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Film Breakdown: Buffalo's Defense

What Miami's Offense Should Expect On Sunday

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Hello Phinsiders.  This week we are going to take look at the Buffalo Defense.  The Bills Defense is pretty good.  Rex Ryan's defenses usually are.  In their 6 games so far this year, they have only surrendered 20 or more points once and in their 4 game winning streak they have averaged giving up 13.25 points / game (1 shutout included).  If you give up less than 2 TD's / game, you are going to win a lot of games in the NFL.  That being said, they haven't exactly faced a murders row of QB's in those 4 games.  Carson Palmer (Ari), Jacoby Brissett (NE), Case Keenum (LA), and Colin Kaepernick (SF) don't exactly strike fear into defenses.  Regardless of who is playing QB, though, holding NFL offenses to an average of 13.25 points / game is a very good way to win games in the NFL.

I'm going to state the obvious here:  Buffalo's 3-4 defense, being coached by Rex Ryan, loves to bring pressure.  They look to confuse the QB and the OL and they will bring players from all over the field.  They blitz with LB's.  They will bring CB's and Safeties.  They will show blitz and back out.  They have DL drop into coverage.  While they have some good players on the DL and at OLB that can rush the passer, through their scheme they look to get pressure by confusing the QB and OL.  I could probably spend 10,000 words and multiple posts just looking at their pressure packages.  I won't do that, but we can take a look at one of their more common pressure packages.

The 49ers are in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE), 1st & 10 from midfield.  The Bills counter with a Nickel defense by bringing in a CB and taking out a DL player.  The Bills have 5 DB's, 4 LB's, and 2 DL on the field.  (I would expect to see a lot of this defensive personnel grouping from the Bills because Miami uses 11 personnel a lot).  The 49ers initial formation is TE wing left.

You will notice that the 2 DT's are lined up over the OG's.  The 2 OLB's are lined up (standing) outside the OT's.  The 2 ILB's are stacked behind the DT's (slightly shifted to the wide side of the field).  The safety is covering the TE and the other safety is in the middle of the field about 8 yards off the LOS.  I've highlighted the ILB's because they are going to run a blitz game where they go to the opposite "A" Gaps for a double "A" Gap blitz.  The cross action by the ILB's is part of the scheme to confuse the OL and RB as to who is MIKE LB in a man pass protection call.  The 49ers then shift the TE from wing left to wing right.

On the shift, you can see the cross action by the ILB's starting to take place.  The safeties "bump" coverage, meaning that the safety that was in the middle of the field on the previous photo moves to cover the TE and the original safety in coverage moves to the middle of the field.  They basically flipped responsibilities.

The 49ers have a play action pass called.  Out of the pistol formation, they are going to show run action right, the OL is going to block man over (zone) right.  I've highlighted the LT's responsibility.  The LT is blocking the DT over the LG.  The LG is blocking the ILB in the "A" Gap to his right, the C is blocking the ILB in the "A" Gap to his right, the RG is blocking the DT to his right, and the RT is blocking the OLB (now in a 3 point stance) to his right.  The TE that is wing right, is going to come back across the formation to block the OLB to the left.

Because of the play fake right, Colin Kaepernick's pocket is offset right.  The intention of this type of pass protection is to put the RT at the point of attack, with help from the RB and to move the pocket away from the TE's block across the formation.  Notice the C, blocking the ILB to his right "A" Gap, doesn't have anyone to block because the ILB bluffed blitzing and is dropping into coverage.  The TE is engaged with the OLB and doing a good job.

But scheme and the alignment of the defense has put the LT trying to block the DT over the LG in a bind.  The LT has to work a full man over.  The LG can't help him because he is engaged with the ILB that is blitzing.  The block the LT has to perform is essentially leading the DT right into the offset right pocket and the QB.

Kaepernick is hit just as he releases the ball.  He is attempting to throw the deep post to the WR highlighted who is open by a couple of steps.  The pass is overthrown and incomplete.

So why did I show an incomplete pass?  This play shows a lot of what Buffalo's defense tries to do.  They showed a double "A" Gap blitz with cross action to confuse the OL and RB.  They didn't bring both ILB's in the blitz, having one drop off into coverage.  It shows how they get mismatches on the OL from alignment and scheme that gives them the advantage in a one on one match-up.  And it also shows that they are vulnerable on the back end of the defense to the big play.

Miami is going to see a lot of different looks from the Bills defense.  How they communicate and block these looks will be critical for Miami's success in the passing game.  For a play like this, I would expect Miami to employ a man protection scheme.  I would look for the RB to pick up one of the "A" Gap blitzers.  I know Jay Ajayi had a big game running the ball against the Steelers on Sunday, but I would anticipate that Damien Williams and Arian Foster will see a lot of playing time because they are superior pass protectors.

Like I said above, Miami likes to run a lot of 11 personnel packages.  Defenses usually counter that with Nickel defensive personnel.  Defenses also like to put an extra player in the box to stop the run.  For a couple of years now I've been telling anyone that would listen, that to have an effective running game, you need to be able to run the ball with the extra defender in the box.  Here is a play from the Rams vs Bills game a couple of weeks ago.

