All 22 Breakdowns
As everyone knows, the NFL is a passing league. That’s why there aren’t many fullbacks left in today’s game. According to Football Outsiders (FO), only six fullbacks played over 25% of their teams’ offensive snaps in 2016. Former lead back for Buffalo, Jerome Felton, was one of those six, having participated in 30.5% of the team’s offensive snaps. He truly made a difference for Buffalo’s #1 rushing attack and really seized his opportunity after being cut early in the season.
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) December 7, 2016
The problem with Felton was that he is cut from the same cloth as fullbacks of yore: downhill thumpers who use power and contact to clear holes for backs. But the role of fullbacks in today’s game has advanced. Enter Patrick DiMarco.
Buffalo signed the talented fullback early on in free agency, and it was a sign that Buffalo was not going to change their offensive philosophy. Rather, they were just going to tweak it. As much as Felton brought in the run game, he was not a player that could be relied upon to block moving defenders in the open field or make a difference in the passing game like DiMarco.
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he was the fourth highest graded fullback overall, first in run blocking, and the third highest graded receiver out of the backfield (FBs with over 100 receiving snaps). DiMarco is one of the best fullbacks in the game, and it’s because he offers more athleticism and versatility than what we’re used to.
Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison is used to having fullbacks who bring that style of play. In Dennison’s zone blocking scheme, the fullback isn’t asked to just get downhill and put a helmet on a helmet. DiMarco, who played in the same exact system in Atlanta, is asked to move a lot pre-snap to outflank defenses and use angles to seal off defenders.
In zone blocking, simply put, the lineman are working combo blocks to the second level in the direction of the run. This moves gaps horizontally, in turn testing defenders’ run gap integrity.
This is a far cry from a power run game where the tailback has a specific landmark to aim for (e.g. the 4 or 6 hole). DiMarco is asked to lead, read the flow of the linebackers, and use angles to block defenders, all while keeping options open for the running back. This is something that he is very adept at doing.
As you will see in the following clips, DiMarco utilized his athleticism to get out into the open and cut defenders down, which opened up creases for Devonta Freeman. The one cut ability of Freeman and Tevin Coleman, paired with DiMarco’s ability to create lanes for backs at the second level, led to the league’s 5th best rushing attack.
Did you notice anything in the prior two clips? They were runs to the weak side. Why is that important? It’s the cornerstone to the play action passing game that has made this system famous. Matt Ryan ran play action 27.6% (#1) of his passing snaps in 2016, and a lot of those passes were off of run actions like these. The zone run game helped Ryan increase his yards per attempt by +2.8 yards on play action vs. normal drop back passes. The defense is going to have one hell of a time defending these zone runs with Shady and Tyrod Taylor at the helm . . . but that’s an analysis for another day.
Let’s get back on track. As I mentioned earlier, Dennison is used to having a fullback with similar skills to DiMarco. Here’s a clip from Rico’s tenure in Baltimore when he had FB Kyle Juszczyk. Juszczyk uses angles to take Kuechly where he wants to go, giving RB Justin Forsett the ability to cut it back. How important is the role of DiMarco and Juszczyk? Juszczyk hit the jackpot by signing a 21 million dollar deal in San Francisco with new Head Coach Kyle Shanahan . . .
I don’t want to sell DiMarco short. Yes, he uses his speed, angles, and ability to target, but can he lead with power at the point of attack? Absolutely. He can dominate safeties and linebackers, which is often a difficult task to carry out, due to those types of players’ athletic prowess.
Having a guy like DiMarco on the field also helps dictate matchups. Yes, I said it; a fullback helps dictate matchups. This occurs in the run and the pass game. In the run game, DiMarco’s movement often helps the offense outflank a defense or gives blockers angles to execute.
For example, on the following play, DiMarco aligns in the backfield. In this 21 personnel set, the defense will have eight to nine people in or around the line of scrimmage, but more importantly, they will have a sound defensive structure.
As he motions out wide, the defenders bump out, which lightens the box to around seven/eight, but more importantly, the defense loses a linebacker in the tackle box. This is because by motioning wide, the offense is creating another run gap that the defense must account for.
This creates a HUGE bubble for the offense, and Shanahan attacks with inside zone.
This was all set up from a little movement by DiMarco. When used correctly, it is like poetry in motion. Watch it unfold.
Atlanta used him EVERYWHERE. There were times where he was split wide in empty sets, in the slot in 3×1 sets, and even as the lone back in the backfield with check release responsibilities.
A staple of this offense is by aligning the fullback out wide then motioning him to the backfield. The Falcons do just that to help Ryan decipher that it is zone coverage, so he puts them in the correct play. Post snap, he sells the run, which holds the second level defenders. He finds the single high safety, alerting him that it is zone coverage, and he is able complete the dig to Jones. That motion by DiMarco seems minor, but it makes plays like this much easier on a QB. Deciphering coverages is more than half the battle with Tyrod Taylor.
