The first preseason game is in the books, and the Bills have been handed their first loss of the season, losing 17-10 to the Vikings Thursday night. But I am sure the coaches couldn’t care less about the score, as their priority is evaluating their players en route to finalizing their 53-man roster.
Notably, the starting units looked very organized, structured, and were effective.
The offense led by QB Tyrod Taylor was able to move the ball through the air. Taylor looked decisive and even showed off some field awareness, hopefully indicative of some long term growth.
Full field read, worked thru his progressions all the way to the check down. pic.twitter.com/4lhxQTxswx
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) August 12, 2017
The run game was the catalyst and focus, which should be no surprise. Running back Jonathan Williams got the start and ripped off a couple of nice runs. He finished with 39 yards on four carries, and he seemed to have a level of quickness and vision we haven’t seen since his junior year of college.
This play was called back because of the hold, but I just love the vision Williams exhibited on this iso play. This is a play that the Bills ran a lot of last season under OC Anthony Lynn. The second year running back reads the backside 3 technique defensive tackle really well, but the hold on LG Richie Incognito nullified the gain.
One of his longest runs came when Richie pulled and dropped linebacker Eric Kendricks. As I have mentioned before, Dennison will be keeping a good chunk of the playbook, including gap runs like this one.
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) August 11, 2017
The run game looked alive and healthy as the Bills averaged 5.3 yards per carry against one of the best defenses in the league. The ‘big uglies’ upfront dominated, and they did so with a concept that has become all the rage in the NFL. The play is called ‘Duo’; It is a play that I will break down in the near future, as I believe it will become the Bills’ bread-and-butter play in 2017.
— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) August 11, 2017
DE Eddie Yarbrough
The 2017 darling of training camp at St. John Fisher, hands down, has been Eddie Yarbrough. The hard work and domination he has shown camp shined through on Thursday, as well. There wasn’t much film on him since entering the league, so I quickly went back and looked at some of his Wyoming film. What I saw there was no different than what I witnessed in his first game action of the season.
Really like his hand placement on contact, transforms his speed into power thru hands. pic.twitter.com/15DibS6PzM
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) August 10, 2017
Yarbrough isn’t super athletic; he doesn’t possess top end speed to beat a tackle and run the hoop. But he knows his strengths and weaknesses, and that self awareness makes him effective. He sets up tackles with slight shoulder movements and speed changes that often leave linemen guessing, unable to determine which line he is going to take to the quarterback. Once the two way go is set up, he then uses sound technique to win.
Really like his hand placement on contact, transforms his speed into power thru hands. pic.twitter.com/15DibS6PzM
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) August 10, 2017
The stutter rush causes the tackle to stop his kickslide. Yarbrough then diagnoses the spot that Bradford will settle on, then rushes wide for the sack.
He has a bevy of pass rush moves and counters, and he showcased them versus the Vikings. On 3rd-and-4 he puts together a double handed chop and transitions into a spin move. The spin move inside forces Bradford out of the pocket, which is where he typically struggles. It leads to an incompletion and forces the Vikings’ offense off of the field
Yarbrough was the highest-graded defender, per Pro Football Focus, grading out at a +4.6. He finished the game with one sack, one QB hit, one tackle, and two stops. It is fairly evident that he knows how to use his power and stoutness to disrupt the run, as well as the pass.
On to a player that has been in the news quite a bit, and one who will continue to be, considering the moves the Bills just made: Reggie Ragland. If you look at the box score, Ragland’s name certainly shows up. He finished with three tackles, two assists, and one stop. It was a solid game for the second year player, which is a relief for him, I’m sure, as he admitted he is struggling with the defense and isn’t quite 100%. The narrative right now is that he is not a fit for the defense, and I will not say it’s wrong. I just believe it’s too early to confidently assert that. But when you watch plays like this, you can see why some might disagree. Let me start off by saying that he carried out his job by leveraging his gap correctly. He executed it so well that it forced the back to enter the line of scrimmage one gap wider, which is good.
But his feet stall, and he doesn’t ‘fire his gun’ through the gap. He then is unable to continue to scrape and leverage the ball wide, which is a tough pill to swallow, as he is the only unblocked defender. Again, he did his job, but as a Mike linebacker in this defense, as I have mentioned on our podcast, the lack of burst or explosiveness needed to scrape and make plays outside the numbers could be an issue.
