The big question for the Buffalo Bills’ fanbase since drafting defensive end Gregory Rousseau and Carlos “Boogie” Basham in the first two rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft is centered around who is going to have more impact in year one? I believe you can reasonably make the case for either player. I outlined what I think Rousseau brings the table in the long and short term in my video of his lone season in the Miami Hurricanes program. While “green,” there is no denying his natural size, strength and ability to track the QB. But what he needs is some seasoning, some game reps. This in-game experience is something that Basham has, to the tune of 39 games played in college at Wake Forest. But it’s not just Basham’s reps in 39 games that set them apart. It’s all of the extras that come with playing in those games such as the film study, game study, game planning, health maintenance and execution on the field.
“At 275 pounds, Boogie is faster than most people 30 pounds lighter than him. His linear speed is special. He ran a 4.59 at his pro day on one of his 40s. His strength numbers are that of an interior defensive lineman. He cleaned 365 pounds, which is a very impressive lift. He squatted over 600 pounds. So you combine edge speed and interior strength, that’s unbelievable.” Wake Forest DL Coach Dave Cohen
Basham has shown, that when on the field he can be productive – strike that – he can be consistently productive. Productive vs. the run or pass. His size at defensive end- a shade over 6-foot-3 and 274-pounds isn’t exactly typical in today’s pass happy league. But, I think that’s exactly why people believe he will be more productive in his inaugural season. Basham’s size and football intelligence allowed his defensive coordinator at Wake Forest to move him around. At times you will see him in a 7-technique aligned outside of the tight end. Then on 3rd-and-longs – when coordinators like to throw their curveballs – Basham was moved up and down the defensive line. Think about the preparation and execution that fell on Basham’s shoulders week in and week out. It should be what people should be talking about, because Basham’s physical traits along with his football intelligence may just be the gateway for the Bills to be more disruptive as a run defense sooner rather than later.
Mental Processing Against the Run
Wake Forest’s defensive philosophy is very similar to that of the Bills. Buffalo is primarily a two-high safety team. They like to attack with four rushers and play coverage on the backend, ultimately looking to minimize explosive plays. Basham’s old defensive line Coach Dave Cohen explained that their philosophy is to launch off of the ball, “work vertically” or what he called working “North and South” at the line of scrimmage because of the pass. When you have aggressive, attack-oriented philosophies like the Bills and Demon Deacons, that M.O. must be reflected not just on passing plays but in how you defend the run.
Volume up: DL Coach Dave Cohen
You must tie in that mentality with a defense’s run fits. Coach Cohen coaches his defenders to attack and play upfield on the offenses’ side of the line of scrimmage. When they read run, the defensive lineman has to be playing fast and aggressive. So less of the big, occupying style of defensive linemen just holding the point of attack and more of guys reading, slanting and spiking into gaps creating chaos. So that if, for example, it is a play-action pass, the defensive linemen are still in hunt mode and attacking the quarterback. What’s unique about Basham is that he has the size for the point of attack and the burst and speed to win with his 1-on-1s but it’s his play from the shoulders up that will set him apart early from Rousseau.
I think Bills fans saw firsthand how Star Lotulelei opting out, and the Bills lighter defensive line last year affected the defense as a whole.
TFLs when the Bills had 6 defenders or less in the box— Cover 1 (@Cover1) May 15, 2021
Jordan Phillips 10
Shaq Lawson 6
T Edmunds 5
Taron Johnson 4
T Edmunds 4
Matt Milano 4
AJ Klein 4
The Bills were not only light in the box more in 2020, but had a lighter DL and the DL wasn't as disruptive. https://t.co/PTRDbXDV7l
If the Bills had a few more tools in the playbook to help their front defend the run better, they would have had a better chance in both games against the Chiefs. Meetings where the run game and Run Pass Option games dictated.
Basham should help the Bills against the run when it comes to defending spread run games. Situations where the offense is seeing a light-box. Because remember, if the Bills are in two-deep safety looks, the box is light and the Bills numbers against the point of attack will be light. To put it simply, they are at a numbers disadvantage and that can be amplified with a mobile quarterback. Here you see a linebacker on the fringe of the box because of the formation, but in all, there are about five defenders to defend six gaps and the Demon Deacons are in even more trouble if it’s a QB run. So you can see how the numbers advantage doesn’t favor the defense.
