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#Episode #26 Ft. Cole Thompson-Bills Fantasy Outlook and Projections

Kevin Massare sits down and talks Bills fantasy outlook, their 2017 Draft choices and projections with USA Today’s Draft Wire analyst, NFL Writer for The Texans Wire, Host of the Hot Takes Pod and SEC correspondent for Breaking Football Cole Thompson.

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Mr. Reliable | WR Daikiel Shorts

The Buffalo Bills have added several wide receivers to their offense via free agency, the draft, and even the undrafted free agent market. New offensive coordinator Rick Dennison is overhauling a unit that was once known just for stretching the field. He’s looking to turn the Bills’ passing game into a more efficient, ball control passing game. In order to do that, he needed to add receivers with different traits, traits that would help carry out his scheme, but that would also help get the most out of his quarterback. Undrafted free agent WR Daikiel Shorts is the kind of player that both the offense and Tyrod Taylor need.

Shorts is a QB’s best friend. At West Virginia, he was their version of ‘Mr. Reliable’. Anytime the offense needed a big play, he was their go-to guy. He possesses great hands and mental toughness. On 4th down, the Mountaineers go for it. Shorts manages to find a soft spot in the back of the end zone, corral the high throw, and get a foot down for the touchdown.

 

Being reliable is one thing, but that isn’t tested in any circumstance more than over the middle, an area in which Shorts excels. As a slot wide receiver in Dana Holgorsen’s Air Raid offense, Shorts lived in that quadrant. His quarterback, Skylar Howard, trusted Shorts over the middle on the most critical downs. It’s 3rd-and-9, and the defense drops into cover 3 buzz. Howard and Shorts are on the same page. Howard anticipates the throw.

 

He threads it between three defenders for the first down. If Shorts doesn’t catch that, then it’s most likely intercepted by the safety.

 

Bills fans are probably screaming, “Tyrod Taylor doesn’t make throws like that!”, and they aren’t completely wrong. However, in 2016 there were several reasons he didn’t make those throws. Heck, there were several reasons why they were rarely called. Taylor was cautious with the ball, both by habit and by design. He had the best run game and was typically ahead of the chains, so he didn’t have to take risks like throwing into tight windows. However, the main reason he wasn’t asked to throw into tight windows over the middle was because he didn’t have a guy like Shorts. He didn’t have a reliable target. WVU’s QB Howard in an 11 game sample from ’16, targeted shorts 30/74 plays, 29/74 were from 0-19 yards over the middle (courtesy of Krossover). How did he fare? Shorts put up 379 yards out of 711 total yards over that 11 game sample.

The Bills’ number one target was Charles Clay, who had 81 targets and 57 receptions. Clay had a 10.94 drop rate, having dropped 7 out of 64 catchable targets. That was the second-highest drop rate for tight ends in the league. Ex-Bills wide receiver Robert Woods caught 19 passes over the middle, but also dropped two of his three drops on the season in the very same quadrant. Taylor lacked the rapport, weapons, and most of all, trust in his wideouts. Shorts could help relieve those worries.

Daikiel can run the shallow drags or the 12 yard digs, curls in the middle of the field that the offense needs to beat zone defenses. This is something they see a lot of because of Taylor’s mobility. The short-to-intermediate area is where he makes his money.

 

The high/low concept paired with the screen action opens the middle up, which is where Shorts sits, catches the ball, and spins away from the defender.

 

Due to the type of offense that Holgorsen ran at WVU, the offense saw a ton of zone defense. The Air Raid offense depends on its receivers to read coverages and run the appropriate routes, which could be completely different from coverage to coverage. That is especially the case for the slot receiver. As a result, Shorts is well versed on reading coverages and doing what he is supposed to do.

He sees the inverted cover 3, sits in the window, catches it, and gets up field.

 

He makes reading coverages look easy, and he can do it on the fly. On 3rd-and-4, Shorts is running a crossing pattern. He notices the middle backer staying shallow to protect vs. a checkdown, but notices the opposite field linebacker clearing out with the seam route.

 

He slightly deepens his route to gain depth from the middle backer, which gives his QB a window to throw to and allows him to gain some yardage after the catch.

 

Having receivers like Zay Jones and Shorts on the roster should improve the offense in the short-to-intermediate area, but most importantly it will give Taylor peace of mind. Shorts, much like the Edelmans, Welkers, Landrys and Amendolas of the league, are able to sense when a defender is losing leverage in pass coverage. He knows how to sell a crossing route, but then sit, show his numbers, and convert. This ability to uncover in confined spaces is a difficult trait to find in a slot receiver.