Fullbacks like Juszczyk and DiMarco are legitimate receiving threats because they are able to release into routes from the backfield. DiMarco was in a passing route 34% of his snaps in 2016, compared to Felton’s 15.5%. The ability to catch and run by a fullback allows coaches to devise ways to not only get them the ball . . .
But it can also open up passing windows for others. On the following play, the Steelers are in a cover three defense, and Juszczyk runs the wheel up the sideline. This forces Polamalu to carry him deep. This leaves a nice window for WR Steve Smith to run a pivot route. So coordinators can devise ways to get 2-3 guys into a route, all while being in 21 personnel (which will keep defenses in base personnel).
Flashback to 2016. Ryan carries out the play fake that forces the cover 2 middle defender to come screaming towards the line of scrimmage. DiMarco releases into the flat, and that widens the hook/curl defender just enough to open a gaping window for the receiver to hook up his route. This is another example of the Falcons running a three man route from 21 personnel.
DiMarco’s presence will allow the offense to maintain it’s run first philosophy, but ultimately, he will augment the passing game. Dennison will move DiMarco around and use a lot of pre snap motion to outflank defensive run fits, but also to dictate coverages.
Dennison’s wide zone runs to Shady, in addition to play action and getting Taylor on the perimeter versus zone coverage, will be tough to stop. Taylor will have not only his physical skills to rely on, but also a scheme that puts him and others in position to be more efficient. This isn’t just a boom or bust offense, but rather an offense that can stretch zone coverage horizontally, not just vertically.
So, for as much flak as the Bills took for signing fullbacks Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert, their skills will be crucial to what Dennison can do in his first year coordinating an offense.
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One of Micah Hyde’s Many Roles
Offenses in today’s NFL are in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) a majority of the game, so defenses have had to adjust. This means that defenses now have to play more nickel. But due to offensive alignments when in 11 personnel, this often causes defenses to be at a disadvantage versus the run. The amount of defenders in the box will now typically be even with the offense, and that means the offense can get a hat on a hat, which usually equates to considerable gains. That is not even taking into account the many ways that offenses can get a +1 on the defense when running plays like zone reads. So defensive coordinators have to scheme ways to combat those offensive advantages.
One way that coaches do that is with run blitzes. These are in every playbook and are often called in early down situations. Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier are well versed in this concept and strategy. That’s why they went out and got versatile safety Micah Hyde. Hyde was one of the better pass blitzers in 2016. According to Pro Football Focus, he blitzed the 2nd most in all of the league from the slot corner position, blitzing on 7.4% of his pass snaps. One can only imagine how many times he was sent as a blitzer during a run down.
There is no doubt that he will be aligned in the slot in nickel situations and asked to be the force defender, often asked to blitz on run and pass downs. It’s something that he is good at, as he displays very good key and diagnose skills. He certainly shows the ability to read run/pass quickly, take great angles on the ball, and make the tackle.
So, let’s take a look at how McDermott utilized this strategy in Carolina last season.
Other articles on Sean McDermott’s defense:
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The Buffalo Bills have signed defensive lineman Ryan Davis to a two year contract. Davis has been in the league for five seasons and has spent most of his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars. That was up until they cut him during final cuts prior to the 2016 season.
Davis signed with the Dallas Cowboys eleven days later and appeared in 155 total snaps during the 2016 season. He didn’t register a sack with Dallas, but he contributed 2 QB hits and 5 QB hurries.
According to Pro Football Focus, Davis has only appeared in 24.9% of his teams’ snaps, but has put together some decent pass rushing statistics. He has compiled 11 sacks, 16 QB hits, and 42 QB hurries, which equates to a QB pressure just about every 8 snaps in his career.
Davis has a knack for making a play on the ball, causes strip sacks and recovers fumbles. Three FF and 4 FR
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) March 13, 2017
He is a bigger defensive player that fits new head coach Sean McDermott‘s and defensive coordinator Leslie Frasier’s typical defensive end mold now weighing 275 pounds.
But when you turn on the film, it becomes clear that his skills will be best utilized on pass rushing downs. The Bills will be able to line him up on the inside at 3 tech or 4i on obvious pass rushing downs. He has the quickness to win versus centers and guards. On this play, he beats the guard inside for the sack.
***The following plays will be in the video below***
He shows speed off the snap, an arm over move, and the athleticism to change direction for the sack.
Having a rotational player with his skill set will allow the Bills to have fresh legs when the defensive tackles and defensive ends need a blow or in sub packages, something McDermott loves to implement.
He displayed some very good pass rushing moves, including the swipe, double handed swipe, swim, arm over, rip, and bull rush. The consistency to win with those moves needs to improve, but he has shown the ability to counter offensive linemen. Having an initial move, then a counter for the offensive lineman’s technique is something not many role players possess.
Davis causes a strip sack versus the Colts on this play by chopping down on the LT’s left arm and swatting it outward to give him the edge.
He then rips through, en route to QB Hasselbeck.
Doug Whaley has always done a phenomenal job of picking up talent in free agency. That talent has paid off on the field, and I expect that Davis will be another player along those lines.
