Welcome to Week Eight 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’ seventh game of the 2019 season will take place at New Era Field as they face the Philadelphia Eagles. Here’s what you should know:
EAGLES’ DEFENSE DECIMATED BY INJURIES
Two years removed from winning the first Super Bowl title in franchise history, the Philadelphia Eagles find themselves at a bit of a crossroads. At 3-4 and coming off back-to-back losses, the Eagles can’t really afford to lose a third straight while fighting with the Dallas Cowboys for the top spot in the NFC East.
A 4-3 unit that is coordinated by former Bills assistant Jim Schwartz, it’s known for good gap control – usually by having their defensive linemen control one gap, like Buffalo does – and has essentially become a modern version of the old 46 scheme. They will rarely blitz – defenders will show pressure and then drop into various zone coverages. Schwartz took this philosophy that he learned from Jeff Fisher in Tennessee and has applied it in Detroit, Buffalo and Philadelphia and had success at all three stops.
In order to have success this way, you need to get pressure from a defensive line that is deep and talented. Which the Eagles have in All-Pro Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett and Vinny Curry, but a crucial member of that group – defensive tackle Tim Jernigan – will miss Sunday’s game due to injury.
Beyond their front four the Eagles have some issues. They will be without linebacker (and former Bill) Nigel Bradham, which lightens a unit that already lacked experience. The Eagles are also hurting at cornerback, as Ronald Darby and Avonte Maddox have dealt with the injury bug all year and Jalen Mills, Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones have all struggled – especially against double moves by wideouts – contributing to their being ranked 27th against the pass. Safeties Malcolm Jenkins, a cagey and versatile veteran, and Rodney McLeod, one of the game’s rangiest centerfielders, hold down the back end.
One matchup that bears watching is the Bills’ seventh-ranked rushing attack against Philly’s sixth-ranked run defense. Something’s got to give here.
DITTO PHILLY’S OFFENSE
The same goes for the Eagles’ offensive unit. When everyone is in their lineup, it can be potent but key players are missing heading into their week eight matchup with the Bills.
The Doug Pederson offense – a chip off the old block from his mentor, Andy Reid – is a West Coast offense-style unit that is built off misdirection concepts, quick underneath throws and occasional downfield route combinations. The problem is that Philly hasn’t been able to do much of the latter because of injuries to veteran speedster DeSean Jackson (they’ve had just two catches of 30 yards or more from a wide receiver since Jackson went down).
Since then, Pederson has had to get creative with an offense that lacks speedsters. Rookie running back Miles Sanders has been the beneficiary of Jackson and veteran Darren Sproles missing time, as he has seen his touches increase in recent weeks and athletic tight end Zach Ertz and big-bodied wideout Alshon Jeffrey have also had bigger roles. Veteran running back Jordan Howard arrived from Chicago over the offseason and has a role on zone-based runs, which he is more than capable of executing.
Quarterback Carson Wentz is one of the NFL’s best young signal callers, as his skill set – his size, mobility and strong arm evoke comparisons to a young Ben Roethlisberger – translates well to Philly’s offense. However, he’s had to operate behind a line that, while elite in recent years, is starting to show some cracks. Longtime stalwart left tackle Jason Peters has been sidelined because of a knee ailment and his replacement, rookie Andre Dillard, has had some trouble adapting to life in the NFL. Guard Brandon Brooks is coming off a torn Achille tendon and center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson are aging.
BUFFALO’S DEFENSE PROVEN AS A DOMINANT FORCE
The Bills’ third-ranked 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).
Third-year cornerback Tre’Davious White had perhaps his best game as a pro last week as he came up with a pair of turnovers and essentially locked down one half of the field, forcing Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to beat the Bills in other ways. He will need to come up with another big performance this week against one of the NFL’s better red zone threats in the 6’5” Jeffery.
Linebacker Matt Milano is questionable for Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury suffered against the Titans three weeks ago. His absence loomed large against Miami last week with Maurice Alexander struggling in his place, and should Milano miss this week’s matchup I would expect the Eagles to attack Alexander in the passing game with Ertz.
BILLS’ OFFENSE CHUGGING ALONG
Buffalo’s investment in adding help for Josh Allen along the offensive line and at the skill positions have been on full display this season. The offensive line – once viewed as potentially the worst in football – had become a strength, providing good movement at the line of scrimmage and opening holes for running backs Devin Singletary and Frank Gore.
The Bills’ weapons around Allen have also been upgraded from a year ago. John Brown has brought speed and downfield playmaking ability to Western New York, wide receiver Duke Williams from the practice squad has given Buffalo a big, physical presence on the outside that they had sorely lacked for years 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’s built upon concepts involving option routes from the slot, downfield routes from the outside, designed quarterback runs to take advantage of Allen’s mobility, deep dropbacks and alignments that create favorable matchups (and some trick plays with jet motion, sweeps and end arounds with Isaiah McKenzie), the Bills have much more to work with than they did at this time last year.
After an uneven performance in the first half in their last game against the Dolphins, Buffalo made some creative adjustments in order to come away with the win. Getting McKenzie out in space with swing passes and also using Brown on vertical routes from the slot were big contributors to their victory.
- This season the Eagles are uncharacteristically struggling on the road, having won just one game and giving up 31.5 points per game. Will that trend continue on Sunday?
- 11 of the Bills’ 13 touchdowns this year have come on drives that have been 70 yards or longer. That speaks to Buffalo’s willingness to be methodical and to beat opponents by death of a thousand cuts.
- This is the second time in three years that the Bills have had a three-game homestand on their schedule. Two years ago the Bills went 1-2 in that home stretch in December – can they improve to 2-0 in this year’s?
- The Bills have a chance to close out October undefeated in the month for the first time since 1998. They have gone undefeated in October five different times and made the playoffs in each of those years (1998, 1993, 1990, 1974, 1964).
- McDermott is from Philadelphia and spent 12 years working for the Eagles as an assistant coach, with the last two as defensive coordinator for Reid from 2009-10. Multiple assistants and front office members also have Eagles connections, including Frazier, wide receivers coach Chad Hall and vice president of communications Derek Boyko.
- Buffalo’s defense has allowed less then 400 yards of offense in 18 straight games dating to last year. They have also allowed just 91 points, their least through six games since 1993 (77).
- Not to be outdone, the Bills’ red zone offense is currently ranked second in the NFL behind the Minnesota Vikings.