 

He does a good job of plucking the ball out of the air and doing what he can.

 

Many believe that WR Daikiel Shorts may be a long shot to make the roster, but he is a player that I think, if given the reps, can make the squad. He is the perfect blend of intelligence and reliability that the offense and Tyrod Taylor need. He reads defenses as adeptly as anyone in the draft class, and he is a dependable target in the middle of the field. There’s a reason the Bills went out and got a big bodied wide receiver like Andre Holmes and a productive, intelligent slot receiver in Zay Jones in the second round. They needed to reshape the receiving corps. They needed to transform it from a set of guys that depended on just physical talent to separate to one that used intelligence and route running. Shorts is a player that could very well round out the back end of the unit.

 

TE Nick O’Leary Could Thrive Under Dennison

Alright, folks. Pop quiz: Who was the only offensive skill position player to appear in all 16 games for the Buffalo Bills last season?

A few guys hit 15, but missed a game due to injury (LeSean McCoy), contract issues (Tyrod Taylor), or the birth of their child (Charles Clay). The only non-lineman to play in every game for the offense last season was, of all people, Nick O’Leary.

The former sixth-round pick has been something of a fringe player for his time in Buffalo. He began his career on the practice squad before returning to the active roster at the end of his rookie year. He likely would have been cut last year, were it not for an unfortunate injury to Chris Gragg during the preseason that landed him on IR and required Rex Ryan and Doug Whaley to keep at least one more tight end who had experience on the team.

So how did O’Leary perform last year? On the stat sheet, he was entirely forgettable. He caught nine passes for 114 yards. For reference, there were 43 single-game performances last year in which those numbers were out-paced.

Looking beyond the stats, however, shows that O’Leary was a solid contributor on the field, and could remain so in 2017.

O’Leary finished second among tight ends in run blocking, according to Pro Football Focus. In 163 run block snaps, O’Leary’s grade of 83.1 was behind only Anthony Fasano of the Miami Dolphins. With the Bills’ offense being such a run-heavy operation over the last couple of seasons, O’Leary has certainly earned his keep in limited playing time.

 

His best performance by far came in the Bills’ 45-16 dismantling of the San Francisco 49ers in Week 6. Here’s one of the more memorable plays from that game: McCoy’s masterful 22-yard scamper to convert a 3rd-and-20.

O’Leary is in an in-line position, but flexed a couple yards wide. Post-snap, he recognizes the play is headed back in his direction. When Shady cuts toward him, he quickly engages Eli Harold (57) and prevents him from getting a hand on McCoy. Plenty of players made that run work, but O’Leary set the tone with his initial downfield block that allowed McCoy to keep cutting at full speed.

Later in the game, he also contributed a notable reception. This was late in the third quarter, with the Bills holding on to a 17-13 lead.

O’Leary, the lone tight end on this play, is in-line next to Jordan Mills. Post-snap, the 49ers play zone coverage, and safety Antoine Bethea (41) is more concerned with Robert Woods coming up the opposite side of the field than he is with O’Leary.

Taylor does a great job of reading the field and keeping the play alive. O’Leary keeps up his end of the bargain by recognizing the field boundary, slowing up, and making a great leaping reception away from the body, all while maintaining control as Bethea comes down to hit him.

O’Leary saw his most extensive action of the season in the game Clay missed, a Week 13 road loss to the Oakland Raiders. Here’s another look at him showing off his blocking chops, this one coming after the two-minute warning in the first half.

The Bills were pretty well-loaded to the right, as O’Leary and fullback Jerome Felton were out in front of McCoy for this one. After chipping Mills’s defender, O’Leary engages Perry Riley, Jr. (54) and forces him to reverse his field to make a play. By the time Riley does engage McCoy (along with cornerback David Amerson), Shady has already picked up nine yards on second-and-12. The drive ended with a punt, but O’Leary’s block gave the Bills a makeable third down situation.



 

It’s clear that O’Leary is a positive contributor in his limited role, but does he have a future under the new coaching staff? To answer that question, one needs to look no further than Jeff Heuerman.

There are a few trivial similarities between O’Leary and Heuerman. They’re both 24-year-old native Floridians who won a national championship in college (O’Leary at Florida State, Heuerman at Ohio State). They both caught nine passes for fewer than 150 yards last season. They’re fairly similar physically, with Heuerman only two inches and about seven pounds larger than O’Leary.