Ryan Davis’ career:
He has a skill set that should pay off in a defensive system that covets players with versatility along the line. With how the staff loves to move guys around, you can be sure Davis will see his fair share of the field.
It only took about a half an hour into free agency for the Buffalo Bills to make their first big splash by signing defensive back Micah Hyde. Hyde was one of the most versatile defenders in all of free agency, and the Bills hit a home run in terms of his scheme fit and contract.
The money is modest annually, basically paying Hyde the same amount they were paying Aaron Williams. As we all know, Williams’ long term health was in question, and the organization made the right move by releasing him. The annual amount falls in line with the pay of most #3 corners (slot CB), which is where I think he will play most of his snaps.
In my opinion, Hyde offers more versatility and obviously more stability long term than Williams, at this point. Last season was Hyde’s 5th with the Packers, who drafted him in the 5th round. As much as I love the signing, I will acknowledge that it is surprising that the Packers organization didn’t re-sign him. Typically, GM Ted Thompson likes to re-sign the talent that he has hand picked. But, in the end, they have a bunch of young guys on the roster that they will move forward with.
In 2016, Hyde started most of the games from the slot corner position in Dom Capers’ defense, where he had a very productive season. He concluded the season with 50 solo tackles, including 2 sacks, 2 QB hurries, and 6 QB pressures. That’s incredible production for a guy that was labeled a ‘tweener’ coming out of college from the University of Iowa.
Hyde is 6’0″, 197 pounds and has good arm length at 31.5 inches. With Buffalo having needs at safety and cornerback, where do they plan on playing him? You’re guess is as good as mine, but he has some very good traits that will translate.
Doug Whaley has always valued speed since becoming GM of the Bills, but Hyde is not necessarily cut from that cloth. He ran the forty yard dash back in 2013 in the 4.56 range, which is right in line with safeties Tre Boston and Kurt Coleman, who were on McDermott’s defense in Carolina.
The Packers utilized Hyde as a force player in their nickel package. This is an important role nowadays because of the run support responsibilities and the type of receivers that align in the slot.
As you can imagine, Hyde has to make up for his lack of top end speed with intelligence. His ability to diagnose, process and execute is much faster than his forty time. Scouts refer to this as play speed. The root of it can manifest on the field in many ways, including knowing how an offense is going to attack a certain defense and recognizing route combinations, but it can also come from many hours of film study and and applying it on the field. While in Green Bay, Hyde would attend both safety and corner meetings on a daily basis and it is abundantly clear that Hyde does his homework.
In week six of the 2016 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys, Dak Prescott runs a simple run-pass option (RPO) against the Packers’ defense. The offense is in a stacked WR set and the Packers defend it with Hyde in press versus WR Butler and CB Goodson in off coverage. With that much space, Prescott fires it outside to Beasley. Hyde holds his leverage and Goodson comes up for the tackle. A three yard gain and not much harm done.
Flash forward to the Divisional round of the playoffs against the same team. Hyde shows off his mental processing, play speed, and ball skills in dramatic fashion. The Cowboys utilize the same motion from a trips bunch set, and on the snap Dak one steps and fires it out wide. Bryant is unable to get a piece of Hyde, and he picks it off to end Dallas’ drive. Incredible recognition displayed by Hyde.
That type of intelligence and instincts is something that the Bills’ staff will welcome after a down year in 2016. Hyde should flourish in this defense with the multitude of disguised and trap coverages that the staff will implement.
Based on his years in Green Bay, in my opinion, Hyde is primarily a zone defender. Although he is listed as a safety, he plays with zone corner instincts. He has very disciplined ‘zone eyes’ and is very good at recognizing routes and combinations with the depth of the QB’s drop.
On this play, the Vikings are in the red zone and employ a 3×1 WR set to the top of the screen. Hyde is the hook to curl defender to the top. Post snap, the Packers drop into cover 2 with a defensive lineman dropping into the shallow zone. Hyde checks the vertical release of the #2 WR, then gets his eyes on Bradford. Sam gets sloppy with his eye discipline and zeroes in on the TE Rudolph. Hyde recognizes that Sam’s front shoulder and eyes are aimed at Rudolph, so he plants and makes a play on the ball.
This was just a heady play by the veteran, and that kind of spatial awareness could lead to opportunities on the defensive side in 2017.
He possesses the recognition of a corner, and the thought of him possibly playing outside crossed my mind, but is not likely. He’s aligned in the slot to the top of the screen. Hyde diagnoses the combo and takes away the in breaking route right at the first down marker. This shows very good awareness, communication, and change of direction.
The former Hawkeye has been groomed in one of the most diverse defenses in the NFL. It is a defense that utilizes a lot of coverage concepts. Hyde appeared to be one of the leaders in that secondary; anytime there was motion and the coverage changed, you would see him setting the defense. On this play, he does just that. The offense motions to get Hyde matched up versus Dez Bryant. Hyde has inside leverage as the ball is snapped, and he opens up to the sideline expecting Bryant to run deep. Bryant runs a dig, but Hyde remains calm, quickly flips his hips, and helps take away Dak’s primary WR.
