The Buffalo Bills made a strategic move by acquiring cornerback Rasul Douglas in a recent trade. The former 3rd round selection has always been the perfect fit for Head Coach Sean McDermott’s scheme, it just took him several years to find his way into it. But the timing couldn’t be any more right. While the Bills’ defense started off hot, they have cooled in recent weeks.
Over the first four weeks of the season, the Bills defense was No. 2 in DVOA and the Bengals were No. 25.
Over the last four weeks, since all the Bills got hurt, the Bills defense is No. 28 in DVOA and the Bengals are No. 7.
— Aaron Schatz 🏈 (@ASchatzNFL) November 1, 2023
A lot of that can be attributed to the injuries up front to DaQuan Jones, Gregory Rousseau, and Ed Oliver; Matt Milano at the 2nd level and of course Tre’Davious White at the 3rd level. Injuries to foundational pieces have caused a shift in strategy and execution on the field.
Head Coach McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane believe they needed to improve at the corner position to help boost their coverage element rather than relying on the pressure up front. Enter Rasul Douglas.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Douglas’s game is his inside-out ability. For most of his career, Douglas has played as an outside corner but in 2022 he got 198 reps as a Nickel, 15 thus far in 2023. When you turned on those reps, you could see why he can easily function in that role. He’s a scrappy, trigger happy player, much like Taron Johnson. On this play, Douglas reads the Curl – Swing concept with WR Justin Jefferson in the backfield. Douglas makes sure QB Kirk Cousins doesn’t throw the Curl, then DRIVES on the route by Jefferson to blow the play up.
Douglas’ ability to trigger downhill into the alley adds another dimension to his game. He showcases exceptional instincts and quick reaction time, making him a formidable force in run defense and short passing situations. His downhill aggressiveness often leads to impactful plays and disrupts the opposition’s game plan.
Douglas lacks the ideal foot speed and agility to consistently go toe to toe with jitter bug types in the slot. But he can execute the Off Coverages the Bills utilize. Whether it’s Off-Man or Off-Zone, he has the patience and processing skills to make plays on the ball, including in the slot. On this play, the Packers are pattern matching the two inner-most receivers to protect the middle of the field. They are playing 3 defenders over 2 receivers. Douglas reads the QB like a book. The QB starts his progressions away from Douglas, and as the WR hooks it up over the middle, Douglas senses the QB making his way to the target. He drives and makes a play on the ball.
I think early on in his tenure in Buffalo, like the first couple weeks, McDermott could cook up some sub personnel plays for him when the Bills want to go Dime in obvious passing situations. Like they used Safety Jordan Poyer with Milano down. They also could use him inside to combat Tight ends in certain situations. But overall, I think Douglas is a boundary corner.
Douglas is most comfortable in Off Coverage. There’s a different sort of confidence a corner must have to consistently win in Off coverage, whether it’s Zone or Man. When a corner is up at the line of scrimmage playing man, the defender is primarily trusting his physical assets and traits to react quickly to the receiver. When in Off coverage, the corner is trusting in his processing abilities. His ability to read the route combination, the route and or the QB’s drop. In order to make plays on the ball, a defender must recognize and anticipate what the receiver is doing from a schematic standpoint. You can see that discipline and trust in his processing and Zone eyes on this play. Douglas could have easily closed the distance on the #1 WR to his side, opening up the crossing route for WR Jakobi Meyers. But he saw the big picture and made a play on the ball.
Douglas has a good sense of when a receiver is simply passing through his Zone, likely setting something else up for the offense. His ability to sense that and find the true threat with those Zone eyes is phenomenal.
He can routinely keep the #1 receiver in his peripheral while reading the QB and play about to set up. Textbook Zone eyes.
Watch how he reads this in-breaking route while in Cover 3 on 4th down! Anticipates the break, uses his hands to disrupt the receiver and then creates a turnover. I don’t think fans realize that Dig routes, or any routes over the middle into the intermediate area are the weak spot in Cover 3 because it’s behind the 2nd level and in front of the Post safety. This play is ridiculous, especially when you consider the situation.
Against the Commanders, Douglas is in Off-Man Coverage and shows off his confidence in his abilities. On the snap, he maintains his depth and focuses on the WRs head turning inside before he even made the break. A major cue. Receiver coaches always teach to bring your head and eyes around LAST not first. Or else the offensive player is telegraphing the route. Douglas pounces on the in-breaking route and forces the incompletion.
But just because Douglas is assigned to a man, doesn’t mean he gets tunnel vision and loses sight of the big picture. On this play, it appears like the Packers are in Cover 0, and the Titans keep Douglas’ assignment in to block, so Douglas falls off and goes and gets the ball.
His ability to be disruptive at the catch point is his number one trait and the reason I believe the Bills went out and got this guy. As Joe Marino pointed out recently, the Bills’ defense has hit a wall when it comes to turnovers.
The Bills defense logged 11 takeaways in the first 4 games of the season. The next 4? Only 3.
Need that to change real quick with the schedule getting a lot tougher the rest of the way. #BillsMafia
— Joe Marino (@TheJoeMarino) October 30, 2023
Douglas should inject some life into the secondary once up to speed because of his ball skills. Look at him space this High/Low Concept by the Rams, remain patient and then anticipate the return route by Cooper Kupp and throw inside by Matthew Stafford.
Since 2021, Douglas has reeled in 10 interceptions which ranks 3rd overall and total of 33 passes defended which ranks 10th overall per TruMedia. He’s always around the ball, using his long arms to work around the receiver to punch the ball out.
His timing, and precision to punch the ball out are sublime.
While Douglas displays remarkable skills, there are areas of his game that require refinement. His aggressive approach although often effective, can occasionally put him out of position. Crafty receivers can exploit this tendency by utilizing double moves to create separation.
Fluidity and transition lag when defending against receivers with exceptional speed and agility. The lack of top end foot speed and agility don’t allow him to match receivers step for step at the top of breaks.
Rasul Douglas’ acquisition adds starting level talent and versatility to the Buffalo Bills’ defense. His inside-out ability, disruptive length, and downhill aggressiveness make him a valuable asset in various defensive coverages. Douglas has the potential to become a key contributor in the Bills’ pursuit of a championship season.