Regardless of the scheme, Corbin Bryant’s intelligence and effort always shine through.
One of the main reasons that the Bills are currently 7-8 this year are due to the injuries. Currently the Bills are ranked 23rd in total defense and allow 22.8 points a game which is 16th in the league. A tremendous drop off from last year. They have also allowed the 15th most rushing yards in the league. All of the issues on the defensive side revolve around the new scheme and the injuries at key positions. Specifically, to Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kyle Williams. When Kyle Williams was injured on October 18th against the Bengals, his backup Corbin Bryant stepped in admirably. Kyle not only produced on the field but he also was one of the few leaders in the locker room. Bryant hasn’t put up eye opening numbers, but his football intelligence and relentless effort shines through when watching film on the Bills.
Bryant has played 610 snaps on the year, 330 snaps in pass defense and 280 versus the run according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). PFF has him rated as the 54th best interior defender in the league with a 75 rating. When you look at his statistics for the year he only has 40 combined tackles and zero sacks. But 17 of those combined tackles occurred over the last four games. Well, what is so special about what he has done this year? He is doing things that don’t show up in the box score, he is taking charge of the defensive line and making sure they know their assignments.
One of Bryant’s strengths coming out of college was his intelligence. According to NFLdraftscout.com writer Chad Reuter stated that one of Byrant’s strengths was that he was an “intelligent player who keeps his eyes in the backfield and does not get fooled by misdirection.”
It is no secret that defensive players have expressed their frustration with the defense. How complex it is, the different checks and multiple assignments that each player may have. Bryant was not one of those players. If you watch the games closely you can find Bryant assisting or communicating with his fellow defensive lineman on assignments. Take a look:
The Bills are in nickel defense vs. the Cowboys 5 wide set. Although the defensive play-call, a defensive line stunt did not work correctly look at Bryant pre-snap. Mario is looking at Bryant to get the proper assignment down. Worthy and Hughes slant across the formation and Bryant loops over the top. The communication is key to Mario because he needs to know that Bryant will stunting away from Mario’s side.
This play was crucial. It’s a 3rd and goal play, the Bills are in a true 3-4 defense. Again, Bryant can be seen directing the defensive line. Bryant is making sure that Mario and Charles know the stunt that they will be executing. On the snap Charles and Bryant slant to their left as Mario loops over the top. The pass is a fade to the back of the end zone, it is incomplete and the Cowboys are forced to kick the field goal.
The Bills are in nickel defense. Bryant is making sure that one of the newer additions, Jerel Worthy knows his assignment. Both defensive tackles are one gap players here. They take on the double teams to free up the linebackers. Bryant doesn’t really possess the lower body strength to handle double teams regularly but the effort is there. Worthy does his job too, it gives Lawson the ability to roam free to make the tackle.
Chad Reuter also stated that Bryant is “agile enough to track down ball carriers in the backfield, has speed to chase them down from behind.” That kind of effort and motor was quite noticeable in the last game as well. Take a look:
The Bills appear to be a hybrid front. Bryant is a two gap player on this play. Bryant shoots the gap and chases down Mcfadden for a loss on the play.
Bryant doesn’t make the tackle here but his hustle forces the timing of the stretch run play to break down. You can see he and Hughes communicating before the snap. The angle taken by Bryant forces Turbin to bounce it outside where Ron Brooks makes the tackle.
The Bills are in a true 3-4 on this play. By design the nose tackle and play-side 5 technique defensive end shoot the backside gap, but on this play it opens up a big lane. Bryant tracks down the runner from the opposite side of the field.
Not many plays by Bryant have been game-changers. That is not the kind of player he is. But he played in Pettine’s 3-4 defense in 2013, he’s played in Schwartz’ 4-3 Wide 9 defense and he has played in this hybrid defense. He has been retained over the years for two reasons. First, his intelligence. He like many others have had to learn several defenses in just a few years. Not only has he learned it, but he has executed and can be seen helping others figure out their assignments. Second is his effort. Bryant doesn’t take plays off, he may make mistakes, he may get eaten up by a blocker but he attacks on every single play. He has been a solid role player the last few years. Did he fit Pettine’s system? Does he fit Rex Ryan’s current system? No, probably not but his intelligence and effort have never wavered.