Welcome to Week Four of the NFL season. Here at 300 Level Media, we will attempt to inform and educate our readers about the Buffalo Bills’ upcoming opponent and what each team might do to emerge victorious.
The Bills’ fourth game of the 2019 season will take place at New Era Field as they face the New England Patriots. Here’s what you should know:
BILLS’ OFFENSE CONTINUING TO PLAY WELL
Buffalo’s investment in adding help for Josh Allen along the offensive line and at the skill positions were on full display over the last three weeks. The offensive line – once viewed as potentially the worst in football – has become a strength, providing good movement at the line of scrimmage and opening holes for running backs Devin Singletary and Frank Gore.
John Brown has brought speed and downfield playmaking ability to Western New York and Cole Beasley is a reliable security blanket while playing the Wes Welker/Julian Edelman role that is emphasized in Brian Daboll’s Patriots-style system. In an offense that is built upon concepts involving option routes from the slot, downfield routes from the outside, deep dropbacks and alignments that create favorable matchups (and some trick plays with jet motion, sweeps and end arounds with Isaiah McKenzie), Allen has much more to work with than he had at this time last year.
Singletary might miss a second straight game against New England with a hamstring injury and T.J. Yeldon, the former Jacksonville Jaguar, would be expected to fill his role. Which he is capable of doing, especially in the passing game – Yeldon had two 50+ catch seasons in his four years in Jacksonville.
BUFFALO’S DEFENSE STILL DOMINANT
The Bills’ defensive unit is more or less the same as last year’s group, except for rookie defensive tackle Ed Oliver stepping in for the now-retired Kyle Williams. Schematically, they rely on basic zone coverages after the snap, but before the snap it is complex – safety rotations to disguise their coverages keep opposing quarterbacks guessing and selective pressure looks at the line of scrimmage are Sean McDermott’s calling card (those blitz looks are usually in the A-gaps from their linebackers – for more info on McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s defense, please read: https://fromthe300level.com/2018/08/pressure-package-how-the-late-buddy-ryan-has-influenced-the-buffalo-bills-defenses-for-over-20-years/?fbclid=IwAR3iYcnJ5qvl8shWHkZJVNO50VJXPeaEx8k0-Rk1VWV_Qx2OEfsAn2NY_ys).
One area where the Bills usually mix it up is in their nickel personnel. Slot cornerback Taron Johnson could miss his third straight game with a hamstring injury, and his duties have been split up between Kevin Johnson, Siran Neal and Dean Marlowe depending on the opposition’s skill players and the down and distance. McDermott and Frazier also use a variety of 4-2-5 and 3-3-5 fronts at the line of scrimmage.
The Bills can create pressure with a four-man rush, which is generally the right idea in order to try and stop Tom Brady and company. More often than not, the blueprint league-wide has been to eschew blitzing and play stifling coverage behind the rush – especially in press-man, in order to not allow New England’s wide receivers to use their leverage against defensive backs in their vaunted option routes. The best examples of this came in the Patriots’ three Super Bowl losses to the New York Giants (2007, ’11) and Philadelphia Eagles (2017), and in the 2015 AFC Championship Game against the Denver Broncos.
PATRIOTS TO ATTACK THE BILLS IN A MYRIAD OF WAYS
Brady has played in a bunch of different types of offenses in his career. From a power-running team featuring Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon in his early years, to a spread, pass-happy team with Randy Moss and Wes Welker, to an offense revolving around tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, Brady has seen and done it all with fantastic results.
The Patriots’ passing game is built around concepts and using formations and motioning to create favorable matchups for their inside weapons – check out Chris B. Brown’s excellent piece about it here (http://grantland.com/features/how-terminology-erhardt-perkins-system-helped-maintain-dominance-tom-brady-patriots/). Their premier pass-catchers are slot receiver extraordinaire Julian Edelman, who is still as quick and shifty as ever, and running back James White, who excels in the screen game.
New England’s offensive line is in a state of flux. Left tackle Isaiah Winn will miss a considerable amount of time due to injury and center David Andrews is out for the season – leaving Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon from last year’s underappreciated unit.
Philip Dorsett is good in the deep and intermediate parts of the passing game. Josh Gordon, one of the NFL’s most talented vertical threats, is back after dealing with drug problems and is performing at a high level. Running back Sony Michel operates behind a power-blocking scheme that is reminiscent of the Pats’ ground game utilized earlier this century.
In fact, no team has used more 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end) over the last four years than New England. Without the now-retired Gronkowski and injured fullback James Develin – who has emerged as an elite blocker and a serviceable receiver – offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels certainly has his hands full in adapting to what he has at his disposal.
One such old-school running play that the Pats have been utilizing to great success over the last year or so is Power-O – a man-blocking play which features double-teams at the point of attack with a guard pulling towards the side of the play. Michel has picked up a lot of yards from this, and the Pats also succeed with play-action off of the same scheme. Pulling guards in play-action can influence linebackers’ coverage responsibilities, and New England could certainly apply it on Sunday.
NEW ENGLAND’S DEFENSE IS CONSTANTLY EVOLVING
Early in Bill Belichick’s tenure in New England his defenses were versatile and unpredictable, with intelligent veterans carrying out his voluminous schemes. But it has done a complete about-face over the past decade.
According to the MMQB’s Andy Benoit, “(Belichick’s) Patriots were known for being a certain defense one week and a totally different defense the next. They could run any coverage, play out of any structure – be it 4-3, 3-4 or a blend – and disguise pressures and post-snap rotations like none other.
“Belichick’s defense is, and has been for roughly 10 years, a simple bend-but-don’t-break unit….. They play a lot of straight man coverage, often with one safety deep and the other robbing over the middle. They blitz rarely….. even presnap disguises can be few and far between. When the Patriots do get aggressive is usually when the offense approaches scoring range. That’s the ‘don’t break’ part.”
Heady veterans Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Devin and Jason McCourty, Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson hold down the fort on the back end, while the versatile Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and the athletic Jamie Collins are their starting linebackers. Veteran Michael Bennett is New England’s only proven pass rusher and Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise make up the rest of their defensive line. The additions of Collins and Bennett have given Belichick added flexibility and versatility to use more types of defensive fronts this season.
Lately the Patriots have gotten pressure on opposing quarterbacks by rushing six players with stunts and twists when opposing offenses show a five-man protection scheme – often with man-coverage across the board and no deep safeties (also known as Cover Zero).
- The Patriots’ defense has been dominant to start this season. They have matched the 1937 Chicago Bears by holding their first three opponents to no touchdowns, and they are first in the NFL in multiple categories – including total defense, red zone defense, run defense, pass defense, third down defense, first downs allowed and points against.
- New England also hasn’t allowed an opponent to score in the first half against them since the Los Angeles Chargers did so in the Divisional Round of last year’s playoffs – five games ago.