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Let’s face it, the defense made things very easy for the Bills offense last Sunday out at U.S Bank Stadium. It seems like the defensive unit has been playing on another level ever since halftime of the Chargers game. Most analysts, including myself, believed that a lot of that success was due to the situation of being blown out and the Chargers letting off of the gas. But after the defense’s performance against a very talented Vikings offense, maybe the turnaround is not a mirage. Maybe, the meetings between the staff and players indeed helped them “get on the same page.” Maybe, this is the type of output we should expect.
They have a big test ahead with Aaron Rogers and the Green Bay Packers coming up, but before we move on, lets see who and why they played so well on the road and if it is a level of play that is sustainable.
Here is my film analysis on the Bills defense from week three:
First play- The Bills appeared to put more pressure on the quarterback position in week three, including sending its linebackers early and often. While they played fairly simple coverages on the back end, they did it with five-man pressures. On this play, Milano rushes. But just watch Edmunds, Bush and White pattern match the three targets to that side. Edmunds passes the RB on to Bush and the play is limited to three yards. Also, Hyde and Lewis match the two-WR side. Hyde undercuts the #1. This is their, “defend the middle of the field” philosophy. Think about it; is Cousins really going to throw all the way across the field to the flats? No, so work/defend inside out.
Similar philosophy here. Cousins executes a play action pass and throw from the far hash to outside the numbers. White slips on a beautiful blaze out route by Diggs. But Cousins has to drop it in the bucket from the far hash up and over Hyde who is the flats defender in cover 3 sky. Doable, but that’s a defense playing the percentages.
The first turnover was a thing of beauty. Why? Because it was their base defense. A slightly disguised four-man rush and cover 3 buzz on the backend. The alignment of Milano makes the offense slide pass protection to their left, so the center slides left. This means the man-side of the protection is a 1 on 1 for Murphy and Alexander. Aside from Hughes, Zo has been quite possibly the most valuable defender. He bull rushes the guard into Cousins by using very good hand placement. Cousins can’t step into the throw, and he can barely can see his targets. This gives Murphy time to pick himself up off the ground to get back into the fight.
2nd and 8-Bills have been fully committed to stopping the run. They have called a lot more run blitzes since that Chargers game. On the snap, Hughes slants inside, Alexander tattoos the lead blocker. You see a little run stunt by Williams and Murphy on the backside. But Lotulelei is the Star of this play..Quickly shoots the backside gap, and brings down the ballcarrier. Stopping the run early leads to 3rd and longs.
The run stop sets up 3rd and 8. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier appears to pull a play out of current Michigan Defensive coordinator Don Brown’s playbook. Brown coached Milano one season at Boston College and he used him all over the place.
LB Matt Milano played a similar role to Jabrill Peppers in Don Brown's defense (BC Def coordinator 2013-15) now at Michigan. Nice hit here!! pic.twitter.com/ycDguUBKQJ
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) May 5, 2017
While Milano isn’t a naturally gifted pass rusher, if schemed to rush on twists or stunts, he can be very disruptive. Frazier appears to create a game between Hughes and Milano and as the RB is coming to pick up Milano, he interferes with the left tackle and Hughes is able to get to the QB. The defense plays simple Tampa 2 on the back end and it looks like a WR comes open, but Hughes is there too quickly.
Having another defensive end that can play in space has really opened up play calls. Murphy played outside linebacker in Washington and now the Bills can drop he or Hughes into space on any given play. Here the Bills run another simulated pressure on third down with Edmunds and Humber rushing the passer. Murphy redirects Diggs, but Cousins is trying to hit the deep over route but is well off the mark.
1st down-Edmunds is still getting caught too deep on play action passes. There are times he is so deep into the line of scrimmage, he has no choice but to turn it into a rush. But sometimes the pressure, here by Murphy, bails him out. His height also may deter QBs from throwing these over routes like the one here by Rudolph.
On the very next play, the Vikings come out in a 2×2 set which typically puts the Bills in quarters coverage. Well, that’s the case again, but the Vikings don’t have a quarters coverage beater. They settle for chip/releases by their TEs to the flats. So Lewis and Poyer are able to bracket Thielen and Cousins is forced to throw it short.
3rd and 1. The Vikings decide to try and convert through the air. Pre-snap Buffalo disguises it as man coverage, and the motion by Thielen to a stacked set is great if the Bills are indeed in man coverage. The WR on the line of scrimmage will lift the coverage and Thielen should be wide open. But the Bills rotate to Tampa 2 and Lewis and Milano are extremely disciplined. They don’t follow the clear out, so now Thielen is eliminated as an option. At the line of scrimmage, the Vikings slide the protection to Hughes, but he is still able to win with a stab, chop and rip but it’s Williams that brings Cousins down to force the punt. That is team defense in a nutshell.
