Bills fans have a lot to be thankful for after 26-15 win over Cowboys

11/29/2019
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The Buffalo Bills shocked the nation with a win on quite possibly the biggest stage outside of the Super Bowl with a 26-15 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving. Dallas is “not an easy place to play on Thanksgiving,” head coach Sean McDermott stated after the game. For the first couple drives, the team had to “weather the storm,” and they absolutely did, even after the Cowboys top-ranked offense smacked them in the mouth.

“They (Cowboys) had us on our heels a little bit but we’ve been through that before,” McDermott told the media. “But we made the adjustments.”

The communication and adjustments allowed the Bills to rattle off 26 unanswered points to put a stranglehold on the game and one of the AFC wildcard spots. Let’s go through some of my observations from the dominating win. 

Nerves? What nerves?

I must admit — Josh Allen’s mental state in games of this magnitude always seem to worry me. But much like Allen has done to many draft analysts, he proved me wrong. The Bills were backed up on their second drive of the game and, after the Cowboys sent consecutive run blitzes, were faced with a third-and-10 situation with the ball spotted at the 2-yard line. Rookie right tackle Cody Ford was matched up versus Demarcus Lawrence who was in a wide-nine, two-point stance. On the snap, Ford landed a two-handed punch but Lawrence immediately countered with a chop-rip to gain the corner. Allen, who was at the top scanning left to right and eight feet deep into his end zone, calmly climbed the pocket with his eyes still downfield and hit Cole Beasley for 29 yards to move the chains. The sidearm throw led Beasley perfectly and gave the trailer defender zero shot of making a play on the ball. Allen’s poise and ability to manipulate the pocket was on-point all day.

While Allen was sacked four times — something he has struggled with this year — this was Allen’s best game from a mental standpoint. The Bills ran the no huddle 57% of the snaps and you could see Allen was in the zone. His field awareness has been much better when given the keys to run the offense from the line of scrimmage. Allen consistently got the Bills in easy, high-percentage plays on early downs and favorable calls versus the coverage looks the Cowboys showed. Late in the second quarter, the offense faced a second-and-20 situation from the Cowboys 49-yard line. Allen saw the man coverage and targeted Beasley on an in-breaking route over the middle. Allen took a five-step drop from gun, waited flatfooted in the pocket for about four seconds for Beasley to separate in the intermediate area before throwing a rope from the -42-yard line to the +32 of Dallas.

He also showed command and poise on critical downs. In the third quarter, Allen and the Bills offense were faced with a third-and-3 situation. Allen got the Bills into a 4-strong formation, which means there are four possible receivers to one side of the field and an isolated receiver to the weakside. The isolated target was tight end Dawson Knox, and the three receivers to the field were John Brown, Beasley and Isaiah McKenzie with running back Devin Singletary aligned to the trips side. But offensive coordinator Brian Daboll made life easy for Allen because aligning four receivers to one side is tough to defend. If it’s zone, the Bills can flood the zone to the point where at least one receiver will be open. If it’s man coverage, the defenders have a lot of traffic to work through. On this play, with Knox isolated out to the left, the Cowboys put safety Darian Thompson in press coverage against him. This immediately alerts Allen that it is man coverage, so when the ball is snapped, he is looking to the mesh routes of this mesh-wheel concept.

Allen hit Mckenzie who had separation versus the Cowboys corner Byron Jones because Jones was off and soft worried about the pick routes. But props to Allen for hitting McKenzie in stride on this shallow crossing route — a route that he had struggled with in the past.

4-strong Mesh – Wheel

Allen finished the game 19-of-24 for 231 yards with one passing and rushing touchdown apiece. The no-huddle made life easier from a mental standpoint but it also took a toll on the Cowboys pass rush. On several occasions, Lawrence pulled himself off the field in which Allen immediately put the Bills in empty sets to create explosive plays.