Ragland hasn’t played in a live game since the BCS National Championship dating back to 2015, so his play speed isn’t yet up to snuff. However, his mental awareness and ability to process what happened and what was about to happen popped. A few plays later, the Vikings run a similar play, and this time Ragland ‘fires his gun’, but is unable to make the tackle deep in the backfield. That’s alright, though. He completely blew up the timing of the zone run play and forced the back to make a decision before he wanted to.
As the game wore on, Ragland became more comfortable and began to trust his eyes. The Vikings run outside zone here, which is a play that could give Ragland issues.
But he diagnoses the concept and entry point of the back and quickly shoots the gap for the stop.
As you can see, he got his game legs under him and began to make plays against the run. He wasn’t really tested in the pass game, though, and it is tough to tell his drops or responsibilities. From what I saw, he appeared to take good depth on drops to his landmarks, and with how vanilla the game was called, not much can be concluded in that facet of Ragland’s game.
The rookie quarterback from the University of Pittsburgh had a lukewarm day. There were passes that sailed completely off target, but then there were passes that couldn’t be any more accurate. By the end of the game he compiled a 52% completion percentage for 112 yards and one beautiful touchdown in the back corner of the end zone to WR Dez Lewis.
— Morgan Peterman (@morganpeterman3) August 11, 2017
The Vikings didn’t ease him into the NFL by any means, as they blitzed him on 16 out of 28 drop backs. But I thought he handled it well, standing in there and taking some big shots, and also running the ball when the defense was in man coverage. Although the Bills’ drive stalled, he showed poise, anticipation, and trust in his receiver Daikiel Shorts on two straight plays late in the fourth quarter.
DL Marquavius Lewis
Finally, there is defensive lineman Marquavius Lewis, a very good defensive end in college known for his run stopping abilities. The Bills have been experimenting with him at defensive tackle, which really mystified me. Depending on how they plan on using him, though, it could work. He led the team in stops, showing that he has the quickness to be an effective disruptor and the ability to stack and disengage against the run.
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) August 12, 2017
It is good to have football back, but most of all it is good to have some more film to break down. I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts with you all season.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish were a disappointing 4-8 squad last season, but they weren’t bereft of talent. Quarterback DeShone Kizer was a second round selection in this year’s draft, and left tackle Mike McGlinchey is considered one of the top senior linemen available in the 2018 class. One more name of interest is left guard Quenton Nelson. Nelson first saw the field for the Irish in 2015, when he started 11 games at left guard as a redshirt freshman. After another full season of starts in 2016, he’s on track to eclipse 30 before graduating from the program. Looking at his skillset, it’s easy to see his NFL potential.
Run blocking locomotive
Nelson will be one of the premier run blocking prospects in the 2018 draft. He delivers his blocks with authority, like a brazen bus driver who understands that his vehicle is three times as large as anything else on the road. Witness him pulling across the formation and pancaking not one, but two USC defenders on this play:
Nelson is a finisher who will fight to the whistle on every single block. He won’t stop until someone is on the ground or the play has ended. Having exceptional power in his upper and lower body, he’s well-proportioned to pave the road for his running backs. He’s very much in the mold of Oakland Raiders guard Gabe Jackson, who just signed a five year extension last month – a balanced, powerful road grader.
Promising pass protection
The skillset that Nelson brings to his run blocking is also present when the quarterback drops back to pass. He has a strong anchor and (crucially) understands how to redirect force and re-anchor if he loses a battle at the snap. Here’s one example of Nelson setting his anchor against a very difficult opponent: eventual Seattle Seahawks second round pick Malik McDowell.
McDowell wins off the snap, thanks to a running start and a low pad level. But while Nelson is pushed backward three yards, keep note of his placement relative to the hashes. He keeps his hips oriented so that his butt is still pointed at the quarterback, and he uses his strength to flatten out the angle so that Kizer has room to step up in the pocket (or would, if McGlinchey hadn’t lost his man). Nelson even manages to bring McDowell to a halt at the end of the play, lifting him off the ground.
Nelson’s understanding of balance and angles also helps him stay on top of faster pass rushing defensive tackles. He rarely finds himself turned around as a pass blocker, and he understands the mantra “look for work” – when his assignment is neutralized (or doesn’t exist), he’s often moving to assist with a teammate’s block.
Here’s one way in which Nelson shows some advanced handfighting techniques. The Stanford defensive tackle tries to get by him with an arm-over move. Nelson wins off the snap by making initial contact with his punch, then allows the defender’s momentum to follow through before putting his hands back on the player’s pads. Sliding his opponent to the right, he creates a nice throwing lane for Kizer to utilize.
