Bills vs. Patriots | Position to Shine

Week four came to a close in Foxborough, and the Bills got on a flight back to Western New York with a win. The score only says 16-0, but the Bills absolutely dominated the game from the first whistle.

Game plans on both sides of the ball were executed as well as they could have been by the Bills. Let’s start on defense. The Bills knew that their first priority was to shut down the league’s #1 rusher, LeGarrette Blount. The Brady-less Pats molded their offense around the big back, and it had been paying dividends, that is, up until they met the Bills defense.

Dennis Thurman created a spectacular game plan to shut Blount down, which put pressure on rookie QB Jacoby Brissett. Blount carried the rock 13 times for 54 yds, with his longest run being a 16 yarder in the second half. However, the most telling statistic on the day was that, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he didn’t create any missed tackles. The Bills defense wrapped the 250+ pound back up and didn’t allow him to break any tackles all afternoon.

Zach Brown reads the run, so he gets downhill.

 

On obvious down and distance situations, Thurman stacked the box with one more player than the offensive line could block. They were not scared of Brissett, and the game plan showed it.

1st-and-10 and the Pats bring out 21 personnel, so the Bills stack the box by adding Corey Graham to the mix. Thurman aligns Kyle Williams in a 3 technique, Adolphus Washington in a 5 technique and Jerry Hughes outside the tight end. The defense is in a 4-3 under look, which makes it difficult for the Pats to run zone schemes. Graham is the unblocked defender and he brings down Blount with a sure tackle.

 

The Bills defense was able to limit Blount’s ability to cause missed tackles because the inside linebackers were kept clean by the defensive line. The defensive line, and specifically Kyle Williams, did the dirty work of occupying double teams. His execution of the little things allowed the Brown brothers to make plays, and that is the aim of Rex Ryan’s defense.

Kyle Williams is aligned at the 4i technique, just inside the tackle. This is perfect because the Pats try running right at him using a power scheme. So, the guard and tackle are supposed to doubleteam Kyle, but Kyle does a great job of recognizing the double, dropping his knee to anchor down. Alexander also puts up a fight and doesn’t let the tight end wash him down. The backside guard pulls and Zach Brown sifts over the top, pouncing at the perfect time. Great run defense by the Bills.

 

The Bills plan of containing the Patriots run game was executed successfully. They held the Pats to 90 yds on 22 attempts. They set the tone early in the game by punishing Blount and Brissett anytime the ball was in their hands. By the end of the game, the defensive unit had forced 3 fumbles.

The player that was all over the field against the run and the pass was Zach Brown. According to PFF, Brown finished the game with 1 sack, 1 QB hit, 14 solo tackles and 11 stops. Four of those stops came against the run, which was tied for the second-highest total for inside linebackers in week 4 in the entire NFL. Let’s take a look at what he has brought to the Bills and how his abilities have strengthened the defense.

 

The versatility this season at the linebacker position is ten times better than last season, even without Reggie Ragland. That should be of no surprise, knowing GM Doug Whaley’s history of scouting linebacker talent. Having a player with Zach Brown’s abilities has allowed the staff to devise ways to shut down half of the field.

Here Brown is, locked up with the running back, while Ronald Darby is manned up with the WR. This allows Thurman to focus on covering the trips bunch formation to the field. Aaron Williams does a fantastic job of making a play on the ball.

Sure, the Patriots offense was shorthanded without Brady, but let’s not act like they don’t have weapons that can still win them games. The Bills did a tremendous job of limiting their possessions. New England had 10 possessions, and that limited the touches by their stars, Julian Edelman, Martellus Bennett, and Rob Gronkowski. By the end of the game, Edelman had only been targeted two times, catching one pass for a mere 16 yds. Unable to get into a rhythm, the Pats offense went 1/12 on third downs in the game. The defensive staff gets another A+ for their game plan, and the execution was carried out masterfully. This gave the offense enough opportunities to get some points on the board.

Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn put together another efficient game plan. It wasn’t a boom-or-bust style, like we have seen under this regime before. The Bills controlled the clock for 36 minutes and 11 seconds. They averaged 5.2 yds/play and were able to run 73 plays on 9 drives.

Surprisingly, most of the Bills’ major damage was done through the air. Everyone in the stadium and at home knew that the Bills were going to feature Charles Clay and LeSean McCoy, and Lynn didn’t shy away from getting them involved early. In fact, Lynn either got the ball to them or used them as decoys for most of the game.

After a first down run by Shady that nets very little yardage, Lynn calls a play action pass to Charles Clay. Take a look:

 

If Clay wasn’t getting the ball on pass plays, then he was being used to make the read easy for Tyrod Taylor. On this play, the Patriots were so focused on shutting Clay down that the techniques they were using to drop into their zones left McCoy open.

 

Shady finished the game with 6 targets and 6 receptions for 38 yds and one touchdown. The lone touchdown of the game was a play that was not only designed well, but also showed off Lynn’s understanding of the rules.

 

Shady had a modest day on the ground, compiling 70 yds on 19 attempts. This game resembled the Bills’ running game of 2016: the Bills got their playmakers on the edges. According to PFF, the Bills totaled 134 yds rushing, 104 of which were gained on rushes to the outside.

Instead of running the slow developing, pin-and-pull handoff, Lynn used pitches and QB runs on several occasions. This got the ball on the perimeter much more quickly.

 

When you look at this offensive set on 1st-and-10, you can still see a signature of the Greg Roman playbook. Shady shows off how special he is. The defense can load the box and execute their responsibilities, but Shady is an assignment beater.

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Anthony Lynn used many of the running plays that we are accustomed to seeing, but he ran them from several different offensive sets. Here is a fullback/guard counter trey from an unbalanced pistol formation.

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Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn and new play caller Dennis Thurman have created very good game plans in back-to-back weeks. The teams that they have coached against are no slouches, either. You can see that Lynn has taken ownership of the offense.

Lynn’s offensive approach has given Taylor more control over the offense at the line of scrimmage.


Thurman’s defensive game plans have shut down one of the most prolific offenses in the Arizona Cardinals, and have contained the league’s #1 rusher (at the time) in Legarrette Blount. During the past two weeks, the defensive communication and personnel groupings have been quite dynamic.

Here is a 1-4-6 defense against the Pats.

 

This team will continue to get better in the next few weeks. Marcell Dareus returns this week against the LA Rams, while 1st round draft pick Shaq Lawson is slated to return in week 7 against the Miami Dolphins.

If we have learned anything about this team in the last two weeks, it’s that the coaching staff is now putting their players in a position to shine.

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