His lack of speed can sometimes lead to struggles in man coverage versus fast/shifty WRs. The Packers did a great job of preventing that kind of matchup for most of the year, but it isn’t totally preventable. Take this play versus the Vikings. Hyde has inside leverage on 3rd down and is matched up with the WR Diggs. Diggs sticks inside and runs to the back corner of the end zone, while narrowly catching the pass for the touchdown.
He is a competitive player who doesn’t get intimidated. In fact, he likes the challenge. The Vikings routinely attacked him with speed. Hyde utilizes the 5 yard contact box, gets his hands on the receiver, and as the receiver breaks inside he quickly peeks in the backfield and changes direction with Diggs. This is a fantastic display of mental toughness and belief in his skills to force fourth down.
Hyde possesses very good ball skills for a so called ‘safety’. On this play, he is in off coverage in the slot to the top of the screen. He shuffles until the receiver exceeds the ‘quick’ route depth. The receiver bends it to the post, so Hyde breaks on it and makes another play on the ball.
In man coverage he will give up his fair share of catches. In 2016, he allowed 58 receptions for 642 yards and 6 TDs (in 19 games). The longest reception he gave up was this 32-yarder to Rishard Matthews. Hyde actually is with Matthews step for step, but as he begins tracking the ball over his shoulders he slightly loses balance. This doesn’t allow Hyde to make a play on the ball at the catch point. It’s a display of good coverage and ball tracking skills, but he just has to clean up at the catch point.
He may not be your typical cover 1/3 center fielder, but he can still run with most NFL talent. Don’t believe me? Watch him cover running back Theo Riddick down the field. He does a great job of playing the man, then squeezing the running back to the sideline.
After looking over several games from his past two seasons, one thing I noticed was that he really wasn’t utilized like a normal safety. He wasn’t used a often in single high looks or two high sets; he mainly played the slot. As a result, he was rarely in the tackle box making run stops. This was one of those rare occasions where he dropped into the box and made a run stop.
Most of the run stops were off the edge on run blitzes like this or tackles several yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
This is not a bad thing, but that is the way the Packers utilized him. According to Pro Football Focus, he registered 11 total tackles versus the run all season. It will certainly be interesting to see how the Bills plan on using him.
Part of the reason the coaching staff and front office targeted Micah Hyde was due to his pass rushing ability. In 2016, McDermott rushed his corners a total of 42 times. Between the two corners that split duty as the slot corner in Carolina, they rushed the QB 23 times and created nine total pressures. The main rusher was Leonard Johnson, and he finished the season 3rd in pass rush productivity (22.6%) among all corners who started 50% of snaps. Hyde rushed the passer the 2nd most in 2016. He attacked the QB 7.4% of the time (32 snaps) and registered two QB hits and five QB hurries. On this play, Hyde rushes from field. As Witten crosses the formation to pick him up, Dak senses pressure so he hops up into the pocket. Hyde recognizes it and changes the angle of his rush. The sudden change of direction is too much for Witten, and Hyde registers the sack.
Check out this play. Hyde is aligned as an outside linebacker, and he rushes Andrew Luck. He temporarily loses contain, but continues to pressure, and it leads to an interception.
Micah Hyde was a very, very smart signing. He is pegged as a ‘versatile’ player for good reasons. He has good size and speed. He could quite easily play any of the defensive back positions in Frazier’s cover 2 defense or McDermott’s cover 3 defense. According to NFL.com, he was a three team captain in high school, and held the captain title for the Packers in their play off matchup against the Giants.
He is a leader on the field; he consistently helped get the secondary in their proper coverages. His prized trait, though, is his intelligence. He displays the ability to process and react accordingly to what is going on in front of him. This includes diagnosing run vs. pass, routes, and concepts. From the safety position he has just enough range to play center field if needed, but will fit perfectly in a half field role.
His main role in Green Bay was as a slot corner. He leverages the ball and takes really good angles versus the run. In the passing game, he can matchup with any tight end and/or running back in man coverage. He uses his hands well within the contact box to help him stay in phase during the receiver’s drive phase. He can struggle at times versus shifty receivers due to slight stiffness in his hips, but he will never back down from the challenge. In fact, that competitive toughness is what makes him a great player. Overall, the Bills’ staff should feel comfortable with him playing man coverage in the short to intermediate areas versus any style of receiver.
Teams tried attacking him on multiple occasions on 3rd and medium. Hyde sometimes gave up the reception, but made a sure tackle in the open field to force 4th down.
His open field tackling on bigger WRs and tight ends is one of his strengths. In zone coverage, he possesses very good ‘zone eyes’, trusts them, and utilizes his instincts to make plays on the ball.
The defensive staff will enjoy having a player like Hyde on the roster. He gives them freedom. He can tackle, blitz and cover. But where he can be maximized is versus tight ends and running backs. If the staff is able to match him up versus the Gronkowskis, Dwayne Allens, Julius Thomases of the league, then that will help defend the middle of the field to a greater extent. Hyde will be able to neutralize those big bodied tight ends and receivers and will not intimidated by them. If he loses a play and they catch the ball, then he will minimize yards after the catch with his sure tackling.