Heuerman, as you might have guessed, is a depth tight end for the Denver Broncos and played last year under Bills’ offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. After missing his rookie year due to a preseason ACL tear, he appeared in 12 games for the Broncos last year.

Here’s a look at Heuerman making a big catch in a late drive during the Broncos’ Week 3 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Broncos are running a standard I-formation, with Heuerman (82) lined up next to the right tackle. He runs a deep corner route across the middle of the field and manages to beat his coverage to make the play. It’s not exactly the same as the O’Leary catch I highlighted above, but it’s not hard to see O’Leary filling that same role in the offense.

 



 

Overall, I believe that O’Leary is a much better blocker than Heuerman. Heuerman doesn’t exhibit the physicality of O’Leary, and that mentality will be important, as the Bills will not be able to totally transition into a finesse game.

 

Here’s another example of some blocking from Heuerman on a nine-yard run during the Broncos’ Week 4 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The play is a weak-side run, with Heuerman lined up next to the right tackle. He doesn’t hold his position on the line, but pulls behind the guard while the line blocks down. He doesn’t engage anybody on the play, but the mobility required is something O’Leary is going to need to contribute if he wants to keep his playing time up next year.

It’s a fairly safe bet that O’Leary sticks with the team next season. He doesn’t have any real competition for the backup tight end role behind Clay, and even if he doesn’t hold on to that, he probably won’t get knocked off the roster unless he’s injured.



What’s more important on his end is that he’s entering the final year of his rookie deal. If he wants to earn a second contract, whether it’s with the Bills or someone else, then he’s going to need to continue to perform well as a blocker while contributing a bit more to the passing game. He should have every chance to do that under Dennison, but whether he takes advantage of the opportunity is largely on him.

Scouting Notes | WR Brandon Reilly

Undrafted free agent wide receiver Brandon Reilly is in a familiar situation coming into Buffalo Bills training camp. That is, once again, Reilly has to prove himself. He primarily played hockey in high school and started football late, but he was still able to earn an all-state honorable mention his senior year. Reilly had offers from several small schools to play football, but he chose to walk on at Nebraska.

He chose to redshirt his first season at Nebraska (2012) and put in the work to hone his skills, which earned him a scholarship prior to his sophomore season.

His mental toughness and willingness to compete to earn every rep was his path to the NFL. It’s not the most common path, but he is the type of guy that obviously caught the eyes of some of the Bills’ scouts, so lets take a look at some of the things that the Nebraska native will be bringing to Buffalo. In order to do that, we have to give some context to how he was utilized at Nebraska. Here is his ‘heat map’, thanks to Krossover:

 

What stood out to me were his targets (volume) in the short area and deep quadrants. In the short game, Reilly was targeted 21 times. This is an area in which he could help Buffalo. His decent size, 6’1 1/2″ and 212 lbs, is average, but he does play bigger than his frame.

Reilly runs a drag route across the middle on third down. The defender lines him up for the big hit. Reilly absorbs the blow and converts the first down.

 

In 2016, according to Pro Football Focus, Reilly averaged 1.9 yards per route run, which isn’t necessarily impressive. However, it was better than Jehu Chesson (Michigan), Noah Brown (Ohio State), and even Speedy Noil (Texas A&M). He isn’t creative with the ball in his hands, but he knows how to utilize his body to shield defenders. Just because he is matched up against more athletic players doesn’t mean he can’t win.

On this play, he runs a nice route on third down. The corner breaks hard on the comeback route, but Reilly is able to frame the pass while shielding the defender — another 3rd down conversion by the senior. Having a receiver that can be counted upon to body a defender in critical situations could do wonders for Tyrod Taylor.

 

I watched every target by Reilly from his senior season, and he was consistently converting first downs, and typically doing so in traffic. He is an intelligent player who always knows where the chains are and how he needs to adjust his route in order to convert. On this play, the defense plays cover 4 as Reilly runs a deep in-breaking route. The safety and corner are reading the release of the #2 receiver. If the #2 receiver doesn’t get vertical, then the safety is taught to help over the top of #1. As a result, Reilly is bracketed, but he still manages to find a soft spot in between the two defensive backs. He does a great job of adjusting to the ball, as it is thrown a little off target and on a rope.