Room for improvement
Nelson is already impressive in several aspects of his technique, but there are occasional lapses that he’ll want to clean up during his redshirt junior season. One issue that came up every now and then was an issue of communication. Nelson would cede an oncoming defender to a teammate, even though that teammate wasn’t in a position to block the player. These lapses created easy pressure on his quarterback. Here’s one example, during which Nelson lets a blitzing linebacker run into the backfield untouched, trusting him to… his center? The running back, who set up for pass protection toward the right side of the line? It’s possible that this example (and others involving Nelson’s gap) were the responsibility of another player, but it’s a trend across Notre Dame’s line that needs to be addressed in the NFL.
Like any lineman, Nelson can have occasional lapses in pass protection. While running back Lavon Coleman’s struggles were caused by a passive approach to pass protection, Nelson will sometimes fall victim to issues of hand placement. As a blocker, the best way to maintain leverage is to place your hands on the opponent’s chest, between their shoulder pads. If you can get your grip there, the opponent’s arms will splay out to the side and be unable to deliver force. What does it look like when you’re the loser in that matchup? This clip:
I’ll stress that Nelson doesn’t lose in this manner very often. Nor, as I said, are the communication issues something frequent. Nelson has a third concern of mine, which is that he sometimes has difficulty lining up blocks in space. The mobility is there, and when he connects he’s a bulldozer, but every now and then he can only get a hand on the opponent before he loses his balance.
Possible Bills fit
At 34, Richie Incognito has shown no signs of slowing down; he’s been selected to the two most recent Pro Bowl squads. However, his cap hit increases to $7.6 million in 2018, and the Bills could free themselves of $6.4 million from that contract if they released him. Nelson, with his strength and mobility, would be a plug-and-play replacement for Buffalo’s starting left guard, though he might not continue the streak of Pro Bowl selections in his rookie year. Even if the team keeps Incognito on board for the short term, then Nelson would quickly ascend to a starting role. With his combination of strength and mobility, Nelson could be a potential round one selection in next year’s draft – right up there with his linemate.
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After winning a national championship with the Alabama Crimson Tide, linebacker Reggie Ragland was set to enter the NFL. However, after being flagged for an enlarged aorta he fell from a projected mid-first round draft pick to an early second round pick. Drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the 2016 NFL draft to fill a need at inside linebacker, Ragland suffered a torn ACL early on during 2016 training camp, an injury that sidelined him for the entirety of the 2016-2017 season. Coming into 2017, the Bills have changed coaches and defensive schemes, moving from Rex Ryan’s multiple defense to Sean McDermott’s 4-3 over. Ryan’s defense included many four-linebacker fronts that would have allowed Ragland to play his natural role of 3-4 inside linebacker, whereas McDermott’s defense will ask Ragland to play as a 4-3 middle linebacker.
The range and coverage assignments asked of a 4-3 MLB are more taxing and require greater speed and quicker recognition than that of a 3-4 ILB. After getting a chance to look at the all-22 film of the Arkansas vs Alabama game in 2015, there are three plays we are going to examine in this article: one with Ragland as a pass rusher, one against the run, and one when he was asked to drop back into coverage.
Rushing the Passer
Nick Saban’s defense lines up in a 4-3 front with Alabama’s dime personnel on the field. This means that Alabama has 4 down linemen, with Ragland lined up as the weak side defensive end, and with one linebacker on the field and 6 defensive backs.
Coming from the 5 spot, Ragland exhibits excellent pass rushing technique to hit the quarterback and force a hurried throw. Going against Arkansas’s left tackle Denver Kirkland, Ragland takes advantage of some bad technique by the junior offensive lineman.
Kirkland doesn’t keep his base wide enough, which allows Ragland to land an initial blow as a bullrusher. Now that Ragland has his hands on the chest plate of Kirkland’s pads, he presses with his inside hand to turn the offensive lineman. The move works to perfection, and Kirkland opens his hips, allowing Ragland to gain leverage to the inside. Ragland getting inside means that he avoids the double team from the running back, who was the 6th man in pass protection, tasked with helping the left side. Ragland now has control of the situation. Because he forced Kirkland to open his inside leg, Ragland earns a free path to the quarterback. Ragland uses a swim move to shed the block and hits the passer, forcing a hurried throw and an incompletion.
