players:
One of Washington’s strengths is his pass-rushing ability. On Sunday, he recorded his first-career sack. In this clip, he puts together his length in combination with good hand-use to overwhelm left tackle Greg Robinson:
The third round pick out of Ohio State was coveted by Doug Whaley as they labeled a second round grade on him. They were able to obtain him in the third round. Washington is off to a decent start, but he has to improve his consistency. If he can display more consistency, it’ll validate his third round selection. If he can keep disrupting plays in the backfield, he’ll end up being a Buffalo Bill for a long time.
With the win the Bills are now 3-2 and have advanced over .500 on the young season. I personally believed the season was lost after the devastating 0-2 start. You have to credit the Bills for showing perseverance in the face of adversity. The running game is finally clicking after a slow start and the defense has played much better than in the first two games. They did a nice job containing Gurley and their run game. The secondary allowed a few big plays, but they redeemed themselves with crucial plays featuring Robey-Coleman’s pick-six. McCoy constantly gave the Rams banged up defensive line fits by gashing them through draw and misdirection runs, which sparked the Bills offense to 193-yards rushing. I was glad to see Justin Hunter make an impact in the red zone for the Bills, as well. I like his potential down towards the goal-line and I think the 6’4” receiver can be a serious difference-maker for a team that is struggling in the red zone. As games go on you’ll see Hunter’s role increase, and hopefully his volume of work will, too. With that the Bills took care of business in Los Angeles by beating a less-talented Rams team.
However, I am a little concerned with Tyrod Taylor’s growth as a franchise quarterback. I’m not seeing plays necessary from the pocket. What is also concerning is if the running game fails to establish itself, can Tyrod lead the Bills to a win through the air? The stats don’t back it up. Taylor has only won one game with 30-or-more passing attempts, and that came against a very depleted Patriots squad last week. If the Bills can keep successfully feeding McCoy the ball then they won’t have to worry about Taylor going out there and trying to win a game for them. For the time being, the Bills have won three-straight. Long-term, it’s something to keep note of.
- This is the Bills first three-game winning streak since 2011.
- Lorenzo Alexander is leading the league in sacks with seven.
- The Bills lead the AFC and are second in the NFL with a turnover differential of (+9).
- Zach Brown still leads the NFL in tackles with 57.
- With the win, the Bills won their first west-coast match since 2004.
- Colin Kaepernick will start at QB for the 49ers next week at Buffalo.
- Receiver Sammy Watkins will not undergo a second surgery on his foot, can return after 8 weeks of IR are up.
- Former Bills running back Karlos Williams signs with the Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad.
Next Game: Sunday, October 16th at New Era Field in Orchard Park facing off against the San Francisco 49ers at 1:00 PM EST.
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