There were many concerns on the defensive side of the ball for the Buffalo Bills coming into this game. They haven’t been unable to stop offenses in the last few games and, given the type of offense and weapons on the Kansas City Chiefs offense, the game plan needed to be stellar.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and his staff didn’t disappoint. They came up with some simple tweaks in the personnel and play calls that allowed the defense to disguise, but to also play fast. The first order of business was to stop the run.
This was going to be a feat in and of itself, given the Chiefs’ penchant for pre-snap shifts, motions, and diverse personnel looks. One of the major issues the Bills had versus the Saints was when they utilized Y-motion. The linebackers struggled to align properly, and were consequently gashed. This game, they were prepared.
The predominant defensive personnel grouping was nickel. That’s why, even though the Chiefs are in 21 personnel on 2nd-and-7, slot CB Leonard Johnson is still in the game. That’s why, prior to the snap, Hughes bumps down a gap so that Johnson isn’t responsible for any of the interior gaps. On the snap, Hughes shoots the inside gap as soon as he reads zone blocking, and he takes away any bounce read by RB Kareem Hunt on the outside zone run. Milano, who is aligned as the Will LB, ‘fires his gun’ and takes away any cutback. Penetration by the linebackers in the run game has been sorely missed, and they didn’t hesitate to shoot gaps this game.
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) November 28, 2017
Defensive end Jerry Hughes had one of his best games versus the run this season. He was the Bills’ highest graded run defender, and he finished with three solo tackles, one assisted, and three stops, on top of three QB hurries. The Chiefs are in 21 personnel and they attempt to use motion to get movement from the linebackers, but they end up running a sweep into the boundary. Hughes stabs outside, but then quickly reads the zone blocking scheme and the sweep coming in his direction. So he changes his course, shoots the inside gap of LT Eric Fisher, and blows the play up for a 10-yard loss.
When it came to the run game, LB Preston Brown had the biggest turnaround compared to prior weeks. Here, he reads the zone blocking scheme, then shoots the gap before the center can pick him up. This type of penetration stops a running back before he can even diagnose rushing lanes.
Brown didn’t hesitate to shoot gaps this game. pic.twitter.com/XIsaRaakh5
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) November 28, 2017
He was good versus zone blocking and gap runs, as well. Check out how quickly he diagnoses the down blocks and the pull by the guard, leverages the running back, recognizes the entry point for the back, attacks downhill, and meets the back in the hole. It’s another example of him taking away any and all options for a talented back in Kareem Hunt. This is textbook stuff by Brown.
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) November 28, 2017
Recognition of run blocking schemes typically executed by the Chiefs really helped the Bills live on the Kansas City side of line of scrimmage. As the ball is snapped, DT Adolphus Washington executes a gap exchange quickly enough to stay ahead of the reach or cut block by the left guard, leading to a 3-yard loss.
The preparation was evident throughout the game. The Bills’ defense seemed to be a step ahead of the Chiefs’ play caller and players on the field. On this critical 3rd-and-2 play, the Chiefs shift into an inverted wishbone with Kelce in the shotgun formation. As soon as the offense shifts into the formation, the defense is ready, and they set the defense. The 3-3-5 (three defensive linemen, three linebackers, five defensive backs) puts LB Alexander in a 3-technique, but in a two point stance. That allows him to see the down block and avoid it, which creates a disruption and doesn’t allow the backside guard to pull and pick up LB Milano.
Milano attacks and forces WR Tyreek Hill wide, Hyde does his job to contain the speedy receiver, and DE Shaq Lawson finishes the play and forces fourth down.
Buffalo held the Chiefs to 55 yards on 19 carries, which forced the Chiefs into some difficult third down situations. Kansas City finished the game 2/13 on third down conversions, and a lot of that had to do with Frazier’s ability to disguise coverages, changing pre-snap pictures post-snap, and forcing QB Smith to throw it short of the chains.