Defending the Run
Reggie Ragland is at his best when he’s playing against the run. On this play, both he and DT A’Shawn Robinson (now with the Detroit Lions) get a clean shot at the running back. Arkansas is in a heavy single-back set with an extra offensive tackle on the field lined up the right side and an H-back lined up offset to him. The call is for a dive up the middle that would be set up by the center and guard opening a lane for the running back to punch through
Alabama shows a 3-4 under front. This alignment worked perfectly against what the Razorbacks were trying to accomplish. Ragland is responsible for reading and filling the B gap when playing against the run. On this play, Ragland shows great football IQ in the path he takes. He sees that the B gap is closed due to the defensive end and defensive tackle pinching the right guard and two tackles on the right side. This opens up the A gap. Ragland shoots the gap and arrives at the same time as Robinson to tackle him in the backfield. This kind of assessment and decisiveness can help Ragland go a long way as a middle linebacker for the Buffalo Bills.
Dropping into Coverage
Arkansas shows the defense an I formation H-Twins, which essentially means that there are two wide receivers to the weak side and an in-line tight end dictating the strong side. Alabama responds with a 3-4 Okie front, which has the defensive line two gapping while the outside linebackers are responsible for the cutback lane and playing contain against the run, depending on which side the run goes to. Due to the formation of the defensive backfield, it is a safe bet that the Crimson Tide are playing either cover 3 or cover 1, based on the single deep safety look.
After the snap, Alabama is playing cover 3, which is a zone defense designed to keep everything in front of the 3 deep defenders (2 cornerbacks and a safety), while providing enough players in or near the box to effectively play the run. Cover 3 is predicated upon every defender being able to tackle well, which limits yards after the catch and means the cornerbacks can help with playing contain and countering the cutback. Ragland is tasked with playing the curl zone on the strong side as the middle linebacker.
From the I-Form H Twins alignment, Arkansas runs a “levels” route concept. This means that the weak side slot receiver runs a post route, the strong side tight end runs a ten yard out, and the outside receiver runs a delayed drag across the formation, acting as the shallow dump off option for his quarterback. This concept is effective at forcing the defense to cover all three levels of the field and means that there should be space within one of them for a receiver to come open. If all else fails, the drag route is there as a quick dump off.
Ragland does an excellent job of letting the play develop and not biting on the play action to the running back. He gets into his curl zone and reads the receiver coming across on the drag route. The ball is placed behind the receiver, as the quarterback thinks that he will sit the route down. Ragland does an excellent job of breaking on the ball as it is thrown and getting his hands inside the receiver’s hands to force an incompletion. Quick recognition and reaction like this will be key to Ragland’s success in the NFL.
Despite being drafted to play in Rex Ryan’s hybrid scheme featuring a large amount of 3-4 defensive looks, Ragland has all the skills necessary to play middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. The most apparent point of weakness for him going into 2017 will be his sideline-to-sideline speed when in coverage. At times, the task of processing information from the quarterback and covering a receiver seemed to be too much for Ragland, causing him to slow down as he was trying to make sense of all the information. As training camp starts, Ragland is second on the depth chart behind veteran linebacker Preston Brown. However, Ragland has been the subject of praise from the coaching staff and has a great shot at starting for the Bills. He has extremely high upside that is contingent upon the proper coaching and right attitude. Along with every other Bills fan, I’m truly excited to see Ragland on the field this season.
Everything clicked for the 12-2 Washington Huskies last season, who dominated opponents by an average score of 42-18 with a smothering defense (three Husky defenders were drafted in the top 45 of the 2017 NFL Draft) and a relentless offense.
Quarterback Jake Browning threw for 43 touchdowns, mainly to receivers John Ross (drafted ninth overall by the Cincinnati Bengals) and Dante Pettis (a rising senior), and running back Myles Gaskin finished his sophomore season by eclipsing 1300 rushing yards and ten touchdowns for the second straight year. Gaskin has been named to the Doak Walker Award Watchlist (for the best running back in the nation) heading into his junior year, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him heading to the NFL this season. There’s one more piece to the Washington offense that’s worth mentioning, however: backup running back Lavon Coleman, who is entering his redshirt senior season.
Coleman has spent most of his college career as a special teams stalwart and third down back. In three seasons of play, he’s averaged 95 carries and six receptions per year. However, 2016 was his breakout season – seven special teams tackles and a couple of fumble recoveries got him voted Special Teams MVP. Oh, and he smashed Washington’s single season yards per carry record, with 852 yards on 114 carries, giving him a whopping average of 7.47 yards per attempt.