In this formation, the Rams have 5 OL players to block 6 defenders.  The play call is an inside handoff to Todd Gurley to run the ball between the C and RG.  The yellow lines show the running lane.  The blocking scheme calls for the RT and RG to double team the DT (#1) and climb to the LB (#5).  The C and LG are going to double team the DT (#2) and climb to the LB (#4).  The LT is single blocking the DE (#3).  The unblocked defender (U) is the DE.  At the snap of the ball, you can see the blocking scheme taking place.

The key to this running play is for both double teams to work AND for Gurley to "press the hole".  What that means is the hole is moving along with the blocking scheme.  While the original running lane is up the hash, that isn't where it will end up because of the movement in blocks.  And because the unblocked defender is sitting outside to Gurley's right, there is no cut back lane.  So he needs to "press in the hole" and stay playside.

As you can see above, Gurley stays playside and "presses the hole".  The yellow lines show the original location of the running lane but the actual running lane, still between the RG and C is about 5 yards closer to the center of the field.  By staying playside, Gurley causes the unblocked defender (U) to run into the double team by the RT and RG, effectively getting blocked.

This play resulted in a 4 yard pickup on 1st & 10.  It's not a game changing play, but it was an effective running play against a stacked box.  For Miami's offense to be successful running the ball, they have to be able to run against the unblocked defender and get into manageable down and distance, especially on 1st down.


I figured I would make this part of the weekly post.  One of the many things that I love about football is how nothing really goes out of style.  Plays that I ran in middle school and in high school in the ‘80's were some of the same plays that were run in the ‘60's.  Those same plays are still being run today.  Last week I highlighted a FB lead or as some call it, an ISO.  This week, let's take a look at a passing play.  Again, I'll be willing to bet that you would find this play in playbooks from the ‘60's.

The Rams come out in 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE's).  The line up in a Pro Right / Wing Right formation (TE on the LOS with the 2nd TE as a wing on the right).  The split end is left and the flanker is right (old school terminology right there).  The Bills counter on defense with their base 3-4 set, Cover 3 (CB's in deep outside 1/3 zone, FS in deep middle 1/3 zone).

In the picture above, you can see the 3 deep, Cover 3 look.

Now let's look at the front of the Bills defense with the LB's and Safeties identified.

The Bills have 8 in the box (3 DL + 4 LB's + SS).  The Rams have 7 blockers (5 OL + 2 TE's) and the RB.  This means that there would be an unblocked defender if the Rams wanted to run the ball OR they could block, man on man, the 8 defenders using the 7 blockers and the RB in the passing game.  It is a pass, so it is now up to the QB to identify the MIKE.  That tells the RB who to block and it tells the rest of the OL who they are responsible to pick up.  In the picture above, I identified who the MIKE is for this play call (As an aside, the MIKE call is based on the rules of the formation, defense, QB read, OL call, etc.  Depending on those rules, the QB could have made the ILB the MIKE.)

The C is working to his left to pick up the ILB who is blitzing.  The RB is spying the MIKE if he comes on a blitz.  The TE's stay in to block.  This is a 2 receiver, max 8 man protect, passing play.  Look at the results.

The well protected QB throws an out route to a wide open WR (Tavon Austin who has speed to burn and causes the CB to be way off for fear of getting beat deep) against a Cover 3 defense.  It doesn't get much simpler than that.  Here is an 11 yard gain on 1st & 10 from mid field.  An old offensive coordinator of mine used to say "this is stealing".  This is a staple of any playbook at any level of football.

If you go back to the Don Coryell, San Diego Chargers, offense with Dan Fouts at QB in the ‘70's and early ‘80's, this was a staple play of the offense against a Cover 3.  It was said that Fouts could complete this pass blindfolded 7 out of 10 times.  That's how often they ran it.  The same could be said for the Bill Walsh, San Francisco 49ers, West Coast Offense with Joe Montana in the late ‘70's and all throughout the ‘80's.

At the time, when the NFL offenses were primarily a run based offense, defenses would put 8 men in the box to stop the run and play Cover 3 behind it.  This pass play, and plays like it, crushed those defenses because when this play is executed against this coverage, it is almost unstoppable.  It was because of this play, that defenses in the ‘80's went from primarily a Cover 3 based defense to a Cover 2, where the CB's could be closer to the LOS to take away the out and provide deep coverage behind it.

Well, there you have it.  The Buffalo Bills have a good defense.  They will be a challenge for Miami's offense.  That doesn't mean that the Bills defense can't be had.  There are plays to be made against this defense.  To make those plays, an offense needs a QB to make throws in the face of pressure because the Bills pressure everybody.  There will be free rushers.  There will be confusion because that's what Rex Ryan's defenses do, they create confusion.  Minimizing that confusion to still make plays is the key.  In the past, Miami hasn't been very good at doing that against Rex Ryan.  That will need to change for Miami to win on Sunday.