As mentioned earlier, Frazier stayed in nickel defense the entire game. He did mix up the personnel groupings a bunch, rotating between four defensive linemen, two linebackers, and five defensive backs (standard nickel formation) and an odd front 3-3-5 (three defensive linemen, three linebackers, and five defensive backs). The coverages thrown at QB Smith from these looks slowed his processing rate down, caused him to miss receivers and to become antsy in the pocket. The Bills made Smith be a quarterback. Weird, right?
On the first third down of the game, the Bills show the 3-3-5 look, delay rush LB Alexander and drop into a cover 3 buzz look. Due to the deeper routes, a deeper drop is needed, and DE Hughes puts some pressure on QB Smith, who fails to climb the pocket. The deep crossing routes haven’t developed, and he is unable to find a platform to get it to any of the routes past the sticks, so he has to throw it underneath. It falls incomplete.
Odd man 3-3-5 front delayed rush by Zo. Very good cover 3 zone spacing especially by White to take away the deep crossing route. Terrible pocket presence by Smith. pic.twitter.com/Gr4Nx0J0yF— Cover 1 (@Cover1) November 28, 2017
The defense really didn’t show any exotic coverages, but how they got into those coverages post-snap really made the difference. Here, the defense is in a 3-3-5 defensive look, with LBs Brown and Alexander showing blitz. But post-snap, the defense drops into a Tampa 2 defense with LB Alexander as the ‘rat’ defender underneath. Alexander is responsible for any shallow crossing routes and ultimately reading the QB. This play is executed by the Bills’ upcoming opponent quite often. Instead of the defensive end dropping (Buck LB), the Bills dropped LB Alexander into the ‘rat’ role.
The ‘rat’ defender lets LB Brown gain depth to take away Kelce deep, and not have to worry about any shallow crossing routes. Smith pulls it down and scrambles, but he fails to convert.
But the Bills didn’t just sit back and let Smith get comfortable versus their zone coverages out of this front. Here, they blitz LB Humber and CB Johnson from the 3-3-5 look, and it leads to an inaccurate throw on 3rd-and-11. Even if completed, the Bills are in good shape to rally to make the tackle.
At the end of the fourth quarter head coach Sean McDermott put the game in the hands of a defense that really stymied the Chiefs’ effectiveness the entire game. Of the nine plays that took place on that final drive, Buffalo was in this 3-3-5 personnel grouping seven times, including the final two plays that clinched the win.
On 2nd-and-7, the Bills drop into another Tampa 2 look and, as Smith wants to hit Kelce deep down the middle, LB Brown is in a good position to deter the throw. Smith is a conservative QB by nature, and him not pulling the trigger on this throw, a throw where he would have had to drop it in the bucket over the head of Brown but in between the deep safety look, isn’t surprising. This throw would have been tough considering the distance, air needed on the ball, and trajectory to drop it in there over Brown and in between to very capable safeties.
On the final play, the Bills again lined up in a 3-3-5 look, but LB Alexander rushes the quarterback and the defense drops into cover 3 buzz. Smith reads it correctly but fails to execute an accurate pass to WR Hill, and rookie Tre’Davious White picks it off.
Of the 13 3rd down situations the Chiefs encountered, Buffalo was in their 3-3-5 defensive personnel grouping on EVERY SINGLE PLAY. Their average third down consisted of 3rd and 7.39. The Chiefs completed 4/8 for 41 yards, ran or scrambled for 12 yards, surrendered 1 sack and 1 interception. But there were some plays left on the field by QB Smith, and that is what caused them to go 2/13 on third down. He simply didn’t see the field well, failed to pull the trigger, and was unable to extend drives.
Defensive coordinator Frazier and his staff did a great job of shutting down the complex run game of the Chiefs, but more importantly he made it very difficult on Smith by disguising and continuously changing the picture from pre-to-post-snap. Don’t be surprised if the Bills carry this 3-3-5 look into the game versus the New England Patriots in week 13. It’s a front that has been known to give Brady issues or cause him to hold onto the ball, but Buffalo will have to mix it up even more, because Brady has this tape and has seen every type of look and coverage there is.