Speed and vision
Let’s start with this play against Washington State. Handed the ball, Coleman immediately comes face-to-face with a couple of defenders. His center and right guard mostly whiff their blocks, leaving the defensive end and two linebackers straight ahead. Coleman immediately recognizes this and bends his run to the left, earning some space to work. His speed to the edge, along with a last-minute effort by his center to grab the legs of one of the linebackers, gets him to the second level.
From there, Coleman has only one defender to beat. He can’t work back inside, with three others approaching from that way. Instead, he works toward the outside, then plants his legs to straighten out his momentum once he gets past the sticks. That neat footwork along the sidelines earns him a touchdown on the play.
On this next play, we can get a sense of Coleman’s developed vision and patience. He’s running inside against a 4-2-5 nickel look that has the Cougars bringing safety Shalom Luani on a blitz off the left tackle. Coleman keeps his eyes on the middle linebacker and presses the A gap between the center and the guard. As the MLB gets caught in the trash, Coleman sees the right guard driving his own opponent out of the way. Coleman cuts to the right through the newly-opened gap, earning the first down. Those yards were only possible because he was willing to wait for the right gap to open up and because he drew the linebacker into the middle before cutting to an opening.
228 pounds of force
Most of Coleman’s highlights are long runs in which he snakes between defenders to the goal line. But Coleman is listed at 5’11” 228 pounds, and he can bring that heft to meet a defender. When he keeps his pad level low, Coleman can deliver some stout force against his opponents.
In this example, Coleman chips a defensive end, then catches a pass out of the backfield. By dropping his shoulder, he levels the defensive back, who foolishly had hopes of stopping him.
Not all force is delivered via bone crunching hits, though. Coleman’s power is also rooted in a strong, balanced lower body that can run through weaker tackles. Remembering to lower his pad level, Coleman keeps a stable center of gravity and can stumble forward for extra yardage after being tripped up. He has the leg drive to push a small pile of defenders forward, like on this play against Stanford.
Pass protection passivity
While Coleman’s pass catching process is clean, and he does a good job reading levels of defenders on his running plays, a fundamental weakness in his game right now is his pass protection technique. Especially for a player who’s not the primary running back, it’s important that Coleman keep his quarterback clean on the plays for which he does enter the game.
Coleman does a good job of setting up for a block, keeping a wide base, and approaching the defender at the proper angle. But on this play against Stanford, he passively waits for the defender to make contact instead of initiating it with his own punch, and ends up walloped backward into Jake Browning.
A similar play against Arizona State led to a sack situation. For a 228 pound running back, it’s imperative that Coleman develop a passable anchor if he wants to play on third down at the next level.
Possible Bills fit
Barring an injury, expect Coleman to reprise his role as Gaskin’s primary backup this year. When he enters the draft, he’ll probably wind up in the middle rounds of the draft at best — Aaron Jones and Joe Williams territory. The Bills don’t have an immediate need for a running back, with LeSean McCoy starring on the field and Jonathan Williams as the understudy. However, a third down back with special teams experience might be appealing as a back-of-the-roster selection. If Coleman can improve his pass blocking and continue to mature as a runner, he’ll work his way onto the field in the NFL.
Head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane have fostered an environment of competition. It doesn’t matter what position you play or what name is on the back of your jersey; the staff created an environment that promotes competition.
One of the biggest competitions that will unfold is at the linebacker position. It is a unit that has so many different types of players: young, old, experienced, and even a share of rookies. Carl Bradford, a former fourth round pick of the Green Bay Packers, was a player the Bills signed to compete.
He isn’t a player that I think offers much upside or even legit competition to start, but crazier things have happened. Bradford entered the league in 2014, but he has only appeared in 33 regular season snaps, all of which came last season. According to Pro Football Focus, he was 5th in run stop percentage amongst inside linebackers last preseason.
He is a former hybrid player from Arizona State, a guy that had a very productive career.
He often lined up as a defensive end, but in certain blitz packages he was in a two point stance and showed very good change of direction on stunts and games.
But his physical limitations are significant: 30 1/4 inch arms and lack of a pass rush arsenal led to Green Bay shifting him to weak inside linebacker in their 3-4 defense. From all accounts, he struggled, which is saying a lot, because the inside backer positions have long been a position of weakness in Packer country.