Hyde displays the ability to carry bigger receivers and tight ends down the seam if necessary, something that will assuredly be asked of him if McDermott incorporates his cover 3 match defensive concepts. This is important, considering the utilization of receivers and tight ends down the seams by the Pats and many other teams to open up the underneath routes for the smaller, shiftier receivers.
All in all, Hyde is going to be McDermott’s ‘swiss army knife’. He has the ability to return punts and contribute on all of the special teams units. But there is no doubt that McDermott and Frazier will use him all over the field, match him up with tight ends and running backs, and ask him to be the leader of the secondary. This is the most important role on a Sean McDermott led team.
Safeties play a pivotal role in Sean McDermott’s defensive scheme. Their role in Buffalo, however, will ultimately depend on how he molds the defensive scheme to his new personnel.
One thing is certain: having played the position, McDermott expects a lot out of safeties. He likes well balanced players at that position, but not necessarily the most gifted athletes. His starting safeties in 2016, Kurt Coleman and Tre Boston, were some of the steadiest players on the Carolina Panthers defense.
Due to the type of scheme McDermott runs, which often leaves safeties manning center field, his ideal starting safeties must have range and must take proper angles.
Safeties in today’s NFL must be able to tackle, and that tackling ability is particularly important in McDermott’s scheme. He often uses his safeties in run fits and run gap responsibilities. That’s why Kurt Coleman finished third on the team with 74 tackles, 15 assists, and 22 stops. Boston was seventh on the team with 46 tackles, 2 assists, and 15 stops.
One of McDermott’s signature strengths is his ability to disguise. Specifically, he is very good at disguising blitzes and coverages. Last season, McDermott blitzed his safeties 34 times. This is something that he learned in Philadelphia with the late Jim Johnson, who loved to incorporate blitzes with his safeties Michael Lewis and Quentin Mikell.
One virtual certainty is that the Bills will have to add at least one safety this offseason in free agency and/or the draft. The Bills only have 3 safeties under contract in 2017, and safety was one of the positions that struggled to produce during this season.
Expect new Head Coach Sean McDermott to bring in guys that can do it all. They may not be the fastest or strongest athletes. But you can bet the players will be well rounded and they will be expected to contribute early and often.
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Free agency has yet to open, but teams are already making changes to their rosters. This is the time of year in which franchises decide to cut players, and one of those very moves was recently made by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Bucs disposed of one of their prized free agent acquisitions from 2014’s offseason. Tampa drafted Vernon Hargreaves in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft and intends on starting him alongside Brent Grimes for the foreseeable future. As a result, Alterraun Verner became dispensable.
Why should the Bills consider him?
First, the obvious: he is familiar with the defense. He has experience playing under new Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Frazier was the DC in Tampa in 2014 and 2015, which will be one of the reasons that GM Doug Whaley may pick up the phone and gauge what kind of contract Verner is looking for.
— NFLTradeRumors.co (@nfltrade_rumors) February 23, 2017
He should only expect a modest contract, considering he only has nine starts over the last two seasons, seasons in which he allowed four touchdowns, while amassing only two interceptions and seven pass deflections. When new coaches take over, they typically like to bring in guys that know the system, making the transition much easier. I know that type of thinking strikes a nerve, thanks to Rex Ryan, but these types of moves aren’t abnormal in the NFL.
Second, what Verner does well fits the scheme. He is really good in off coverage, whether he is aligned outside, heads up, or inside. Verner is better as a defender that utilizes a bail technique, or ‘Saban shuffle’, as opposed to the backpedal. The bail technique is one that is heavily utilized in McDermott’s scheme, and it is a skill that is very difficult to master. Being in off coverage helps the DB in several ways, and it allows him to utilize his mental processing skills to make plays.
In man coverage, it gives him time to read the route by analyzing the drive, release, and direction at the top of the route. In zone coverage, he is reading the wide receiver through to the QB, otherwise known as ‘zone eyes’. This approach helps him not only read the receiver’s route, but also how it corresponds with the depth of the QB’s drop. His ability to use his hands to disrupt usually doesn’t occur at the line of scrimmage. Typically, it is in off coverage, within the five yard contact box where he usually ‘catches’ WRs (Video above) or strikes with them and is able to redirect.
Verner reads routes and combos really well in off coverage, and he is able to jump routes. He is able to plant and drive utilizing sound angles. He read quick routes well, including slants, speed outs etc., something that you saw in the video. This allows him to make plays on the ball, which is something that he has done expertly over the course of his career. In all, he has registered 15 interceptions and 49 pass deflections. How competitive a player is at the catch point is overlooked by many. In that regard, Verner fights at the catch point. If the receiver catches it, Verner is often right there, attempting to rip the ball out.
Those are some of his strengths, things that got him that lucrative contract with Tampa. What are his weaknesses? Most of his issues are related to his average overall athletic ability, including his straight line speed. However, it is right in line with the corners that have played in this system, in the 4.5s.
