Another big opportunity on the big stage, another failure by the Bills franchise. Just when you thought this team was on track and beginning to roll, they hit a brick wall in the form of the New York Jets defense. The short week did the Bills no favors; their players were mentally and physically slow, lacked the attention to detail and discipline, and overall didn’t execute anywhere near consistently enough to keep the game close. But it wasn’t just the players who struggled. The coaching staff struggled to adjust their plan of attack against a talented defense. What was so disappointing was that it wasn’t anything complex. Much like the Bills, the short week prevented the Jets’ coaches from putting in exotic plays, so Rogers manned up and believed that his players could win 1-on-1 matchups at just about every position. They did and it showed on the scoreboard.
Let’s take a look at some of the themes that arose during Thursday night’s game.
The first play from scrimmage really set the tone for the night. The Bills run a naked bootleg off of play action, Thomas bumps into Glenn, and it throws off the split flow action that may hold the edge rusher, Jenkins. Jenkins has to worry about one thing: keeping Taylor in the pocket. He sells out and has Taylor dead to rights as soon as Taylor finishes the play fake. This put the Bills behind the chains, and they end up going three-and-out.
On their second drive the Jets’ defensive game plan became more evident. On this play, they play man across the board and rush five defenders. The defenders do a great job of rushing at the same pace and depth. The discipline forces Taylor to stay in the pocket. Taylor wants to hit Thompson on the in-breaking route, but LB Lee gets physical with O’Leary, and he is bumped right into Thompson. Tyrod pulls a houdini act and somehow extends the play to hit WR Jordan Matthews for 11 yards.
One of the few successful runs, and one that really shouldn’t have worked, as the Jets blatantly show their defensive hand again: stop McCoy. They have their LBs up close to the line of scrimmage and every gap is accounted for, but McCoy makes a special play to get outside.
Two plays later RB Mike Tolbert is in, and they run an inside zone BOB (Back on Backer) weak side run. But the Jets’ staff is ready. They put LB Demario Davis in the weak side A gap, which gives them four defenders to defend three gaps to the weak side. They then have four defenders on the strong side to defend four gaps with DL Leonard Williams in a 4i technique, completely occupying LT Cordy Glenn. This aggressiveness on the weak side — where the offense wants to attack — forces a cutback right into the thick of the defense.
On the next play on 3rd-and-8, the Jets bring a well designed 5-man rush. The edge rushers don’t drive too far upfield, and the interior rushers easily push the pocket, forcing Taylor to play from inside it. The play is there, but the pass is slightly off. Another 6-8 inches outside and Thompson can gain some YAC, but Thompson also needs to catch it with his hands. Instead, he lets it get into his chest, and that slight delay allows the defender to close the gap.
The next drive is where some of the run game frustrations really began. The Bills send out 21 personnel with Tolbert eight yards deep, no Shady. But look at the linebackers. Typical linebacker depth is 4-5 yards. The Jets bring their guys 3 yards off the line of scrimmage. This is them selling out, being able to get downhill quicker, which is the kryptonite of outside zone runs. Throw in the cross dog run blitz, and you aren’t going to get many yards because the zone blocking has to adjust their assignments to the movement post-snap.
On the very next play, a 2nd-and-13 play call, Taylor takes the quick pass to WR Zay Jones over the middle. It’s a tight window, and it’s and yardage they needed to make the next play manageable.
The pass to Jones sets up 3rd-and-1, and the Bills run a zone read. Taylor gains 18 yards, the longest run of the night.
After a flag on McCoy, who ran a double move on safety Jamal Adams, the Bills run counter trey. Dennison introduces a small wrinkle: they align FB DiMarco in an off-line TE position. Take a look:
On 2nd-and-3, Buffalo runs play action. They ran play action from this 12 personnel set several times and completed at a high rate. With the linebackers playing so tight to the line of scrimmage, these kinds of plays were basically given to the offense by the Jets. But it was also an adjustment by Dennison. Instead of faking the wide zone run and rolling Taylor out on a naked bootleg like they did on the first play, they ran play action with a normal drop back to pull the linebackers down and to block up the edge rusher, Jenkins.
After a failed power run by McCoy and a reverse speed rollout pass attempt to McCoy, the Bills are faced with 3rd-and-9. They send out 11 personnel and align a trips formation to the field. There are only so many ways you can defend the backside of a 3×1 set. The Jets choose to play man coverage against Jones and Shady. On the snap, Glenn does a great job of securing DE Kony Ealy and driving him across the formation. Taylor slides to his left as Jones leaves the defensive back in the dust for his first career touchdown.
On their next drive, they again try to get the run game going, but the Jets are keen to it. Buffalo even brought in extra offensive lineman Ryan Groy, but the Jets stack the box with eight and even their deep safety, Marcus Maye, is extremely tight to the line of scrimmage. This ‘Duo’ concept has yielded big plays this season, but not on this play, as the corner doesn’t let Shady break a big run.
The Jets ran myriad five-man rushes. On this third down play the fifth rusher appears to be determined by the release of RB McCoy. He check-releases from the defense’s left, so Davis rushes.