He plays very well versus the run, and mainly versus outside runs because they give him the best opportunity to avoid blocks or to be uncovered altogether. On this play from preseason, the safety spills the play and Bradford waits for the back to commit. He maintains good leverage, breaks down, and makes the tackle.
He isn’t the most athletic linebacker; he doesn’t offer top end speed or change of direction skills, but what he lacks in athleticism he makes up for with leverage. He rarely takes bad angles to the ball and sizes up the running backs pretty well. These kinds of traits are useful in 4-3 defenses, and especially one gap defenses. Leveraging gaps along with the ball is numero uno.
When asked to blitz from his linebacker position, he can flash some explosiveness. Overall, his explosiveness is average, but if put on or near the line of scrimmage and if schemed up properly, he does offer some pass rush ability. This blitz is a run blitz where he recognizes the down blocks. The right guard is pulling, so he fires his gun, gets downhill and takes out the guard and the tight end, and manages to bring the back down.
At the point of attack, he is average. He often processes too slowly, and if one-on-one with an offensive lineman, he just doesn’t possess the physical toughness to disengage. To a certain extent, this can be minimized by scheme or by having a strong defensive line in front of him; 3-4 defensive lines aren’t conducive to keeping inside backers clean.
In pass coverage, you don’t want him matched up with a modern running back. Bradford will have trouble running with those types of players. But as a zone backer, he can continue to use his angles and tackling to minimize big plays. He reminds me a lot of Preston Brown, primarily with his movement skills and what he does at the tackle point. When Bradford gets a chance to square up players, he delivers a nice thud on contact.
The following play was his best play of 2016, albeit in preseason. But he shows his zone coverage abilities by dropping to his landmark. He squeezes the tight end and recognizes the crosser entering his area, so he gets downhill and lays the running back out.
Potential Bills Fit:
This is hard to determine purely based on film, but taking into account the current linebackers on the roster and Bradford’s skills, I only see him working at Will and/or Sam linebacker, but ONLY in certain situations. In this scheme, they are often interchangeable. Of course, I believe his role is as a backup and special teamer, not a starter on defense. I don’t believe he has the take on/hand usage skills needed to play Sam linebacker in 4-3 under fronts. The Sam in 4-3 under is a position that often travels with the tight end, typically to the strength of the formation, and aligns on the line of scrimmage. In 4-3 over looks, I believe that he could be kept clean, allowing him to make plays in the run game and to keep most plays in the passing game in front of him.
In my opinion, he is a much better fit at outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense, especially a zone based defense. He’d be best in the type of scheme that doesn’t rely on linebackers to chase tight ends and running backs all over the field. With that said, the chances of Bradford making the squad are pretty slim. The Bills invested two draft picks at linebacker and they are guys that are much more versatile than Bradford and also offer special teams abilities. This competition will be one to watch come minicamp.
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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The Buffalo Bills traded back and took cornerback Tre’Davious White at the end of the first round believing that his skills would immediately boost their production at the corner position. White was one of the most polished corners in the draft, but he just didn’t have the measureables or flash that people expect out of first round corners.
When you turn on the film, you begin to understand why he was so reliable at LSU. It was due to technique. His technique is refined, and that can be attributed to hard work and great coaching. The current LSU defensive backs coach is Corey Raymond. Raymond has been on the staff as a DB coach since 2012. Before him was a coach by the name of Ron Cooper (2009-2011), who is now the defensive backs coach at Texas A&M, but who served on the FIU staff as the defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator from 2015-2016.
Although Raymond will get most of the credit for tutoring White, a lot of the techniques taught were also taught when Cooper was there. What is even more interesting is that new Bills assistant defensive backs coach Bobby Babich crossed paths with Cooper while at FIU last season. Babich was the defensive backs coach for FIU, so he is well aware of the techniques Cooper taught in the following videos. Watch Cooper demonstrate his man coverage techniques, then watch White execute them in the following videos.
White executing the Motor-Mirror technique
Outside release-Lean and press
WR’s Hips Drop
White executing the lean and press then breaks when the WR’s hips drop
Outside release-cutting off the route
White cutting off the outside/fade release
White executing the shuffle technique
As you can see, White really absorbed his coaching and executed the techniques consistently. These techniques are some that I am sure the Bills will utilize in 2017 to maximize his and the other defensive backs’ skills. Most Bills fans expect Leslie Frazier and Sean McDermott to predominantly play zone coverage, but based on the current roster, I believe that we will see more man/pattern matching coverage. White, Seymour, Darby, and the rest of the defensive backs should continue to improve their techniques under coach Gil Byrd and Bobby Babich this season.
