— Cover 1 (@cover1eturner) September 30, 2016
“The only identity I want is winning”
The New England Patriots are the hardest team to scout. They are coached so well, their game plans change weekly, and let’s face it: they know where you are going to attack better than you do. They self-scout better than anyone, so they know their weaknesses. So when I turn on the film and try to find a “weak link,” I am left scouring film for hours.
The difficult thing about the film on them so far this season is that, much like their weekly game plan variations, their team philosophy changes from year to year. This year, they seem to play more coverage than blitzing. They force opposing offenses to dink-and-dunk their way down the field.
The Pats have been able to eliminate the deep passing game through the first three weeks, which is a good plan when you consider that they have played with two inexperienced QBs this season. Belichick didn’t want to get into an offensive shootout, so on defense they game planned to keep the ball in front of them and force offenses to methodically work their way down the field.
The Patriots will no doubt focus on shutting down the Bills’ run game. They know that is what drives this offense, even more so if Watkins is a no-go. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will force Tyrod to “be a quarterback,” so I expect the Patriots to only blitz Tyrod on a few occasions. They only blitzed Taylor 20% of the passes in their two matchups last season, and their defensive philosophy so far in 2016 shouldn’t change much.
Lynn has a chance to make a name for himself this weekend. In order for the offense to be successful, they must put drives together. They increased the offensive tempo last week and it paid off: they accrued 14 possessions. That is something the Bills have worked on, and the New England Patriots bend but don’t break philosophy encourages fewer three-and-outs. According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots defense is ranked 24th in forcing three and outs (#1 Seattle), but I think those stats are deceiving. Take a look at the teams they played. They took away what each of those teams is known for offensively. Arizona is an explosive down the field team, and the Pats limited Palmer to 1/4 on passes over 20 yds. The Fins are known as more of a ball control, short passing game offense. The Patriots forced Tannehill to beat them with the vertical attack. Tannehill was tied for the fourth most attempted passes over 20 yards in week 2. In week three they forced Osweiler to work his way up and down the field. Why? Osweiler had attempted 18 passes over 20 yards through three weeks, of which he completed 4 for 2 touchdowns. To take away Osweiler’s strength, the Pats played coverage and forced Osweiler to throw it underneath. Osweiler averaged 4.78 yds/attempt in that game, which was the 3rd lowest in week three. He was only blitzed 4 times, and look how that ended: he finished the game with 21 completions for 196 yds, 0 TDs, and 1 interception. So how do you think the Pats will defend the Bills’ offense? I think they will defend the short passing game and force Taylor to beat them deep. Sound absurd? Not so much when your number one deep threat, Sammy Watkins, is on injured reserve. Other than Marquise Goodwin, who is a legitimate deep threat for the Bills? The Patriots definitely won’t have to roll coverage at all on Sunday.
I think Lynn ups the tempo and runs the no-huddle more than they did last week. This is a great plan because it will keep the Patriots’ defense in vanilla looks. They can’t run exotic looks or blitzes if the Bills are right back at the line of scrimmage after every snap. The up-tempo offense will also allow the Bills to stay ahead in the personnel matchup department, something that Anthony Lynn has stressed several times. I think that is why the Bills used a little bit of it last week vs. the Cardinals. According to Football Outsiders, teams run a play every 25.12 seconds versus the Patriots (2nd fastest in NFL). Running the no-huddle and playing fast could help an offense looking to establish an identity under their new coordinator.
“My philosophy is just a little different, I want to cut back a little bit and see if we can play a little faster.”
-Offensive Coordinator Anthony Lynn
Lynn should use a lot of spread sets against this New England defense. Use Shady, Reggie, Goodwin and Clay all over the field. They are playmakers, so spread the defense out, make the reads simpler, and get those players the ball quickly. Through three games, opposing defenses have blitzed Taylor 43% of the time. Teams have forced him to make quick decisions and get rid of the ball, which is why his yards/attempt is over a yard less than last year. Last season, he averaged 8 yds/attempt (5th highest), while this season he is averaging merely 6.84 (11th lowest). Last game, he played really well against the blitz because Arizona’s defense plays a lot of man coverage, Taylor saw the field well, and he got the ball out of his hand quickly.
The Bills should start out by attacking with the tight end position. Charles Clay is a little banged up, but he needs to be featured this week. According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots are towards the bottom of the league at defending tight ends (#21). It’s no surprise they are near the top at taking away opponents’ #1 WRs, forcing teams to look to their #2 and #3 options in their arsenals. Clearly getting the ball to Clay sounds like a good idea, but how and where to do it is quite important.
According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots are the 6th best team against the deep ball, but the 5th worst defending the short (15 yds or less) passing game. When you look at the analytics, their style of defense is actually similar to their plan of attack on offense. On defense, New England likes to clog the middle of the field, while on offense they love to attack it. They are one of the best (#8) at defending the middle, but they are average defending the left side (#19) and poor (#26) against passes to the right. So they funnel the offense to the boundaries, which is smart because defenders can use the boundary in their favor to limit big plays. Some telling stats, right? But in my opinion, those stats are more a product of the offenses they played. Remember: the Pats take away what teams do best.