On the very next play Taylor is forced to take another sack, as the Bills run a play action, three-man route.
On back-to-back plays Taylor is forced to take a sack. Let’s face it, the Jets lined up man-on-a-man, and those players won their matchups. On this play, DL Leonard Williams wins his matchup, and it blows the play up.
It puts them in third-and-long, and the Jets play man coverage and spy Taylor. Not much he can do.
With 3:18 left in the half, the Bills get the ball back and are in a good position to execute a two-for-one: get points before the half with the opportunity to do the same coming out in the 3rd quarter. Dennison calls a Y-stick concept to TE O’Leary, but Taylor doesn’t like the matchup, so he moves on to the routes by Thompson and Matthews. But asking the offensive line to block this front for over 3 seconds is a tall task. The play concept into the boundary is a quick one. Taylor hesitates and it leads to a sack.
The play design is good, as the Bills run an over route with Jordan Matthews. But the throw is untenable, because LT Glenn gets dominated by DE Ealy. He prevents the throw, and the spy, LB Darron Lee, gets the sack.
Next play, on 2nd-and-20, the Jets play man coverage with a spy again. As McCoy stays in to block, safety Miles gets to blitz, so it’s another 5-man rush. Taylor is decisive and throws it to Matthews.
But then the backbreaker happens. On third down, and after the Bills dug themselves out of a few holes, they get the matchup they want. Matthews catches it and fumbles. This was the turning point of the game, in my eyes.
Coming out of the half ,you would expect the staff to make adjustments. Spread the defense out, lighten the running box, and begin to call more man-beater concepts. Let’s see if that happens.
It’s 2nd-and-7, and the Bills run a counter trey, a play that has been successful this season. But they do it from a condensed formation. This brings everyone into the box because they are playing man coverage. Shady has no options and loses two yards.
Third-and-nine, no man coverage beater. Instead, the right side of the line is dominated and they affect the pass. Notice the coverages, the spy, etc. Three-and-out.
The Bills start out their next drive with a nice play action play to Zay Jones.
But on 2nd-and-1, they put themselves back into a hole because Shady is indecisive on his read. He should bend it and take what he can back behind center Eric Wood, as Mills makes the cut.
So then the Bills are back in third-and-long, and they try to work the backside of the trips formation. Nothing there, so as Taylor begins to work through his progressions LB Davis rushes, and he catches Taylor’s eyes. Taylor leaves the pocket and is unable to make it to his fifth option, Thompson, who appeared to be open on the comeback. Another three-and-out.
The very next drive, my frustration boiled over. Backed up, and Dennison again calls a run from a heavy formation. Nine men in the box, no gain.
After a false start by Thompson, and a batted pass by DL Wilkerson, the Bills are faced with a 3rd-and-14. No one open, another failed drive.
Third-and-ten, same coverage, same concept up front, and Taylor delivers to TE O’Leary, who is matched up versus S Adams. Good job by #84 to separate and Taylor throwing to a spot. This was one of the few plays where the receivers separated vs. man coverage. BUT, O’Leary fumbles it, and the drive stalls.
The Bills get the ball back and are down 24, and they begin their drive with a 7-yard check down to RB Tolbert … yeah, Tolbert. Then, a 4-yard pass to WR Jones. After a failed outside zone run by Tolbert and a swing pass to the big back, the Bills are again in third-and-long. Leonard Williams wreaks havoc as the Jets rush four, and Matthews is doubled in the slot, so Taylor leaves the pocket. As he scrambles there is an opportunity to dump it to Tolbert, but the moment passes and he is strip-sacked by OLB Jenkins. McCown and the Jets get another touchdown and don’t look like they are going to falter in the fourth quarter again.
The Jets go into prevent mode the rest of the game and force the Bills to work the underneath stuff. While they added two more touchdowns in the quarter, they weren’t really a threat to come back on their AFC East rivals.
This game was frustrating, as the offensive game plan on the short week was vanilla, and the execution was awful. The run game was unable to get on track because DC Rogers set out to eliminate McCoy from the start. They stacked the box and put more players at the point of attack than there were blockers. The inside linebackers played close to the line of scrimmage, which allowed them to fill gaps quickly, ultimately taking away options for McCoy.
Penalties and the lack of a run game put the Bills in obvious passing situations, where they struggled. The home team sent an array of five-man rushes, which put the onus on the offensive line, and they were not able to win their 1-on-1 matchups. The pocket was often pushed into Taylor’s face, while the edge rushers did a great job of not rushing too far upfield, so as to keep Taylor in the pocket. Pair the struggles up front with the inability for receivers to separate versus man coverage, and the offense appeared stuck in neutral for most of the day.
While the players failed to execute, the staff did not put them in the best position to succeed, either. They failed to spread the defense out in order to lighten the box for the run game. They failed to dial up man coverage beaters, and with how bad the defense played, they just didn’t have the weapons and/or play calls to do anything to generate big plays. Without the big plays, this offense will struggle week in and week out.
It was a tough loss, but one that they now have 10 days to learn from. The addition of WR Kelvin Benjamin, and TE Charles Clay possibly coming back from injury, should help the offense counter teams that want to replicate the Jets’ game plan.