 

On film, Reilly won’t wow you with his straight line speed or burst to make splash plays down the field, especially if you are trying to translate those traits to the NFL. However, if put in the proper situations, then he can make plays deep. On this play versus Wyoming, he does a great job of gaining inside leverage versus the defensive back and laying out to make the catch.

 

The ability to adjust to inaccurate throws while the ball is in the air is one of his strengths, and one that could also help the oft inaccurate Tyrod Taylor. Reilly makes it look natural. On this play, Reilly is in the slot on 3rd and 9. He easily beats the slot defender deep, but the ball is severely under-thrown. Reilly displays his ability to track the ball and adjust to throw, all while using his frame to reel in the pass with a defender draped on him.

 

The traits displayed by Reilly on the previous play are really what the Bills saw on film. He continuously shows the ability to track, adjust, and bring in passes. He was often utilized in the slot, responsible for running seam and vertical routes, very similar to former Bill Chris Hogan.

He is able to keep his eye on the prize and bring in passes with soft hands, even in situations in which a QB may be leading him into a big hit.

 

Tyrod Taylor didn’t have quite the success on deep passes in 2016 that he did in 2015, but most of that had to do with WR Sammy Watkins being out of the lineup for half the season. Taylor had to rely on WR Marquise Goodwin, who is not a multi-dimensional receiver. Goodwin only ran 2-3 routes in a route tree, and his number one trait was his speed. So, if he didn’t separate with his speed, then he was nonexistent down the field.



Reilly brings a different sort of down-the-field weapon arsenal. As mentioned earlier, he won’t lift the top off a coverage; he is going to win down the field with his ability to track and adjust his body to the throw. This is an element the offense has been lacking with Taylor at the helm. Besides Watkins, Taylor has not trusted his receivers enough to just throw back shoulder passes or jump balls. The only WR Taylor trusted to do so last season was the one pass to Justin Hunter versus the Jaguars.

 

Reilly doesn’t have the height or overall athleticism of Hunter, but he does show an aptitude for making plays while covered. Taylor can trust in Reilly to compete for the ball all the way through the process, even when he is not open. This is a trait that often falls by the wayside when discussing receivers.

 

Brandon Reilly may be a long shot to make the roster, but he is going to put up a fight. That’s just who he is. In fact, decided to join the Bills due to the competition at the position:

“Definitely the roster. They don’t have too many veteran guys. They lost a couple guys that played last year. They drafted one receiver in the second, but they said it’s open competition and that’s exactly what I wanted to hear. That’s what I did at Nebraska is earn a spot, and I hope to do that again.”

Not only will it be an open competition, but the skills that he is bringing to the Bills line up perfectly with what they want to do schematically, and they can help third year starter Tyrod Taylor. He will have to flash those skills as often as possible in his reps once training camp begins.

Scouting Notebook | CB Greg Mabin

The Buffalo Bills’ roster underwent a dramatic makeover this offseason, especially in the secondary. The Bills were not only looking to fill starting positions, but also looking to add depth. On June 1st, the organization signed 6’2″ cornerback Greg Mabin. The former Iowa Buckeye has already had an uphill battle since going undrafted this year. He initially signed as a UDFA with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he was subsequently released, before finally signing with Buffalo.

His path has been a rocky one, but if you look at his career at Iowa, he was solid. He played in 35 games in three years, and that was with his 2016 season cut short due to an ankle injury. Throughout those 35 games, he did show flashes.

Mabin comes from a well-coached defense led by Phil Parker. Under Parker, the Hawkeyes’ defense was ranked 13th in total defense and 19th in pass efficiency in the NCAA. You can tell that Parker, who is also the secondary coach, preaches tackling. All 11 defenders get downhill and are not afraid to lay the lumber. That includes Mabin, and I imagine this trait is what caught McDermott’s and the staff’s eyes.

 

He doesn’t shy away from contact, whether it is a pulling tackle or a fullback coming to blow him up. However, he is able to disengage and make the tackle. On this play he reads run, flies to the ball, leads with his hands, absorbs the blow and recovers, and is still able to get his body into a position to uncoil his hips into the back.

 

The coverages executed by the Iowa defense weren’t overly complicated like those at Clemson, but the players were obviously well-versed in the concepts. Mabin showed the ability to play just about any coverage, but his strength was definitely in zone coverage. Specifically, he excelled in off zone coverage. It allowed him to get his eyes on the QB and read the depth of the drop, all while keeping the receiver in his peripheral. On the following play, Mabin does just that. He understands the down and distance, and he sees the quick set by the QB in conjunction with the short hitch by the receiver. Parker often puts his defensive backs in a shuffle, rather than a backpedal. Here, it allows him to break quickly on the ball and use his long arms to get a piece of the pass.