Full Ron Cooper Video:
Andre Holmes is 6’4”, 210 pounds and went undrafted out of Hillsdale College in 2011. Currently 28 year old, Holmes spent the past four years with the Raiders, playing a plethora of different roles. According to Pro Football Focus he has 106 career catches for 1,512 yards and 13 TDs. Last season, he had 18 catches for 126 yards and 4 touchdowns on just 28 targets.
Holmes’s role was reduced in 2016, due to the presence of Crabtree, Cooper, and Roberts. However, he was a budding star prior to the birth of Oakland’s offense, and still possesses great size.
Holmes was a huge part of the Oakland offense in 2014, recording 47 catches for 693 and 4 TDs. He played 735 out of 1060 snaps, as seen below. In 2013, he played 59.5% of snaps and recorded a very high 6.1 raw PFF grade. He graded out well all across the field, but especially in the screen game.
Holmes is durable. In fact, he has not missed any games over the last 3 years. This durability will be a boon for a Bills unit that faced a ton of injuries in 2016. Having an iron man should certainly help, and signing Holmes to the alleged 3 year offer would help lock him up during the prime of his career for very cheap.
Corey Brown and Andre Holmes would be a really good #3 and #4 tandem. They actually provide solid depth and receiving ability. In my opinion, though, the Bills should still look long and hard at Corey Davis at pick #10 to give them a solid #2 WR presence across from Sammy Watkins.
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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.
Plenty of fans have placed Tyrod Taylor’s ability as an NFL quarterback under scrutiny. Certain assumptions, such as “Taylor is an inaccurate passer” and “his yards-after-catch average is poor” have been made. Many fans make these assumptions, but fail to recognize the context of the offense and understand what exactly Taylor was asked to execute. Passing offenses are typically tailored to maximize the talent of their offensive players. For example, Greg Roman’s offense was a power run scheme paired with a vertical ‘Air Coryell’ passing system. Roman, and then Lynn, wanted to maximize Taylor’s athletic ability. They focused on his elusiveness and mobility, both in the run game and the pass game. However, I question whether the structure of the offense was beneficial to its QB. Did it maximize Taylor’s strengths and minimize his weaknesses, while also helping him develop long term as a passer? Overall, was Tyrod Taylor placed in a position to be successful under Roman and Lynn? To find out, here at Cover 1 we charted every attempted throw from his 2016 campaign. This allowed us to analyze the Bills’ offense and recognize how it helped and hurt Taylor’s potential as a quarterback.
The chart we created accounts for every type of drop. This includes; 3-step, 5-step, 7-step, roll out, play action inside the pocket, and play action outside the pocket, as well as the screen game. The chart is also broken down further, distinguishing between snaps out of shotgun and those under center. This is important to note, because many of Taylor’s strengths and weaknesses are tied to these categories.
To make the chart easier to understand, let’s walk through some of the more important statistics and explain their significance.
Shotgun vs. Under Center
The Bills decided to go from shotgun a majority (88.2%) of the time this season. However, based on the film and charted statistics, this tendency appeared to hinder Tyrod Taylor as a passer. When Taylor was in shotgun his footwork took a huge hit. His drop was not as sound because he was already starting out 4 to 5 yards from the center. Poor footwork often leads to a poor throwing motion, which in turn leads to inaccurate passing.
Being under center gives a quarterback a sense of purpose — a checklist, if you will. The quarterback must go through his drop, hit his last step, then complete his reads in order to throw in rhythm. This is something that the shotgun cannot simulate. Roman’s offense wants its quarterback standing in the pocket and scanning the entire field. When no one is open, the quarterback is asked to extend the play with his feet. In theory, it makes perfect sense, but for Taylor, it often led to prematurely escaping the pocket. Mentally, Taylor processed this as him standing in the pocket for too long while waiting for routes to develop. If Taylor was under center, then he would have to complete everything in rhythm. He would need to go through his drop and process his progressions all at once. This would allow him to hit his last step on the drop and deliver the football on time. This would lead to cleaner mechanics from the hips down and a more compact, crisp delivery. Ultimately, this would culminate in more accurate passes.