Usually this deficiency flashes down the field. He doesn’t have the speed to stay with speedsters, and even when in off coverage he can be put out of phase and taken advantage of.
He is not a guy that you can line up in man coverage with expectations of him being able to mirror receivers to the intermediate and deep areas of the field. He lacks the agility to carry out those kinds of responsibilities.
Depending on the what kind of compensation he is expecting, I think he fits the Bills’ new scheme really well. It is a scheme that utilizes a lot of zone concepts from off coverage. The coaches teach the ‘Saban Shuffle’, allowing defenders who lack the elite agility to plant and drive with efficiency. McDermott puts his corners in that coverage to not only mask their straight line speed or agility issues, but also to keep the receivers in front of them, reducing the likelihood of big plays. Pairing a corner that is good in off coverage and can process route combinations quickly with the multitude of pressure packages that McDermott likes to run would be a wise decision. In this scheme, Verner could still make plays on the ball, hence providing a tremendous value to a team that is needy at the position.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor had what many people considered a down season in 2016. Fans were largely disappointed because it was a season in which they expected him to take a big step forward. The organization maintained continuity up front, and they were in their second season in Greg Roman’s offense.
Well, as is often the case in Buffalo, things didn’t go as planned. After their first two games, the team decided to fire Greg Roman and promote running backs coach Anthony Lynn to offensive coordinator. He was appointed to a position, a role, as a play-caller that he had NEVER held before. What made things even more difficult were that he was running an offense that he didn’t design.
Lynn decided to scale back some of the playbook, simplify things for Taylor so that the offense could just make plays. Rather than pair the dominating run game with an Air Coryell, vertical passing game, Lynn wanted to make the offense more efficient.
He attempted to lay a foundation, a passing game comprised of a base set of concepts, rather than trying to outsmart defenses week to week. It was a smart move. The defense wasn’t really stopping anyone, so an explosive offense wouldn’t complement the defense. You saw a lot more progression reads by utilizing some familiar concepts, such as the Spot concept, Smash concept, Mesh concept, Levels concept, and even the Switch concept.
Taylor wasn’t asked to do much. The strict adherence to the structure seemed to remain in place. One could argue that it was due to Taylor’s lack of mental processing post snap, and honestly, I would agree with that. His field vision from the pocket is average, but the passing scheme was, in my opinion, vanilla. It was an offense that operated much too often out of the shotgun. According to NFLSavant.com, the Bills were in the gun 72% of the time. That was far too often, in my opinion, because one of my biggest gripes with Taylor is his mechanics.
In a Roman designed offense, the quarterback is an athlete that hits the top of his drop, scans the field, and, if nothing is there, takes off. The footwork and the depth of the drop don’t necessarily correspond with the depth of the receivers’ routes, so the QB is just standing in the pocket waiting for things to develop.
It’s the type of offense that needs to have an athletic QB, so that if no one is open or the protections break down, then the QB can take off. There’s nothing wrong with that. Many offenses nowadays operate with that type of structure, but a guy like Taylor needs to be under center more. It helps him focus on his drop and his footwork — you know, the mechanics.
It also allows him to throw in rhythm, to go through his progressions and reads in tune with his footwork. Taking snaps under center just helps him with his overall consistency.
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) February 8, 2017
The second year starter dropped back to pass 529 times and attempted 426 passes. He only completed 269 of those passes, which is a 61.7% completion percentage. Although his dropbacks (2015-467) and attempts (2015-380) were up in 2016, his completion percentage dropped two percent.
His efficiency as a passer is something that many fans bring up. According to Pro Football Focus, of all QBs that started 60% of their snaps in 2016, Taylor ranks 19th in completion percentage, right in front of Mariota, Palmer, Winston and Rivers.
Even one of his strengths, the deep ball, failed him this past season. In 2015, he threw 12 touchdown passes over 20+ yards, compared with a mere six in 2016.
His struggles should have been no surprise, considering Sammy Watkins, who caught eight deep ball TDs in 2015, only played in eight games and participated in 75.7% of the snaps in those games. Watkins only mustered ONE deep ball touchdown in 2016 and was targeted 11 times, making four receptions for 173 yards.
How does that stack up to 2015? In 2015, Watkins was targeted 34 times, hauling in 16 receptions, 606 yards, and eight TDs. That could partly explain why Tyrod’s yards/attempt dropped from 8 (5th) to 6.93 (24th). Consider this: when Watkins was in the lineup, Taylor’s yards/attempt was 7.8 (6th), whereas without Watkins it was 6.3 (29th). Even his accuracy rate was affected. It was 74.9% (13th) when Sammy was in the lineup and a 71.3% (25th) when Sammy was not dressed. Not having Sammy Watkins for half of the season no doubt had an effect on Taylor, and a significant one, at that. He is the only receiver that Tyrod trusts. Sammy is so dynamic that he changes how defenses choose to game-plan against Taylor and the offense.