 

His 2016 season was average; he didn’t really get his hands on the ball too often. However, if you go back to his junior season, where he reeled in two interceptions, you can see why the Bills organization wants to see if their staff can develop him.

The first one occurred on a double reverse pass. As the #1 WR motions to receive the jet sweep handoff, Mabin tightens his alignment to the tight end. The ball is snapped, and he doesn’t chase the sweep action. Instead, he immediately gains depth to stay in his deep third.

 

The Illini receiver, Geronimo Allison, receives the second pitch and throws it deep to the tight end. This allows Mabin to make the easy interception. Mabin displayed very good zone eyes and execution on this play.

 

His second interception of 2015 was even prettier. The offense runs play action with a post-dig route combination, otherwise known as the ‘NCAA’ concept. In essence, it is a high-low concept attacking the single high safety. If he jumps the dig, which he did on this play, then the QB throws the post. Due to the blitz and the vulnerability of the coverage, the safety jumps the dig (possibly by design).

 

Mabin continues to gain depth because he recognizes the route combination. He gets on his horse and high points the ball for the interception.

 

I don’t think it is a secret that Mabin is a long shot to make the roster, but he does possess some traits that the coaches are looking for in their cornerbacks. Of those traits, tackling is first and foremost. Mabin possesses not only the willingness to come up and make a tackle, but also a surprising aptitude for it. He uses really good form and is able to get his body into position to explode through the offensive player. This should be of no surprise, since he played under Kirk Ferentz, whose teams are always technically sound.

Cover 4, Cover 3, soft press and tight man coverages

 

Mabin is still considered a project player, but he’s a player with a skill set that, if sharpened, could help him make a roster one day.

Will Cardale Jones make the Bills’ roster in 2017?

When the Buffalo Bills cut former head coach Rex Ryan loose at the end of 2016 and replaced him with Sean McDermott, one of the assumptions was that all of “Rex’s guys” would be leaving town with him. That was taken to another level when the Bills canned ex-general manager Doug Whaley right after the 2017 NFL Draft.

While the coaching staff was obviously purged, more or less (only special teams coordinator Danny Crossman remains from last year’s staff), the roster still contains a number of players who were products of the old regime. Some will obviously stick around, while others likely won’t be able to transition to the schemes put in place by McDermott and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison.

One of the more interesting names on the roster to consider is second-year quarterback Cardale Jones. Of the four signal callers currently on the Bills, Jones is the only one who hasn’t signed a new contract since McDermott was hired. That’s not to say that he’s an absolute goner, but the Bills aren’t going to keep four quarterbacks on the roster, and the new regime has already actively committed to three of them. At the very least, it doesn’t bode well for the former Buckeye.

How does Jones fit into the new offense? Dennison runs a West Coast offense, which is reliant on quick reads and even quicker throws. To this end, Jones struggles quite a bit. Let’s take a look at his single snippet of regular-season action last year, in the fourth quarter of the Bills’ season-ending 30-10 loss to the New York Jets.

Here’s his first pass of the day.

The Bills ran with 12 personnel, 17% of the plays under Greg Roman and Anthony Lynn in 2016. On this play, you can see Robert Woods cut across the field in motion. However, once the play starts, Jones forgets about him. He immediately looks toward Sammy Watkins and shuffles his feet twice before hitting Sammy on a shallow out route for a five-yard gain.

This was an issue with Jones for the entire quarter. Tyrod Taylor is often knocked for limiting himself to half-field reads, but Jones doesn’t seem to move past his initial target all that often. That ended up burning him later in the quarter.

The Bills are in 12 personnel with the wide receivers in tight alignments, so the Jets understandably pack the box with eight defenders. After the snap, Jones quickly identifies Justin Hunter as an open target, but he stares Hunter down and shuffles his feet. It’s not much, but Calvin Pryor has noticed by this point that there’s little-to-no progression in Jones’s game. Not to mention, but this mirrored hitch/flat concept was run earlier in the game. Pryor breaks on the ball, and while he doesn’t come up with the ball, he sets up Darrelle Revis for an easy interception.


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Now, Jones is capable of playing much better than this. Let’s look at one of his highlight-reel throws from Ohio State, this one against Alabama in the 2014 College Football Playoff semi-final.

