Rookie linebacker Tremaine Edmunds was drafted 16th overall by the Bills and immediately inserted into the middle linebacker role in Leslie Frazier’s defense. The now 20-year-old has had a rollercoaster of a season. At times his natural athleticism has shone through, but at other times his immaturity at the position has led people to question the selection.
Bob Babich, his position coach, and I talk about that often. Sometimes we’re having meetings and we’re just talking and leading meetings, and we talk about all the things that we put on his plate, and then you realize how young he is, and the fact that it’s a new position, because he was an outside linebacker in college. Now, you’re a middle linebacker in the National Football League, so young at what he’s doing, to see his growth is just incredible. You have high hopes for his future. He’s just going to keep getting better and better. -DC Leslie Frazier
Those who believe that Edmunds was over-drafted or not worth the selection may not truly understand what he is asked to do. Most fans will chalk up Frazier’s statement about Edmunds becoming more “comfortable in this system” or how “his communication, handling all the different things that show up during a ball game that he struggled with early in the season” as coach-speak, but you will see all of those things in action in this article.
So today, I want to dive into Edmunds’s film vs. the Jets to show you some of his good and bad plays, but more importantly, to give you some context surrounding what he is being asked to do. This should help you understand why he was in a position to make the interception downfield and why he was half a click late and unable make the tackle on another play.
One of the major coverages the Bills play is quarters. You will see it creep up several times in this game, so I’ll give you a crash course into quarters coverage from the perspective of the Mike linebacker. One of the main ways to beat this coverage is to attack the middle linebacker, and teams did that frequently in 2017 when Preston Brown was the Mike. They had a ton of success. Edmunds has done a much better job, but there is still room for improvement.
Literally a microcosm of his season. The next play is the same quarters coverage principle of ‘matching the #3.’ The Jets try to get Edmunds to bite on the run, but the rookie does a good job of sticking to his keys and siphoning out the #3 receiver. Unfortunately, he takes a bad angle and misses the tackle. Edmunds missed two tackles on the day, and his 17 missed tackles on the season put him in second place behind fellow linebacker Matt Milano.
I hate to take lines from Bill Belichick, but sometimes the “do your job” mantra is too perfect. Edmunds gets an F on this run fit.
The Bills play a ton of zone, and quarters can often fall into that category, depending on the route distribution. But when QB Sam Darnold was pressured by Jerry Hughes, the scramble drill ensued, and the coverage essentially turned to man coverage. Darnold’s hero ball moment makes Edmunds the youngest player to record an interception in league history. Think about that, then watch the video.
Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates made some very nice calls against a Bills defense that kept it vanilla. The Jets send out 12 personnel and align in a 2×2 set, almost automatically triggering quarters coverage. The play design is and execution is flawless, but we get to see how quickly Edmunds must process the route combinations and match the intended target.
Some guys, when something bad happens to him, you see the emotion rise or lower, but with Tremaine, he’s really calm and composed. He just wants the information [of] what did you see, Coach? How can I improve? The wheels are already turning. He has an idea of what he thinks he should’ve done better, but he wants to hear feedback and then he processes that and goes out and makes the correction. -DC Leslie Frazier
Stopping the run in this defense isn’t the easiest thing to do. Linebackers must diagnose the flow of the run, the offensive line’s blocking concept, any gap exchanges or run stunts that occur at the 1st level, and then fill the proper run gap and make the tackle on a talented player. This play really puts into perspective how much stress is put on the linebackers in this scheme — why, if this ended up being a pass, they may be a tad behind after the play action fake. This scheme isn’t just a downhill, fill a gap scheme; at times, it is way more complicated than that.
Pattern matching for Edmunds is still a work in progress, but he has come a long way from the beginning of the season. While this pass doesn’t end up going in his direction, this play shows some of the responsibilities that Edmunds carries from play to play and how quickly he has to think on his feet.
The final play of this short breakdown is the go-ahead touchdown surrendered by the Bills’ defense. Linebacker play can be tricky when talking run fits and technique. Some plays, the linebackers will ‘spill’ the run outside — so, fill the inside gap, force the run to bounce wide, right into another defender. Some plays will require a defender to ‘box’ the play in, so attack the outside gap to contain the run or ‘box’ it in so that they can pursue and fill. If I had to guess, I would say Edmunds was probably asked to ‘box’ the run, but he didn’t expect the run to string out as wide as it did. Either way, the Jets go up 27-23 on this 4th-and-1 call.