Your Buffalo Bills stormed the Washington Commanders 37-3 at FedEx Field last Sunday. Continuing Sean McDermott’s long-term success when facing QBs with limited experience, the Bills brought wave after wave of simulated and creeper pressures to harass young Commanders’ QB Sam Howell. The former North Carolina Tar Heel was making only his fifth career start, and by the end of the third quarter, he was feeling pressure that wasn’t there because the Bills had pounded it into him (nine sacks!) that they were all just a half step away on every dropback.
Those terms – simulated and creeper – might sound foreign, or maybe you haven’t quite got a handle on what they mean yet. They are relatively simple once they are broken down.
- Simulated Pressure: Pre-snap, the defensive alignment looks like a blitz. Maybe one or two LBs are mugging the A gap(s), or a safety is bouncing on his toes lined up just off the DE, Whatever the setup, it is designed to signal to the QB that five or more rushers are coming to wreck him. Post-snap, only four players rush, with at least one of them being non-DL, and one of the DL drops back into short coverage. So, generally, it looks like a blitz, but then only three linemen and an unusual fourth player rush, creating confusion for the QB and the OL. Think back to when your dad would scream at Rex Ryan for dropping Mario Williams into coverage.
- Creeper Pressure: Pre-snap, a creeper pressure looks like a standard alignment. Post-snap, three DL rush, one drops into coverage, and an atypical fourth rusher comes. It is essentially the same thing as a simulated pressure, but it doesn’t include that pre-snap blitz look.
In the third quarter, the Bills used a simulated pressure that ended up with AJ Epenesa in the end zone.
Included more of the stadium in this screengrab because look at all the Bills’ fans. Way to show out, Mafia!
Initially, the Bills present an “amoeba” type front with no down lineman, no one with a hand in the dirt, and LBs Matt Milano and Terrel Bernard, mugging the A gaps. This front looks like it could be a Cover 0 all-out blitz. But right before the snap, Oliver, Phillips, and Lawson each put a hand down into a typical position.
The Bills have their base nickel personnel with safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer deep in the appearance of a two-high shell and cornerbacks Tre White, Christian Benford, and Taron Johnson up close to the line of scrimmage (LOS).
The Commanders are in a shotgun formation with 11 personnel with RB Antonio Gibson to Howell’s right and TE Cole Turner attached to the boundary side of the offensive line. WR Jahan Dotson is just inside the numbers on the boundary side, and Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel are stacked to the field side.
For the Commanders’ receivers, starting on the boundary side, Dotson runs a shallow cross, Turner runs a 10-yard curl, and Gibson takes a delayed release into the boundary flat. On the field side, McLaurin and Samuel immediately cross, and Scary Terry runs a deep dig while Samuel runs a corner that he takes deep when Howell starts to scramble.
Hyde and Poyer shift from the two high look into one high safety with Hyde taking the middle. The Bills appear to run a version of Cover 3, with Hyde taking the deep middle third and White and Benford responsible for a deep third are either side. Johnson takes the curl/flat on the field side, and Poyer comes up to cover the same on the boundary. Bernard quickly drops out of his rush to look to manage the hook/curl. For the other section of hook/curl, Epenesa unexpectedly back peddles to the field hash. Milano takes two quick steps back, almost like he is dropping into coverage also, then turns that movement into a loop around Phillips. So, the Bills attack with four rushers – three DL (Lawson, Philips, and Oliver) and one non-DL (Milano) – and one DE drops into coverage (Epenesa). This combination of actions makes for a simulated pressure.
Howell’s pocket is actually pretty clean at this, but he has already started to drift to his left. The constant pressure the Bills’ DL had dropped on Howell has sped up his internal clock.
It’s third-and-five from the 30. The Bills could rally and tackle Dotson or Gibson, but hitting either one would be “giving his playmakers a chance” with how far back the Bills’ coverage is. But Howell’s footwork is off because he has felt the rush that isn’t there yet.
Howell has some sneaky athleticism and escapes the pocket, and drifts along the LOS trying to find a space to hit Dotson.
Howell inexplicably tries to throw over the 6′ 6″ Epenesa, who is immediately off to the endzone.
The Bills have had one of their more successful starts in terms of generating pressure, in part because of the use of simulated and creeper pressures. They have the lowest blitz percentage and yet the highest sack percentage. Sam Howell’s inexperience contributed to the sack percentage for sure, but the Bills are finding creative ways to impact opposing QBs while trying not to sacrifice much in coverage. If they can continue to keep offenses guessing on who is rushing from where, they’ll be a long way to keeping that up.
Here is a look at each defensive unit's blitz % compared to sack %.
The #BillsMafia are scary, with the lowest 'Blitz %' in the league, but the highest 'Sack %'
— Brad Congelio 🏈📊🧑💻 (@BradCongelio) September 25, 2023