Cardale holds the safeties with his eyes. This causes the play side safety to break late. At that point, Jones’s superior arm strength leads him down the field and allows Devin Smith to widen his stem further, away from the safety. It is too much for even the vaunted Crimson Tide defense to overcome.

So, how does that talent translate to the West Coast offense? Despite the short-yardage tendencies, there is room for a big arm in such a system, to an extent. Dennison’s Denver Broncos rolled with former seventh-round afterthought Trevor Siemian for much of last season, but he did make an effort to utilize standout receivers Demaryius Thomas (1,083 yards on 90 receptions) and Emmanuel Sanders (1,032 yards on 79 receptions).

Here’s a nice, long touchdown pass from Siemian to Thomas at the end of the Broncos’ 29-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3.

The Broncos line up with a trips look and Thomas split wide to the bottom of the screen. Siemian gives the play time to develop, but he underthrows it slightly, forcing Thomas to slow down at the point of reception. While he’s able to win the f50/50 ball and jog into the end zone, a quarterback with a stronger arm (cough cough) could have made that play work without the risk of an interception.

On the other side of the coin, here’s Siemian’s first interception of the Broncos’ 25-23 win over the New Orleans Saints in Week 10.

The Broncos run a ‘Tosser concept’ which is two slants to the field. Despite having two receivers in his field of vision, Siemian isn’t able to convince anybody that Jerious Norwood (11) is the target, including the nickel back, Sterling Moore. When Norwood breaks inside, Moore skips right by him and nabs the pass on its way to Sanders. As you’ll notice by the yardage markers, that pick cost the Broncos at least three points (and could have cost them the game, were it not for a flukey ending involving a blocked extra point).

Last season, Siemian completed 59.5% of his passes for 3,401 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions for the Broncos, who started 7-3, before dropping four of their final six games to finish outside of the playoffs the year after winning the Super Bowl.

Could Cardale Jones have done better? Probably not, given that Siemian had a couple of years to learn Dennison’s offense before taking the helm. That said, what little we’ve seen from Jones doesn’t seem to suggest that he’d be too far off, given some time.

Now, the big question is whether or not he’ll have a chance to take that time. As I mentioned earlier, Jones is the only quarterback on the roster who negotiated his current contract prior to the arrival of McDermott. It’s also worth noting that he has practice squad eligibility, which could make that a prime destination if his summer goes only moderately well.

If he’s able to impress in camp, however, he could easily beat out Nathan Peterman or T.J. Yates for a roster spot. I wouldn’t bank on it, but it’s certainly possible.

Sleight of Hand

 

The November 12th matchup between the 5-4 Pittsburgh Panthers and the 9-0 Clemson Tigers was not supposed to be a 43-42 barn burner, but it turned out to be just that. There was a large disparity in talent so much so the Tigers were upwards of a 19 point favorite to win the game.

That’s because if you look up and down Clemson’s roster, you will see a plethora of possible future first round talents. Which is remarkable considering the talent they lost, but also lost was a ton of experience on the defensive side of the ball via the 2016 NFL draft. That included six defensive starters.

Clemson
ALL PLAYERS ROUND PK(OVR) DRAFTED BY POS HT WT GRADE POS RANK OVR RANK
Shaq Lawson News 1 19(19) Buffalo Bills DE 6’2⅝” 269 90 3 17
Kevin Dodd News 2 2(33) Tennessee Titans DE 6’5″ 277 87 4 33
Mackensie Alexander News 2 23(54) Minnesota Vikings CB 5’10⅜” 190 81 7 48
T.J. Green News 2 26(57) Indianapolis Colts S 6’2½” 209 70 8 99
B.J. Goodson News 4 11(109) NY Giants ILB 6’0⅝” 242 69 4 106
Charone Peake News 7 20(241) NY Jets WR 6’2⅜” 209 68 13 117
Jayron Kearse News 7 23(244) Minnesota Vikings S 6’4″ 216 61 16 141
D.J. Reader News 5 27(166) Houston Texans DT 6’2⅝” 327 61 17 143
Eric Maclain News OG 6’4⅜” 313 30 24
Travis Blanks News S 6’0″ 212 30 30
Zac Brooks News 7 26(247) Seattle Seahawks RB 5’11½” 200 30 38
Joe Gore News OT 6’5½” 304 30 50
D J Reader News DT 0′” 340 0
T J Green News S 0′” 209 0
Joe Gore News T 0′” 283 0

 

Even with all of that experience and talent lost, they were a top ten defense in 2016 because they were coached well and their scheme allowed them to play fast. This is why Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s scheme and game plan was such a thing of beauty.

