Bills vs. 49ers | Across the Field

10/18/2016
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Our hometown Buffalo Bills quite literally ran away with their game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, netting their fourth straight win. Colin Kaepernick and the Niners kept it close for most of the game, but for what feels like the first time this year, Buffalo dominated in the second half.

Since Rex Ryan has taken over, the formula that has won us a fair share of games has been, “Hit the defense with a play or two to earn an early lead, then run the ball and play defense to close games out.” The formula has not been lost, but it has been tweaked by offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn. He has continued to amass leads early for his boss, but he has done it more with the run game than with the deep passing game.

In 2015, the Bills and Tyrod Taylor were a deep threat team. Greg Roman loved to stretch opposing defenses vertically to open up opportunities for the run game. According to Pro Football Focus, Taylor attempted a pass over 20 yards on 18.3% of his drop-backs, the highest percentage in the NFL. Since he assumed the role of OC, Anthony Lynn has shifted the passing game to more of a dink and dunk attack. So far this season, Taylor has attempted a deep pass on 11.5% of his drop-backs, significantly less than he did under Greg Roman. Why is this even worth mentioning? Because Lynn’s dink and dunk philosophy complements the Bills’ run game and defense much better than Greg Roman’s style did.

 

The offense is no longer boom or bust. It has been able to put long drives together. In fact, according to SportingCharts.com, the Bills’ offense has put together 12 ten-play drives, the fourth-most in the NFL. Those 12 drives make up about 18.18% of their offensive drives this season. By contrast, the Bills finished the 2015 season with 25 ten-play drives, making up about 13.44% of their total drives, and good for 21st in the league.

While the shift to a simpler passing game has made things easier on Tyrod Taylor, it has also given the staff the confidence to call more passes on first down. This is a crucial element of the offense, considering how teams want to shut down the surging LeSean McCoy. On the Bills’ second drive, already down 3-0, Lynn dialed up a play action pass to Charles Clay.

The Bills are in 12 personnel, but with the extra lineman Groy at TE, acting as an extra blocker. The defense plays man coverage, with safety Eric Reid on Clay to the top of the screen. Pre-snap, Taylor can see the single high safety, which means that the slot WR Goodwin, who is running the post, should occupy the deep safety. This is important because Clay is running a deep crossing route and he becomes the primary WR against the middle of the field closed look (MOF closed=single high safety/MOF open=two high safety look). All Taylor has to do is buy a little time in the pocket, and he has his playmaker wide open. He does exactly that. He takes the snap, finds the safety, the safety drops deep, so he moves and hits Clay. Beautiful play call and execution.

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This play kicked off the Bills’ 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive. The confidence in Taylor is displayed on the very same drive. On another 1st-and-10 from the Niners’ 45-yard line, Taylor scans the entire field from the pocket before he throws it to Robert Woods.

On the snap he looks to get the ball to Clay, but he is covered. He takes a glance at the deep shot route run by Goodwin, but he is blanketed, so he hits Woods who is wide open against the cover 6 defense. 

 

The passing game gets the Bills inside the five, but it’s the run game that gets them into the end zone.

The Bills run the load option from an unbalanced line look. Taylor pitches it to Shady as Felton and Clay execute their assignments to the fullest.

 

You have to give it to Kaepernick: he has much more talent than Blaine Gabbert, and the #1 reason they inserted him back into the lineup was for his ability to stretch the field. The Bills defense blew the coverage and Torrey Smith made them pay on the Niners’ next drive, which put them up 10-7.

 

But on the very next drive, Lynn utilizes his run game to drive 75 yards for the touchdown.

After another first down pass to Clay for 8 yards to start the drive, Shady bursts into the secondary on a well-blocked run.

Lynn meshes old school football with some creativity by running with an unbalanced line. The look puts Cordy Glenn at the point of attack, with Incognito and Felton leading the counter trey. It springs Shady for 38 yards.

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Five plays later, Lynn uses that creativity again to get McCoy into the end zone. The Bills shift to an unbalanced, wildcat formation. Watch the Niners defense struggle to get set. The Bills don’t always shift to the same wildcat/unbalanced look, so the defense must be able to diagnose the formation while staying with their particular player matchups. This proves to be a difficult task and Shady makes them pay. Center Eric Wood does a great job of snapping the ball, then quickly pulling and kicking out McCoy. Everyone does their part and Shady sets his blocks up very well. Make sure to watch in slow motion to see all of the blocking going on and how Shady sets his blocks up.