Defenses only had to worry about the Bills’ run game last season. Without a true #1 wide receiver to dictate coverage, defenses could stack the box, keep 22 eyes on #5, all while congesting the middle of the field. This severely limited the passing game, but the offense still was able to put up a fair amount of points thanks to a run game spearheaded by LeSean McCoy and Tyrod himself.
With a lucrative contract option on the line, a dominant run game, a vanilla passing scheme minus Watkins, and a leaky defense, Taylor didn’t force the issue. He played it tight to the vest, rarely threw into tight windows, and was coached into half field reads on three man routes.
With how things transpired on the field and the structure of Tyrod’s contract, the front office now has to make the difficult decision of whether they want to move forward with him.
In order to do so, they have to not only evaluate his play, but also measure how his strengths and weaknesses fit the Rick Dennison‘s incumbent offensive system.
They have to ask themselves: was he making good or bad decisions on the field? Was he putting the offense in situations to score? To win? Or were his conservative nature and passing deficiencies holding the offense back? And how will that translate into new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison’s system?
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) January 24, 2017
With all of that said, let’s take a look at the 12 interceptions Tyrod has thrown over the past two years. Here is a recap of the picks he threw in 2015:
But to get an idea on the decisions that led to his six interceptions this past season, here is a video breakdown:
Tyrod Taylor has been one of the Bills’ most polarizing figures since winning the job in 2015, but that doesn’t mean he should be the Bills’ starting quarterback going forward. What the organization and fans should ask is if they can win with Tyrod Taylor as a quarterback in Rick Dennison’s system.
That answer should be coming in the next couple of weeks, and I expect there to be an uproar, regardless of what the Bills decide.
New head coach Sean McDermott has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to coaching defenses. He has coached in aggressive, blitz heavy, man coverage schemes when he was in Philadelphia. He learned how to pressure the quarterback with his front four and play zone on the back end in Carolina. Importantly, he has also been able to combine both of those paradigms on certain play calls, such as this well disguised blitz on 3rd and 7.
Derek Carr injured his finger and was out of the game, leaving Matt McGloin as Oakland’s starter. McDermott knew that backup QBs are not always up to task when thrown into a game due to game speed and lack of reps. Starting QBs see most of a team’s reps during a normal work week, and some of those reps include blitz identification and blitz pickup.
McDermott’s patented pressure package in 2016 was the double A gap blitz.
He ran a variety of pressures that are difficult for offensive lines and quarterbacks to identify, and he did a heck of a job disguising coverages on the back end, making QB’s decisions that much more difficult.
McDermott disguises coverages by moving his defensive backs around up until the snap. In the video below, you will see just about every defensive back move, change their posture, change their alignment, and even change where their eyes are looking.
Pre-snap, quarterbacks are trying to diagnose several things, including the coverage structure. Is it single high, is it two high, then is it man, zone, or a combo coverage?
Can you decipher this look?
Then, is there a blitz coming? If so, where from? Is slot corner Robert Alford (top of screen) blitzing, or is Tre Boston (bottom of screen-#33) the blitzer off the edge? What about the two ILBs in the A gaps? What combination of rush, zone drop, or man coverage are they going to execute after the snap?
It can be quite confusing, especially to a backup…
Post snap it ends up being a blitz by Tre Boston, it appears to be zone coverage or some form of pattern matching to the top of the screen, and man coverage to the bottom.
James Bradberry (top of the screen) is aligned to the trips side, otherwise known as the passing strength. He is playing with ‘zone eyes’ and is indeed in zone or pattern matching coverage. Knowing there is a blitz, he is able to watch the drop of the QB, allowing him to jump the comeback route that McGloin wants to throw as he hits the top of this drop. Players are not only trained in their assignments or techniques of any given play. They are also taught how to use them within the context of said play. In this play, Bradberry knows where the first down marker is and that the ball is going to have to come out quickly because of the blitz. This is situational football at its finest; kudos to Sean McDermott. If McGloin is able to get this ball out, it is more likely picked off than completed.
Instead, Boston gets the big hit on McGloin!
So here’s what the QB is looking at from the line of scrimmage. He has seven possible rushers, with only six possible blockers. That extra rusher (Tre Boston – off screen) must be accounted for by the QB by getting rid of the ball quickly.
The offensive line identified LB Klein as the Mike. Therefore, the center, right guard, and right tackle will block DE Johnson, DT Lotulelei, and LB Klein.
The left side of the line and the running back now have to pick up the three most immediate threats, namely Will LB Davis, DT Short, and DE Ealy. The running back was assigned responsibility of the Will LB, so he will attempt to pick up Davis and the other two offensive lineman will pick up the remaining ‘bigs’. The pass protection is set.
Post snap, it all changes. Defensive end Charles Johnson drops into coverage, as does LB Klein. Since the center slid right, they have three guys blocking one contain rusher. Linebacker Thomas Davis blitzes the A gap and shucks the running back aside, getting immediate pressure on the QB. Short and Ealy jam rush inside, attempting to just occupy and pinch the line down, giving Boston a tight and free rush at the QB.
McGloin is unable to get the throw off in time, and Boston lays a big hit on the backup QB.