Courtesy of PFF

This was a smart tactic because the offensive line didn’t have to worry about setting the protection to Lawrence or keeping in an extra blocker. Their confidence in the offensive line holding up against the Cowboys reserve rushers was much higher. On both the Beasley touchdown and the scramble touchdown by Allen, Lawrence was taking a water break. Which was huge, because Lawrence was winning quite easily against Ford.

On both occasions, backup rusher Bennett did not maintain a disciplined rush. Bennett drove far too upfield leading Allen to escape and create explosive plays. The no-huddle minimized the amount of blitzes they could send at Allen and, even though they generated pressure with four 36% of his drop backs, the lane integrity by the Cowboys was so bad that Allen was still able to make sound decisions inside and outside of the play design. The up-tempo game has worked over the last several weeks and it will be interesting to see how it holds up against the Ravens: the No. 1 blitzing team in the league.

Billieve in Beasley

Beasley wanted to come play in Buffalo because of the opportunities that Daboll would create for him but I don’t think he quite realized what kind of environment he was getting himself and his family into.

“There’s a bond here that I don’t think can happen in many places just with the way it’s kind of set up,” Beasley told the media.

On the field, Buffalo is very much like a college atmosphere but what general manager Brandon Beane and McDermott have built off the field is much like a family.

Beasley has quickly realized the different culture that this regime has built.

“It’s a different kind of brotherhood here and we’re always together,” he says. “Our kids are together, the coaches, the players – everything.”

That culture breeds unselfish play and the mental toughness to make a play when their number is called and against his former team, Beasley’s number was called often. He led the team with seven targets, reeled in six receptions for 110 yards and one touchdown.

What has been completely obvious over the past few weeks is not just his role within the offensive identity, but his rapport with Allen. Allen stated that he and Beasley were on the same page on the 25-yard touchdown. The passing concept is one that Beasley brought to Daboll over the offseason from his college days at SMU and one that they hadn’t busted out until last week. It’s a read-type concept that really embodies the slot receiver position in the Erhardt-Perkins scheme and 100% relies on the quarterback and receiver to be on the same page. If executed properly, the concept cannot be wrong even when the play goes outside of structure.

I’m just glad I’m in a place (where) coaches believe in me,” Beasley said. ” (Where) teammates believe in me and they give me opportunities to do what I do.”

If the Bills can continue to build on plays like that — giving playmakers opportunities on a consistent basis — their offense is going to take off. Players want to be productive on the field, win and enjoy their time off the field. I think Beasley is getting that satisfaction in his first year in Western New York.

It’s really a unique and awesome thing that we have here in Buffalo,” he says. “And I know my family has loved every bit of it. That’s part of why I said I’d play here until the wheels fall off.”

Oliver”needed this one”

Many fans questioned Beane’s 2019 first-round draft pick of Ed Oliver because he wasn’t filling the box score. Everyone figured that with his natural talent that he would just come in and light it up. But the transition from nose tackle to 3-technqiue had its growing pains. You see Oliver reenacting his first sack of the game to his former coach AJ Blum in the video above. Oliver sensed blood in the water with backup guard Xavier Su’a-Filo in the game for Connor Williams. On the snap, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott took a seven-step drop off of play action looking to push the ball down the field.

“When I was rushing, I was like, man, this play is taking a long time and he still has the ball,” Oliver said after the game.

Oliver attacked the outer edge of the blocker with power and as he got closer to Prescott, he transitioned to a rip to beat down the edge. Oliver showed off tremendous upper body and core strength and the ability to bend and flatten to the quarterback. He then reached his arm out and got a piece of the ball. The ball tumbled to the AT&T Stadium turf and was scooped up by his teammate Trent Murphy. 

Oliver has ratcheted up his hand usage and overall pass rushing acumen in recent weeks and it has been showing up more in the stat sheets. This is necessary for a strong playoff run.

Coming into Week 13, the Bills ranked 18th in pressure rate generating pressure on only 29.6% of the quarterback’s drop backs. Oliver currently sits at five sacks, three QB hits and 15 QB hurries. All five of his sacks have come on first down, including his second sack on Thursday against center Travis Frederick.