Defensive coordinator Brett Venables had his unit prepared for certain plays and looks, but there was no way that their scout team could execute the ‘sleight of hand’ that the Pittsburgh offense brought that day.


 


Rather than try to match up mono y mono, something that the Pittsburgh offense couldn’t do on their best day, Canada used his scheme as the equalizer. He utilized a lot of shifts, motions, and exotic looks to force the Tigers’ defenders to think rather than react. The layers of ‘eye candy’ tested Clemson’s discipline from the time the Panthers’ offense ran onto the field until the final whistle.

On the first drive, Canada sends out 22 personnel (2 RBs, 2 TEs) and aligns them in a goal line type set, but then shifts to 5 wide. The unorthodox set, shift and personnel was the ‘eye candy’ needed to attack corner Cordrea Tankersley.

 

Canada and his staff knew Tankersley’s strengths and technique. He’s a very aggressive press and bail corner, and the coaches put him in situations to take chances and create turnovers. So, when Cordrea saw the personnel — TE Jaymar Parrish and star running back James Conner into the boundary — he immediately keyed on Conner. Post-snap, the Tigers bring a six man pressure, so Tankersley knows that Peterman has to get rid of it quickly and that he LOVES throwing passes into the boundary. Peterman one-steps and points his shoulder to throw to Conner, so Tankersely jumps the out route, leaving Parrish wide open. Peterman shows off his poise and touch leading Parrish out front, which swings the field position for the Panthers.

 

On the very same drive, the Panthers utilize the same personnel grouping. This time, though, they attack inside linebacker Kendall Joseph. Joseph is a fast flow linebacker who only had 12 games under his belt at this point. At times, he leaves his keys, and that’s exactly why Canada attacked him. Pitt again aligns in a five wide set with 22 personnel in the game, motions a couple times, and uses RB Conner as the ‘eye candy’ with jet sweep action. Joseph loses his eye discipline and widens to the jet sweep action, even though that is not his responsibility.

 

The ‘eye candy’, paired with the power read shovel pass, caused Joseph to improperly react and ultimately took him out of position. This allowed the “less superior athlete” (FB Aston) the opportunity to break a tackle and get into the end zone. This play would be replicated on several occasions throughout the game, and the Tigers could not stop it.

 

At the 9:44 mark of the second quarter, the Panthers’ offense got another crack at the drive, after Clemson committed a pass interference penalty on 3rd and 1o. Canada calls a deep shot. Pre snap, the strength of the offense is into the boundary, but they motion the tight end and full back and settle in with the strength to the field.

 

Post snap, they run play action to Conner to the boundary, and Peterman half rolls to his left.

Peterman’s roll out action and eye manipulation of sophomore safety Van Smith (17 games played at this point) allow tight end Scott Orndoff to sneak out while matched up with Ben Boulware. Coverage is not Boulware’s forte. Rather, he’s an instinctive, downhill player. The play design got the Panthers’ most consistent receiver, Orndoff, one-on-one with Boulware.

Peterman stops his half roll, swings his hips around, and throws it deep and where only Orndoff can catch it. This was another multi-layered play with a dash of deception built into it, and topped of with very good mechanics by the senior QB.

 

Pittsburgh continuously attacked up the middle, as it is the quickest way to get upfield, stay ahead of the chains, and downright demoralize a defense. They consistently attacked the linebackers in the pass and run game. The power blocking concepts helped the less talented Panthers offensive line secure the Clemson front at the point of attack. The motion and play design forced mental mistakes by the defensive unit as a whole the whole day. For example, take the following play.

Pittsburgh again uses motion to confuse the Tigers’ defenders. The series of motions appears to be the ‘trick’ that caused a blown assignment by LB Joseph.

After motion

 

The play is made to look very similar to the shovel pass that was run earlier in the game. It shows the same read keys for Joseph, and he and safety Tanner Muse both key the FB Aston.

 

Peterman plays the part of the magician. He fakes the shovel, uses his eyes to hold Muse, remains calm, and throws an accurate pass off platform as LB Boulware closes in. It was a pretty design and excellent execution by Peterman.

 

As you may have noticed, Peterman played a huge part in Pittsburgh’s ability to use the ‘sleight of hand’ to beat an uber-talented Tigers defense. Of all the QBs that entered the 2017 draft, Peterman had some of the tightest mechanics, understood all of the nuances of playing the position and they were on full display during this game.