I believe the Pats will be conservative on defense and feel Lynn out to start the game. I think they will try to gauge how the new coordinator will attack the defense. The Pats will then take away the short game. Taylor has the fewest passing yards in the air this season, boasting only 296 yards. The Pats know that the Bills have stressed getting the ball out of their QB’s hands, so New England will stack the box to stop the run, and in turn, close down the short game.
“If they give you pass, you pass. I just want to coach an explosive offense, doing multiple things, balance multiple personnel groupings and just take what they give us. I’m a personnel-driven guy. I believe in personnel. Get the ball in the hands of players and let them make the plays. Because if you do that, they’ll make way more plays than we’ll ever design.” Anthony Lynn
That quote from Lynn is quite telling, and makes me think that he will attack the defense by taking advantage of efficient, quick passes to get drives started and to stay ahead of the chains. But they must also stretch the field this week.
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Many fans aren’t satisfied with Charles Clay’s targets through the first three weeks. Well, I think this week he could go off. The Bills need to get him the ball down the field in bunches and here’s why:
Houston stretched the field with their tight end Ryan Griffin. He had 9 targets of over 20 yards. Week two, Jordan Cameron had seven targets over 20 yards and in week one Gresham was targeted 4 times deep. This is something to keep in mind, especially because of who will be matched up with Clay.
On film, when offenses were in 11 personnel, the Pats matched it with 3 safeties. Typically, their third safety is Patrick Chung, a multi-talented player who does have some warts. He’s had trouble in coverage, having been targeted 15 times and allowing 12 completions for 121 yds and 1 touchdown. Teams have targeted him with their tight ends. Lynn has to devise ways to get the ball to Clay when Chung is on him.
The Dolphins got two big plays from their tight ends with Chung in coverage. Here is one from backup TE Dion Sims. Fins are in a 3×1 set with 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs).
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Against the Cardinals, the Bills went no huddle two times and each time they were in 11 personnel, 3×1 formation with Clay in the slot. Here is a levels concept play. Will the Pats have Chung on Clay?
The Bills roll out 22 personnel and motion Clay to the slot.
Here is a play from last season. They get the matchup of Chung on Clay and gain 14 yards.
Will Clay play this week and make a difference? If he is a go, over/under 5 targets? pic.twitter.com/TBs0AjxRff
— Cover 1 (@cover1eturner) September 30, 2016
The other player that must be heavily featured is LeSean McCoy. If the Bills go no huddle, they have to isolate him and get him the ball. According to Football Outsiders, the Pats are ranked 19th defending receiving running backs.
In the second game last season, the Bills targeted McCoy 10 times. He finished the game with 6 receptions for 41 yards, and 7 of those targets were against linebackers. Accordingly, the Bills should incorporate him in the short passing game to help extend drives.
Bills bring out 11 personnel vs. the Pats’ 3 safety look. Pats showed man across the board with Chung on Clay, so Shady is matched up with an inside linebacker. I would be surprised to see Collins covering Shady. He will probably be glued to Taylor most of the afternoon.
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Getting the ball to McCoy in the passing game will definitely force a coverage change by the Pats. If and when the Bills go no huddle, showing a five wide set like this will make reading the defense easier for Taylor.
On this play, the Pats are in obvious man coverage, so Taylor takes the shot to Mccoy against the linebacker.
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Another way to attack the Pats defense is with Bush and Shady in the game together. The Bills did something similar with Karlos and Shady last season. Like Lynn preaches, football is a game of matchups, and when the Cardinals had Andre Ellington and Johnson in at the same time, the Pats defense stayed in their base defense.
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This can cause mismatches. If both backs are in and the Bills pass, they have the advantage of having a RB vs. a LB or S. If Collins spies Taylor for most of the day, the Bills could have Bush or Shady vs. Chung or one of their other LBs. If they bring another DB in to cover one of those guys, then the Bills can run it. Those are the kind of in-game adjustments that coordinators have to plan for.
Watch Ellington one-on-one vs. Chung. Anthony Lynn could have fun designing plays for that matchup. Maybe an option route or two?
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If the Pats decide to play zone, Shady and Bush can be receivers underneath like in the following play. This will allow the Bills to run high/low concepts vs. their inside linebackers.
Inserting these talented backs into the game can get you mismatches and, most of all, create explosive plays, which is something the Bills need to generate without Sammy Watkins and/or Charles Clay.
I would be surprised if the Bills are able to run the ball against the Pats. Belichick isn’t scared of our wide receiver corps, so he will focus on stopping Shady and limiting Taylor. Reading all of the quotes from Lynn and having watched his pressers, I believe that Lynn recognizes the opportunity ahead of him this Sunday. He will have a game plan in place unlike any we have seen in many years. Lynn, unlike Roman, has given the keys to the offense to his players. Lynn stated to the media that he has been “teaching Tyrod to see the matchup, forget the read, go to the matchup.”
— Cover 1 (@cover1eturner) September 30, 2016
That kind of thinking is what this offense needs, and in order to put up points the Bills must take advantage of matchups. The Bills have the upper hand in the matchup department with LeSean McCoy and Charles Clay. I believe that the Bills win if they get the ball to those players often and are explosive like Anthony Lynn wants to be.