The Buffalo Bills Coaching staff is making it abundantly clear that they want to improve their team’s weaknesses. Day two of training camp was another example of the staff committing to being better at situational football.
The first segment of no-huddle/hurry offense had both second teams squaring off, but the story of the segment wasn’t a particular player. Instead, it was the coaches. Everyone on the staff had headphones on during the segment. The team didn’t utilize the hurry up offense or no-huddle all that often in 2018 outside of end-of-game situations, but this was another sign of the team looking to improve their process and quality of play.
The first segment set the stage for the overarching theme of today’s practice.
During warmups, several defensive backs were working on press coverage technique with the coaching staff. Then the message became even clearer once wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud came out to warm up and started working on beating press coverage.
Ray Ray Mccloud working on beating press. Shrinking his surface area and avoiding disruption. pic.twitter.com/WcphAtszzl
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) July 26, 2019
A few moments later, the receivers and defensive backs came together in some 1-on-1 matchups; the segment was very competitive. John Brown stood out again versus just about every cornerback. Brown and the receivers have been given the green light to use the “best release” technique when pressed at the line of scrimmage. This gives guys like Brown the freedom to decide how to properly attack the defender in order to get to his route stem. Brown obtained a clean outside release on a go route, but the corner did a great job of getting his hands on the Pittsburgh State alumnus. Brown didn’t just let the defender slow him down; he used three “forearm pulls” to clear his frame while streaking downfield.
Jay Norvell Forearm pull
*Anticipate contact with offhand
*Get back on the line pic.twitter.com/aryHD6NwIH
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) February 22, 2018
In the very same drill, Zay Jones was matched up against Tre’Davious White. White did a great job of jamming Jones with his big red mitts, but as the coaches had been screaming the entire drill, Jones “used his hands” and chopped White’s hand down and got a step down the sideline.
Jay Norvell Arm over
*Chop vs low hand
*Pull back onto line pic.twitter.com/ABbou7eaav
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) February 22, 2018
All of the individual time and drills leading up to this point were the building blocks of the team segment a segment characterized by tight press-man coverage and defensive pressure. But why??
We have to remember practices are scripted. The plays and situations that are typically on a coordinator’s play call sheet are broken down and practiced in a controlled manner.
Today, Both the offense and defense rehearsed what looked like their 3rd-and-medium play calls. The offense didn’t line up with the full length of the chains all day. The down marker tended to be on 3rd or 4th down. The defense sent consistent pressure at the offense all day and played a ton of man coverage.
One player that stood out again was EJ Gaines. Gaines picked off Matt Barkley because TE Tommy Sweeney appeared to run an incorrect route yesterday. Today, Gaines made another play on the ball on an in-breaking route in the 7-10-yard range. The route combination was a shallow route by Duke Williams and the in-breaking route over the top guarded by Gaines. Lined up outside, Gaines played with outside leverage but drove hard on the ball and punched the ball incomplete with his right hand. His versatility inside and outside has been on display, but on a couple of occasions today Gaines was the slot corner, and on one of Leslie Frazier’s five-man pressures, he dropped deep (safety) to play what appeared to be quarters or 2-read (palms coverage). The comfort in Frazier’s coverage scheme paired with his ability to read route combinations has helped him stand out throughout two days.
With all of the man coverage played today, Tremaine Edmunds was often used in a ‘rat’ role, tasked with reading the quarterback’s eyes and letting them take him to the ball. On one of the third down blitzes, Edmunds did a great job of gaining depth to wall off TE Dawson Knox, allowing safety Micah Hyde to stay in phase over the top, forcing the QB to look elsewhere. Edmunds’s speed and length over the middle made quarterbacks throw several three-step slants more upfield than flat in order to avoid his 83-inch wingspan. In one instance, he probably would have picked off a pass to Knox if the players were in pads. Instead, he smartly let up in order to avoid a massive collision. The ball still fell incomplete.
Over the first two days, the staff threw two very important situations at the team: red zone and 3rd-and-short situations. These are situations that will arise regularly. In 2018, the Bills’ offense ranked 31st on all 3rd and 4th down calls and 31st in passing on those same downs, per Football Outsiders.