One tool coordinators use in these situations is to call run stunts or movement. So Coach Cohen has Basham (#9 right), execute his “get reached” technique. This technique will allow Basham and the defense to “cancel” an interior gap, IF, he recognizes a certain run block.
Because as you can see there is quite a bubble up the middle because the linebacker No. 58 is removed from the box. So Basham and the linebacker communicate their alignments and assignments and Basham reads the block coming to him, so he is taught to spike inside to occupy the interior gap for the linebacker.
The Bills were at not just a weight disadvantage upfront in 2020, but a simple numbers disadvantage at times too. The Bills faced 128 rushing attempts with 6 or fewer defenders in the box last season, which was ranked 15th. But, they surrendered a 5.2-percent touchdown percentage and 6.1 yards-per-attempt which was the third-highest, and a first down percentage of 36.7-percent, which led the league. Both very demoralizing statistics, and situations that they may even see more of.
If teams spread them out and the Bills aren’t able to defend out of their two-high looks, they will be forced to bring another defender into the box like they did against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game. The Chiefs forced the Bills to come out of their two-high Zone looks by chipping away using Quad formations, dialing up RPOs, and throwing underneath. The lack of pressure and the amount of real estate underneath were too much to defend against the scheme and speed of Andy Reid’s offense. The Bills were forced to come closer to the line of scrimmage and play Man Coverage and that’s when wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce began to get their explosive plays.
Recognizing the run concept and executing the “get reached” or what I call a gap exchange, is something that will make the transition easy and put Basham on the field on early downs. Coach Cohen told the Buffalo News that he is familiar with Bills Defensive line Coach Eric Washington having “spent time with Coach Washington when he was down here with Carolina, and I think he’s going to fit right in.”
Cohen went on to mention Basham’s ability to play the run and how Wake Forest “played two teams this year that ran outside zone – the stretch play – where Boogie’s only job was to set the edge. He set it and set it four yards deep. Because of those heavy hands and his ability to move his feet well, I don’t think that’s going to be an issue.” I believe one of those games Cohen was referencing was against the North Carolina Tarheels, a heavy Zone run team. Here you see Basham read their offensive tackle’s blocking, key the ball and running back, dart inside on a “get reached” call to create a tackle for loss on the play.
Basham’s mental processing, burst, and speed, allow him to routinely make plays on the ball much like Shaq Lawson used to do when he was in Buffalo. Basham finished his career with 35.5 tackles for loss (Sports Reference) and 101 total stops per Pro Football Focus which is an absurd amount of plays. On this play, Basham “gets reached” by launching vertically like his coaching staff asks him to do, then ricochets off the lead block and forces the running back to bubble wide but then uses his speed to end the play.
Even when Basham isn’t able to make a play on the ball, he disrupts the angles and overall blocking scheme to the point where it can keep his teammates free. Music to the ears of Edmunds and Co. The Bills have the speed at the linebacker and safety level to make plays on the ball when offenses attempt to run wide. You see how Basham is disruptive, forces the bounce which gives the safety enough time to fill the alley.
Another two-high safety look in the game against the Tarheels where Basham reads the Zone blocking perfectly. His processing of the blocking scheme and spike into the B-gap disrupt the combination block by the guard and tackle which is supposed to climb to the linebacker NO.8. So Basham is disruptive, executes a chop-arm over, boxes the run in, AND keeps the linebacker free.
In this game against Virginia, Basham quickly spikes into the C-gap on a “get reached” call, attempts to get skinny through the gap (which I am not a fan of) but his disruption picks off the offensive lineman responsible for the linebacker No.8 and he is able to make the tackle.
The transition for defensive linemen is a tad more difficult against the run than it is against the pass because NFL rushing attacks are typically more complex. So it takes time for defenders to read and react to the multitude of ways that offenses block up plays. But that transition for Basham should be a little easier given what was asked of him at Wake Forest. He’s had a lot of game reps where he executed similar assignments to what Defensive line coach Washington will ask of him against the run. The two schemes are very similar in philosophy, including the “get reached” or gap exchange assignments executed by defensive ends in their respective schemes. Basham’s ability to process when to execute that technique will put him a step ahead when teams then try to execute play action like you see below. The offense gets Basham to “get reached” but roll into a play-action pass.
Look at how quickly Basham processes run to pass and helps create an interception. That’s just a taste of what he will bring as a pass rusher, stay tuned for part two..