Here is the full play:
The organization has brought in a coach that has a wealth of knowledge and that knows how to adapt his scheme to its personnel. McDermott’s defenses have been successful because of some very special talent, there is no doubt about that, but he has also been able to design some very confusing pressure packages to win from play to play, game to game, and season to season.
The Bills hired Sean McDermott for several reasons. They obviously love his pedigree, knowledge, philosophies, attention to detail, and all of the other buzz words that you hear when new coaches are brought on board. I am not here to analyze that, though. I am here to break down some of the nuances of what he does on the field.
“We’ll have an identity on the field in all three phases and it starts with doing things the right way, playing hard all the time – smart, disciplined and tough football – a product that these fans will be proud of on a weekly basis.” -Sean McDermott
Good teams often take on the personality of their coach and from watching several hours of film, I believe that his defensive units have taken on his personality. I look forward to witnessing the transformation that the defense will undergo as he leads our beloved Buffalo Bills.
So, over the next few weeks I want to convey some of the Xs and Os that show the type of defensive techniques McDermott runs, and also how his core values permeate through the hierarchy down to his players. So here is the first defensive play of this series:
The offense is aligned in a 3×1 trips bunch set. Head coach Sean Payton calls a verticals concept. This concept is very good against cover three teams, which is the type of defense that McDermott predominantly used in 2016. The WR that is aligned at the point of the bunch is running a route often referred to as the ‘bender’. He typically runs vertically, then bends towards the middle, splitting the two high safeties.
The Panthers, like most teams, check to ‘box’ coverage vs. trips bunch looks. Even the Bills ran it in 2016. Check ‘box’ is a pattern matching coverage that is determined by the receivers’ routes.
“I’m a big believer in fundamentals and techniques, I’m a big believer in character.”-Sean McDermott
The success of this play lies in the details. Whether you buy the ‘detail oriented’ mumbo jumbo that the media sells you is your choice. For me, I let the play on the field sell me. When you turn on the film, McDermott’s ‘detail oriented’ philosophy certainly shines.
The play call accounts for every wide receiver on the field and helps the defense maintain the upper hand. To the trips side they maintain a +1, meaning there are four defenders to cover three wide receivers. To the top of the screen the Panthers have two defenders to cover one wide receiver. McDermott even keeps Davis near the line of scrimmage to account for the running back, just in case there is a check down.
As the ball is snapped, the trips wide receivers run switch releases to confuse defenders. This often creates confusion if the defense is in man coverage or if the defense is pattern matching, but the defense doesn’t blink in this case. As the receivers switch release and expand the width of their routes, the defenders adjust. They also expand while maintaining the proper leverage of the defensive call. They continue to their landmarks with their eyes up on the receivers through to the quarterback, which is fundamental to zone coverage. Since the receivers do not run crossing routes (rather, they get vertical) Kuechly and the nickel corner between the numbers continue to gain depth. Luke takes away the bender, who is trying to split the safeties.
McDermott’s defense wasn’t statistically top notch in 2016, but the full context should mitigate your concerns. They lost Luke Kuechly for much of the year and gave major playing time to rookie cornerbacks. But again, the truth lies in the details. The Panthers only bring a four man rush here. In my opinion, their front four doesn’t match up talent-wise to the Bills. Regardless, the guys show that they are coached well. Focus on the movements of their defensive ends Mario Addison and Charles Johnson. Post snap, left defensive end Johnson reads that Brees is putting the ball in the belly of Ingram and recognizes the left guard pulling to ‘kick him out’. The play looks like a power run, so he squeezes the gap. The right defensive end, Addison, notices that Brees isn’t setting deep in the pocket, so he adjusts his rush angle. If it is a run, then he still has his run gap accounted for. But as he transitions to a pass rush he hits the depth he wants to attack the tackle with, then he gains the upper hand by using his length and hands to get inside control of the tackle. He does this while also controlling the tackle’s left arm, in case he needs to perform an arm lift to get by.
As the ends realize it is actually a pass Addison keeps his rush point low, which will take him right to the QB’s proverbial ‘spot’. Johnson adjusts by taking a wider angle due to the leverage of the guard and because of the angle taken by Addison.
Even the shade defensive tackle recognizes the pocket movement by Brees and the angles of attack by the defensive ends, but most importantly Brees’s possible escape route. Defensive tackle Kawann Short arcs outside to a point where Brees can not escape the pocket to his left. All of their hard work and discipline lead to a sack.
Although the Buffalo media mocks the statements made by owners and coaches when they are hired, there can be truth in them. So before the media mocks the statements they should check the film and the play on the field. McDermott has always been a coach that has kept his defenses simple, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t detailed. His players execute the techniques that are taught to them. They know the strengths and weaknesses of the defensive calls, and that is a sign of a detail oriented coach.
The words spoken by Terry Pegula, Kim Pegula, and even Sean McDermott may have been cliches, but in this situation they do ring true.
Here’s the play in full:
Stay tuned for more play breakdowns encompassing the new head coach’s philosophies and schemes.