With the clock running and the Cowboys in a no-huddle, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier sent a five-man pressure from the field. Linebacker Matt Milano and corner Taron Johnson attacked Prescott. Oliver slanted to the boundary A-gap all the way from the field B-gap, got up under Frederick’s pads and put him on skates for about 9 yards. Dak looked to throw to the boundary, likely thinking the pressure was a creeper pressure, where only four defenders are rushing and a defensive lineman drops into coverage into the boundary. Instead, they played a pattern matching coverage called “Palms” so tight end Jason Witten was not open and Oliver was able to finish.

While Oliver stated “he needed this,” I think his team needed it just as much. His improvement as a rusher should only help one of the top defenses in the league heading into the big dance.

(Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Make that money

Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and defensive end Shaq Lawson are in the final years of their contracts which means there’s quite an incentive for them to play well. Nothing against their skillset, but all of us know money is one hell of a motivator. Having that paper as the dangling carrot along with a chip on your shoulder and you have guys that can do some damage like Phillips and Lawson have.

“When they have that o-line that you guys hype up all week and you compare that to what we just did to them?” Phillips told media members after the game. “That’s all that we needed to say.”

McDermott and his staff have a way of maximizing talent like Phillips — a former second round pick of the Dolphins and of assistant general manager Joe Schoen. Somehow when Beane and Schoen find guys who feel wronged and with something to prove, the Bills staff turns their play into gold. Phillips added another half sack to his resume, which brings him up to 7.5 to go along with his four QB hits and seven QB hurries.

We came out, did our thing,” Phillips said. “We showed the world what we got. Put the world on notice.”

Phillips’ play in limited reps this season will likely put teams on notice when free agency hits this offseason if Beane doesn’t get a deal done. 

Lawson is in the same boat. He has made some money through 13 weeks. He flashed in both the run and pass game on Thanksgiving racking up one sack, one QB hit, four tackles and four stops. His sack total is now up to 5.5 and he ranks second on the team in total pressures with 25 behind Jerry Hughes (42). But his overall pass rush productivity, which takes into account snaps, has the highest productivity rating on the team with a 10.0 (Hughes 9.7, Murphy 5.8).

I have to keep it going, man,” Lawson said. “I just have to keep it going. I’m hot right now. I don’t know what it is. My meditation is working. I mean, I don’t know. I feel like the college me. Not a lot of thinking; I’ve just been going out there and playing the ball free.”

Lawson’s play speed has definitely improved over the years, but his run defense has always been top notch. The former Clemson Tiger is the Bills most consistent run defender this season. He currently ranks fifth with a 10.5% run sopping rate according to Pro Football Focus. In 132 run snaps, he has 14 solo tackles and four stops. This showed up regularly against the Cowboys on early downs, where he was blowing up run plays and putting the No. 1 offense behind schedule on several occasions.

Whether it’s the money, chip on his shoulder or meditation, Bills fans have come to fall in love with Lawson’s style of play and production this season. Beane and Co. will have a tough decision to make this offseason. He has developed like they want their players to and plays with a mentality that this regime loves.

All in all, the defensive line was a difference maker. They were flying all over the field but more importantly pushing the pocket into the lap of Prescott which is important to do to a 6-foot-2 quarterback.

Unsung Hero

Center Mitch Morse quietly had a good game. He didn’t allow a pressure, and currently sits eighth in PFF’s pass blocking efficiency at 98.3. Morse has only allowed one sack, one QB hit and seven QB hurries this season. But when healthy, his athleticism has been a staple in the Bills pin and pull run scheme. A scheme that attacks the perimeter of the defense with down blocks and pulling linemen. Having a center like Morse, who can pull, allows offensive line coach Bobby Johnson to scheme up line calls to problem solve any defensive front presented. Morse, once again, sprung running backs on pin and pull runs on Thursday by executing long pulls and targeting defenders in space.

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