On the following play, the Panthers again motion two times and add the jet action into a simple inside zone run play. With so many layers to the play prior to the snap, the Tigers’ defenders were already questioning themselves.

 

This includes defensive end Christian Wilkins, the Nagurski finalist and Bednarik semifinalist. He is arguably one of Clemson’s best players, and surely the most versatile. Wilkins had several false keys thrown at him on this play. Post snap, the H-release by Aston, along with the jet action, cause Wilkins to second guess himself. Wilkins who is 6’4″, 310 pounds is is unblocked and that is an unusual position for a guy of his size to be in. Initially, he takes a good angle to Conner, but then changes direction as Peterman carries out the bootleg.

This leaves a massive cutback lane, and Conner hits it. This was another fine example of the offense utilizing everything in their arsenal to cause elite defenders to hesitate instead of play fast.

 

Pat Narduzzi’s Pittsburgh Panthers definitely threw a wrench in Clemson’s perfect season. However, the credit should go to the Panthers’ offense and offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Canada used an array of deception to cause the Tigers’ defenders to play at a much slower pace. He challenged their ability to mentally process plays at their typical game speed by using pre snap motions, shifts, and creative play designs. This game was an exercise in how a well coached and executed scheme can be the equalizer on gameday.

 



Players who stuck out on film:

Nathan Peterman-Displayed very good eye discipline, the ability to manipulate defenders with his eyes in order to get the ball to his primary wide receiver. Absolutely loved his decision making in the game. Pre-snap he was often asked to decipher the defensive coverages or alignments based on the myriad of motions, keep the play called or kill it. On the read shovel passes made the correct reads and decisions on whether to give, keep or shovel. Flashed his underrated athletic ability to extend plays or to get outside of the pocket and throw on the run. Displayed the ability to make accurate throws while under duress from inside the pocket and with defenders at his feet. Consistently kept his eyes downfield even when he had to slide in the pocket and or climb the pocket. His mechanics are top notch. Exhibits very good ball handling skills on hand offs and play action fakes, carries out ‘QB keepers’, and overall made every play look the same making it difficult on defenders. Lastly, he was always poised and in control. Late in the game he led the offense down the field with great decision making and two very accurate passes to Orndoff to put his kicker in position to win the game.

 

His throwing on the run was much worse in this game than other games viewed this season. His accuracy suffered, he failed to complete a few passes due to an improper amount of velocity on the throw.

 

James Conner-Conner was the catalyst for the Panthers offense and that was with the Tigers knowing he would be. Showed good balance and lateral agility especially immediately prior to contact. Conner exhibited very good patience, pressing the line of scrimmage on zone runs. His vision was top notch in this game, worked through front side reads and cut it back if needed. Consistently used his off-hand to stiff arm or to sift through garbage. In the passing game, he did a solid job of cutting defenders when he needed to and knowing when to check release into a route. He also did a great job of carrying out all play action fakes and displayed soft hands in the passing game.

 

Dexter Lawrence-I thought Dexter was almost un-blockable in the run game. The Pitt offensive line could not block him one on one. Versus the run he did a great job of keying the ball, maintaining gap integrity then bench pressing the offensive players en route to the running back. Overall was hit or miss as a pass rusher. Exhibited good burst off the ball early in drives along with solid lateral agility on stunts and twists. Displayed a nice arm over move and bull rush but at times looked gassed after a series of 4-5plays.

 

Episode #25 Roster Updates and Depth Chart Preview

Thoughts from all the completed OTAs/Minicamps, Depth Chart shape up, Current roster needs, Battles to watch for in TC, and Spring/Summer predictions on where the team will finish.

 

Audio version:

Buffalo Bills Rushing Attack vs Bengals

The Bills’ #1 rushing attack gained 183 yards and 1 TD on 34 attempts vs the Bengals in week 11. It was another game where the running game relied on advancing the ball along the perimeter. Of their 183 yards, 103 were gained outside the tight end, including five of the eight missed tackles forced.

Starting running back LeSean McCoy injured his thumb at the end of the first half and didn’t return, and he was the only player to get into the end zone. Touchdown Mike Gillislee carried the load and finished the game with 72 yards and managed to average 5.1 per clip. He was the highest graded offensive player, per Pro Football Focus, and once again the ground game was the catalyst for a Bills win in Cincinnati.

 

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