Fans that aren’t impressed with Lotulelei’s play or how the Bills doubled down on nose tackles by drafting Phillips probably don’t realize how crucial they are to run fits. In this system they aren’t just occupiers, they are read and react guys versus the run. They are asked to diagnose run blocking in an instant, then shoot backside gaps on what is called a gap exchange. If executed properly the movement should give the defense an upper hand against the run. Here the quick gap exchange by Phillips gives he and Edmunds the upper hand on the run.
With the team already up big, they played a lot of Tampa 2 on this drive. But they did one hell of a job of disguising it this week. That is something that I thought they failed at last week in the first half. On this 3rd and 7 play, they have Alexander and Murphy in two-point stances, Edmunds and Milano are moving around, the corners are up in press coverage but as the ball is snapped they drop to a Tampa 2 look. Watch Edmunds open to the TE and then pivot as the TE goes over the middle. Then rewind it and watch Milano. Both are athletes that do a great job of passing on their targets and acquiring targets that are coming into their area. Thielen is running the drive route and because of Milano’s drop, he sits but Milano is close enough to make a play.
On the very first play, the Vikings motion right into empty and attack the linebackers just like the Chargers did. In empty, Buffalo plays quarters and that means an easy completion to Thielen.
Later in the drive, they do the same but this time the Bills switch it up, which is refreshing. They send Edmunds off the edge and have Hyde drop down. Hyde wraps up and secures the tackle. Pretty good rush by Lotulelei.
On 2nd and 6, the Vikings execute a ‘tear’ motion where the back moves across the formation and because it’s man coverage Edmunds motions with him. Cousins tries swinging it to the back but Edmunds easily shuts it down for no gain.
I know the Bills’ defense hasn’t really accomplished much in over the last year or so, but it is still amazing that success they have had running basic concepts. Like this 3rd and 6 simulated pressure paired with cover 3 zone. As the ball is snapped, linebacker Matt Milano rushes and defensive end Murphy drops into coverage. So, it’s a four-man rush, and traditional three deep with four-man under coverage. BUT, it works. The hard slant inside by Williams occupies the left guard and center and the running back can’t handle Milano. Milano gives him an ole, and brings Cousins down.
1st down-I am not sure how Diggs even got this deep. Poyer should be helping over the top, but this was a clear drop by the speedy WR. The Bills had a couple things go their way this game.
You have serious issues when your third defensive end can do this…
Eddie walked the tackle back with one hand…It caused Cousins to panic and throw it to Murray…Edmunds laid the lumber and the rock dropped right into Milano's lap lol pic.twitter.com/kVZefKTDpt
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) September 26, 2018
The Bills definitely sent their share of simulated pressures this game. Again, they send Milano from the boundary with Murphy dropping into coverage and play a simple Cover 3 defense. Again, Cousins panics and is unable to complete anything. Watch him drift to his right, fire it to his receiver and even with Murphy tripping, Cousins is unable to connect with the wide open WR.
3rd and 7. The Bills didn’t send anything complex at the Vikings in the second half, they hung their hat on ‘bleeding the clock’ and keeping everything in front of them. Buffalo disguises this Tampa 2 play call well and Hughes is able to wreck the play again.
First play of the fourth quarter is another simulated pressure. It seemed like the Bills ran this pressure from the boundary or to the RB side. They send Humber and drop Alexander to the field. It’s a simple Cover 3 call and EVERYONE is covered up. Especially the WR running the wheel route by Johnson. The coverage and pressure were consistent all day!
I am not sure how the Vikings didn’t pick up on the simulated pressures, they were quite obvious. With the 3×1 set, Milano blitzes from the boundary against the running back with Hughes dropping. It’s Cover 3, so as the #1 WR sits, Lewis, splits the difference between the #1 and #2 WR and breaks on the ball.
At this time, the defense is exhausted and quite honestly been lulled to sleep with all of the underneath passes, but Cousins catches the defensive backs rotating into Cover 3 so he chucks it deep. Look at how quickly White comes to life to shut this down.
The Vikings did go on to score but this big win in Minnesota was a testament to the mental toughness on the defensive side of the ball. After Head Coach Sean McDermott took over playcalling duties in the second half of the last game, he could have easily ran with those responsibilities the rest of the season. Instead, the staff and players met during the week, reset, and got on the same page. Whatever was said during those meetings apparently worked. The defense wreaked havoc and played fast. That style will be needed this weekend in Green Bay.