On a weekly basis you will hear Sean McDermott or Leslie Frazier talk about fundamentals, tackling, pursuit, or run gap integrity, but most of the time we dismiss it as coach speak. But when Coach McDermott stated the following during the Saints post-game press conference, it was the truth:
“There’s technique, fundamentals, it’s always a combination of that. Effort. I thought the effort was there….Hand balance up front in order to stay in your gap. The gap integrity, I’ve mentioned to you guys before. We’re getting knocked out of our gaps, and then we’re not fitting the run all the time the way we need to. That’s where it starts, is at the line of scrimmage.”
Then you hear DC Frazier state this on Monday:
” Our tackling wasn’t bad, it was much better than the week before. But, being in and out of our gaps was a big problem. We played a lot of eight-man front yesterday, which means you think you’re going to be fine against the run, but it didn’t turn out that way for us. That’s the biggest culprit from yesterday. Why it’s happening? We have to go back to the fundamentals of what we do, and teach it as if we’re at the beginning of training camp; not take for granted that everybody understands the importance of being in their spots. Obviously, that’s not the case. We have to get back to the basics of run defense.”
After reading that and witnessing the Bills’ run defense give up 298 yards on 48 attempts, I am sure your first thought was the fact that they traded away DT Marcell Dareus, and believe me, that has a lot to do with it.
dareus catapulted pulley oh no pic.twitter.com/6ozyn8U0BG
— KP (@KP_Show) November 14, 2017
But he is not going to help the Bills fix their run defense, so the team must go back to the drawing board, back to the basics, as DC Frazier stated. When I went through the film it really came down to that. The defense failed to mentally process what the Saints were doing in the run game. They failed to line up properly, they failed to fill their run gaps. When they did fit properly they were outmanned and lost one-on-one battles.
So let’s go over some of the tendencies that arose on the defensive side, as there are some plays that the Bills are going to get a heavy dose of going forward.
Let’s start with the first play of the game. Brees runs a RPO (run-pass option). A run is called in the huddle, but if he gets a certain look out wide versus the 3×1 formation, then he has the ability to throw a pass. It has to be quick, too, as the the offensive line is still blocking run, but they execute it perfectly for a 13-yard gain to Thomas. This concept was run another two times in the game.
How did they know this play would work? They watched film from the Bills’ matchup versus the Buccaneers. Similar personnel and 3×1 alignment, but basically Brees, much like Winston, knew that the field corner would open up his hips and utilize the ‘bail’ technique as soon as the ball is snapped, which leaves the quick slant open.
Here it is 3×1 RPO from Bucs game pic.twitter.com/6IZLOzS2QH
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) November 14, 2017
That degree of scouting exhibited on the first play really showed how well the Saints’ pro scouts had the Bills’ defensive number, and it was a sign of things to come.
Consider the use of motion throughout the game by New Orleans. The Saints used several types of motion to force the defense to process the formational and gap changes quickly, while still maintaining their run gap integrity. Well, that integrity was not upheld. On 4th-and-1 the Saints motion WR Ted Ginn into the backfield. That motion and/or I-formation look changes run gap responsibilities. As Ginn motions you see Humber telling LB Preston Brown to bump down a gap. The new look should place Brown into the strong A gap and Humber now in the weak B gap. But Brown fails to process what HC Sean Payton threw at him, and the offense gains 25 yards, which included two forced missed tackles by RB Mark Ingram.
In the second half the Saints utilized a different type of motion or shift to gain the upper hand. Rather than rely on ‘orbit’ or ‘jet’ motion to create confusion, they used a TE (Y) motion/trade. What this means is that the tight end aligns to one side of the formation, then motions across the formation. This is important because the defense is always attempting to align to the strength of the formation. So when the tight end motions here, the defense has to adjust to it. Sometimes the adjustment is done by shifting the defensive line, and sometimes it’s as simple as just moving the linebackers. That’s what the Bills choose to do here, but that also creates issues. At the onset of the play the defense aligns in their base 4-3 over front. Simply put, that means the 3-technique defensive tackle, Kyle Williams, is aligned to the tight end side. With the motion and the shift by the linebackers rather than the defensive line, now the 3-tech is to the weak side, and that creates a bubble to the strength, where offense wants to attack. The issue here is that the defensive structure is easily handled and outflanked because of the motion, due to the manner in which DC Frazier chose to handle it. The nose tackle Cedric Thornton, is torqued to the ground on the down block. Instead of having to double team the 3-tech (if aligned to the strength), the tackle and tight end now have to handle DE Shaq Lawson, where then the tight end will take Lorenzo Alexander, the backside linebacker. The fullback kicks out Humber, and the guard pulls and picks up LB Brown. The tight alignment by the play side WR allows him to easily push crack to the safety, Micah Hyde. It’s a simple design but one that was executed several times in the second half.
Coming out of halftime you would think that the staff and its players would have a better idea of how to handle what the Saints wanted to do on the ground, but that was not the case. The ‘orbit’ motion still presented problems for the Bills’ defense. This sort of action was most likely picked up by the scouts when the Bills played another Saints division rival, the Carolina Panthers. They utilized similar motions and plays with running backs Christian McCaffery and Jonathan Stewart.
On this play, they use the motion to influence LB Brown. New Orleans runs an inside zone run with some split flow from the tight end. On the snap, DT Jerel Worthy is explosive, but he tackles the tight end. The split flow from the motion and tight end holds Brown just enough so that the center can wall him off, as RB Ingram runs the ladder outside for an 11-yard gain. Brown had very bad eye discipline all game, and it led to some poor run fits.
Coach McDermott talked about “hand balance up front in order to stay in your gap,” and this was one of those plays. The Saints send out 12 personnel and run inside zone to the defense’s right. So this is what their run gap responsibilities appear to be.
Worthy (yellow arrow) shoots the weak side A gap, so then Alexander (yellow arrow) must fill the weak side B gap to satisfy that run fit. But watch DE Shaq Lawson, who is in a 6i technique. He should have the weak side C gap as the ball moves to his right. This should be easy given his alignment vs. the TE, who is responsible for reach blocking him. On the snap, Lawson doesn’t explode, play with hand balance or leverage, and it allows the tight end to get into a position to hook him, and that block is ultimately the reason Kamara can bend it back for 10 yards. Watch Alexander at the end of the play. He doesn’t look too pleased with Lawson.
Preston Brown may have played his worst game as a professional player last Sunday. He was the Bills’ worst-graded defender, and it was because of his terrible eye discipline. He was influenced far too easily. Here is another ‘orbit’ motion that causes Brown to leave his gap unattended.
Two straight games the Bills’ run defense has been atrocious. Against the Jets, they were dominated up front and missed way too many tackles. Against the Saints, HC Payton put on a clinic on how to demolish the Frazier-led defense. They ran their base runs with several motions built into the plays. Specifically, the ‘orbit’, ‘jet’ and ‘Y-motion/trade, which caused confusion along the second level. The linebackers were too slow processing where to line up pre-snap, and too slow to process which gap they should be filling. It often caused them to be out of position, to take bad angles, or to miss tackles, all fundamentals that they had been playing with early in the season.
But that’s what happens when you play a team like the Saints. They’re the cream of the crop in the NFL. They have the pro and college scouting personnel clicking. They have a head coach who is one of the best play designers and play callers in the NFL, a hall of fame QB leading, and an array of weapons to put the staff’s plan into action. All of those factors had a hand in the 47-10 beatdown in week 10.