Taylor’s passing accuracy percentage, yards per attempt, completion percentage, and quarterback rating were all significantly worse while he was in shotgun compared to under center. The difference in statistics between the two are not even close. These statistics show how valuable it is to have Taylor throwing from under center.
3-Step Drop – Quick Game
Statistics show Tyrod Taylor is a capable quick-game quarterback. On the season, Taylor completed roughly 65 percent of his throws and had an accuracy rating of 79.1 percent when throwing quick-game off of a 3-step drop. The Bills’ offense motioned 33 percent of the time while they had a quick-game concept play called. The quick game allowed Taylor to diagnose the defensive coverage pre-snap and find the correct receiver to throw the football to post-snap. The quick game is an effective way to pick up a decent amount of yards on early downs. Some of Taylor’s best passing games were when he was efficient in the 3-step passing game (See above chart).
One area in which Tyrod Taylor appeared to be a strong passer, both on tape and statistically, is 7-step drops. The 7-step drop allows for a quarterback to get a deep drop in the pocket. This has helped Taylor for a number of reasons. First, being that Taylor is a shorter quarterback, getting him further away from line of scrimmage allows him to see down the field more clearly. Secondly, a deeper drop allows for a receiver to gain better separation on a defender, thus allowing Taylor to find an open receiver down the field.
Love everything about the play call. Lynn exploiting a mismatch. 7 step from under center and a perfect throw. Incomplete. Lk at the pocket pic.twitter.com/7L6X30HkFj
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) December 26, 2016
If a receiver is unable to get open, then it offers more options to run the ball for a mobile quarterback like Tyrod Taylor. The defense will drop into their zones deeper on the farther routes, opening up running lanes for him underneath.
7 step drop from under center. If TT back next year, we need a top tier RT. That will allow us to do this more. pic.twitter.com/Cn7LhETp3s
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) December 21, 2016
Throughout the season, though, Taylor only attempted 44 7-step drop passes, accounting for just 10 percent of all his throws. Of these 44 attempts, Taylor completed 29 for 368 yards. At 8.4 yards per attempt, this is where Taylor made a good amount of his big plays. Once again, looking at Taylor’s top passing games, he played his best when he was effective in this passing category. During Taylor’s best three games, he threw for 147 yards on nine 7-step drop attempts, completing eight of them.
7 step drop. Shobert with the pressure. Deep comeback to Goodwin. pic.twitter.com/zbjwOYbMO0
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) December 21, 2016
When a screen game is used properly, it can be a great way to nullify a strong pass rush and also move the football down the field. In 2016, the screen game for the Buffalo Bills was virtually non existent. The Bills called 17 screens, which gained a total of 53 yards. At 3.1 yards per play, is a screen play even worth calling? Well, then offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn must not have thought so. In five separate games, the Bills did not call a single screen all game. The screen game is an area that is supposed to help a quarterback. It gets them an easy completion, and in some cases can get a quarterback out of a funk and into a rhythm. In Taylor’s case, it actually ended up hurting him, often times putting the Bills behind the sticks and destroying Taylor’s yards per attempt average.
After analyzing the statistics, it is alarming how the Buffalo Bills decided to use Tyrod Taylor in 2016. It is the job of the coach to put a player in the best possible position to succeed. This can be said for every position in every sport. If the statistics clearly show Taylor was a better quarterback under center, then why was Taylor only under center 10.6 percent of the time? Taylor was a successful quarterback in the 3-step game in 2016. The easy completions were a great way to gain five or more yards per play, and also allowed Taylor to gain some rhythm during the game. Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn should have done a better job and made this a more integral part of the offense. At times, it was virtually stealing.
On another note, the film and statistics both show Taylor was a better quarterback with a deeper drop from the line of scrimmage. This not only allowed for Taylor to throw the football down the field, but it helps him see the field better and the ability to step up and make a play with his feet when necessary. If this is clearly seen on film and backed up by the statistics, then why only call 7-step drops a measly 53 times all year?
The coaches did not put Tyrod Taylor in a proper position to succeed. His strengths were not used as an asset to the offense, and often times his weaknesses were exploited by his own coaches. With Anthony Lynn out of the picture and the Buffalo Bills’ 2016 offense in the past, Tyrod Taylor could have a very bright future teamed with new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. Dennison is known for having quarterbacks under center, while also utilizing play action and deep drop backs. This plays right into the areas where Tyrod Taylor excels as a passer. With these two paired together, it is reasonable to expect a much better passing attack out of the Buffalo Bills in 2017.
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) February 5, 2017