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But again, Kap and the Niners bounce back on their very next possession and put together a 9-play drive. However, on back to back plays the one-man wrecking crew, Lorenzo Alexander, shuts the drive down and forces a field goal, preserving the Bills’ 14-13 lead.

2nd-and-2, Hyde tries bouncing it outside, but Alexander uses perfect technique to contain him.

 

The 49ers settle for the field goal after Lorenzo drops an easy interception on an attempted screen to WR Jeremy Kerley.

On Buffalo’s next drive, they moved the ball quite well, but an offensive pass interference penalty put them behind the chains. On 3rd-and-20, Shady shows why he is still one of the best in the league. His vision and shiftiness allow him to cut it back where several WRs are waiting to block. The play ultimately leads to a field goal, and the Bills go into halftime up 17-13

 

The Bills were unable to get a considerable lead on the Niners, and both teams struggled out of the gate in the second half. They both had two cracks with the ball, but both ended up having to punt. It was the Niners’ third possession of the second half where I thought the momentum began to turn in the Bills’ favor, and once they had it, they never looked back.

The Bills forced San Francisco to turn it over on downs in the third quarter with back to back plays by Preston Brown.

 

On the very next drive, the Bills get behind in down-and-distance, so Lynn calls the deep shot. This is a common play call from this part of the field, and although Taylor doesn’t anticipate the throw to Woods, who is the primary WR, he remains calm in the pocket and finds Nick O’Leary.

 

 

The train doesn’t end there. Lynn again attacks, this time with his personnel. He has harped about being a personnel guy and devising ways to put his players in the position to make plays, and that absolutely what happens on this play.

 

The touchdown put the Bills up by two possessions, but the Niners were able to get another Phil Dawson field goal to narrow the margin to 24-16. Lynn wasn’t content to let the defense settle in; he kept his foot on the throttle. On the Bills’ next drive to start the 4th quarter, he put them into the no huddle in the middle of the drive. This helped Taylor see the field better, as the Niners began to blitz. Taylor seemed to take over in the 4th quarter by using his legs to extend plays and to gain considerable yardage to keep the drive going.

It’s 3rd-and-8, and San Fran brings a zone blitz. Taylor sees it and exits the pocket, but he keeps his eyes down field. It seems like Lynn expected man coverage, as he calls a mesh concept. Either way, Clay comes open because the corner carries the drag route by Justin Hunter too far, and then he jumps the crossing route by Woods. This leaves Clay wide open. 

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Taylor finished the game with four scrambles for 45 yards. He has been scrutinized a lot about his lack of passing, but there is no denying his athleticism. He is definitely one of the few quarterbacks that can do what he does with his legs.

It’s 2nd-and-3 and no one is open, so he gains eight yards on a scramble up the middle. But what I want you to focus on is that quick twitch from the broadcast angle. THAT is what he brings to this offense. 

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2nd-and-5 and the Niners are exhausted from chasing Taylor and company on this drive. They bring pressure from the field. Taylor makes him miss and has a lot of real estate ahead of him.

 

The very next play, Shady gets into the end zone. The defense’s body language was telling. They were obviously exhausted from chasing Taylor, and that’s why Lynn called the power run. The Bills huddled up prior to the play to get Jerome Felton on the field. The game strategy and timing of this play call were excellent — not too shabby for a first time play caller!

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It was at this point that the Bills went up 31-16 and put a stranglehold on the Niners, as San Francisco fumbled the kick return.

 

Two plays later, Woods catches his first TD of the year.

 

The offense finished the drubbing with a long touchdown run by (the aptly nicknamed) Touchdown Mike. The Bills ROLLED on offense, compiling 491 total yards, 312 of which were earned on the ground. Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn has this offense clicking. He may have reduced the number of concepts in the playbook, but like Lynn said, the players are playing faster. The Bills were better on paper, and Anthony Lynn outcoached the staff across the field on Sunday. Next up, the Miami Dolphins.

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