Part of the issue in 2018 was having a rookie quarterback at the helm who struggled against pressure and/or blitzes. Allen only completed 28.3% of his passes versus pressure and 48.5% against the blitz.
A majority of his sacks also came when he had pressure on him, something the defense threw at him today. And I am happy to report that Allen aced the test today. Allen carried his decisive nature over from day one into day two. The defense showed a lot of pressure pre-snap, often aligning linebackers in the A- or B-gaps, sending backers and dropping defensive ends, essentially switching their roles, and Allen was rarely rattled.
With pressure in his face, Allen routinely hit receivers running slants on his first read, showing he knew who his hot routes were, something that happened to Zay Jones on the near sideline and a couple of times to Brown working left to right. The windows were tight and the defender was in-phase, but the receivers were able to garner enough separation versus the starting defense.
Allen also worked the middle of the field to Andre Roberts and Beasley when the targets were likely the second or third read in the progression. Both throws had smoke emanating off of the ball. Roberts hauled in the pass by framing it with his hands with a defender draped all over him.
Beasley came open on an in-breaking route in the 7-10 yard range. Allen saw him late and rifled it in there. Beasley jumped up to catch the ball almost to protect himself from the incoming missile. But he likely let the ball get into his body because he was in traffic and was bracing for impact, even though it never came.
On one third down call, the Bills’ starting offense sent the running back out wide to the near sideline as they aligned in an empty set. Shifty receiver Cole Beasley was the innermost receiver to the three-receiver side. The defense sent linebacker Matt Milano out wide with the running back and put White on Beasley, signifying man coverage. On the snap, Beasley ran a ‘punk’ route over the middle, easily running away from White to the point that Aaron and I thought he blew the coverage. White stopped and pointed at Beasley, alerting his teammate, Taron Johnson, that Beasley was coming into his area. Allen hit Beasley as Johnson was a tad slow to recognize the switch.
It’s pretty clear that Allen is going to lean on Beasley a bunch on third downs, especially if the defense is going to bring pressure. Who can blame him? The SMU product’s ability to read coverages, change speeds, and burst away from defenders has helped Allen on several occasions so far.
Xs and Os Spotlight
Due to the situation of the day, the offense rarely threw the ball over 15 yards. A lot of the passes were underneath on man coverage beater concepts or hot route throws. But as I mentioned on day one, the speed at receiver has made all the difference. Yesterday, the speed allowed receivers to separate in a condensed area. Today, that speed was the edge the offense needed to beat man coverage.
One of the calls that offensive coordinator Brian Daboll dialed up was a 3rd and 4th down call we have seen before. It’s one that I noticed when I was scouting the Titans leading up to the Bills matchup in week 5. It’s a play that is meant to defeat man coverage by sending a running back across the formation.
This was a fun game to watch. The #Titans convert three 4th downs on this drive, including this one where Vrabel had the FG team on, then pulled them.
OC LaFleur definitely got the coverage he wanted. Looks like Bradham passes off the RB, Hicks loses Lewis through the traffic. pic.twitter.com/VEBAdhGTBI
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) October 4, 2018
The Bills stole it and ran it in against the Patriots several weeks later. The strategy takes away the leverage a linebacker may have on the running back, and it forces him to work through traffic over the middle. As you can see, it is a very effective play on 3rd- and 4th-and-short. The Bills ran this play several times today with each running back getting their shot to convert, and most did.
Nice playcall vs man coverage. It looks like Chung points out Shady and that Roberts and Van Noy are responsible for McCoy.
McCoy slips out for a big gain.
I also recall seeing this on film by the Titans vs Eagles when Lewis leaked out. Also the Chiefs with Hunt last week. pic.twitter.com/Tk43UVN55d
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) October 30, 2018
Yesterday, I was impressed with Allen’s decision making but was lukewarm with his placement. Today, Allen was decisive versus pressure and extremely accurate in the short area, both things he struggled with in 2018. Can he carry his strong play into day three?