Welcome to Week One of the 2020 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’ first game of the 2020 season will take place at New Era Field as they face the New York Jets. Here’s what you should know:
GANG GREEN’S DEFENSE IS BLITZ-INTENSIVE
New York’s defensive coordinator is former Bills head coach Gregg Williams, who has been well-traveled throughout his lengthy NFL career. Williams is known for employing aggressive, blitz-happy units that put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks and has enjoyed immense success while retaining elements of the scheme that he learned from mentor Buddy Ryan.
“I took George Allen, I took Buddy Ryan, I took Dick LeBeau. I took Bud Carson. I put them all together and now it’s kind of a Gregg Williams way that we do things,” Williams told NFL Network in 2016. “But there’s more Buddy Ryan in everything I do defensively, schematically, than anything.
“I’ve used his 46 defensive principles everywhere I’ve been and have expanded upon it greatly. It’s been somewhat intimidating to an awful lot of coaches, because they think it’s complicated when it’s not. We still call it the ‘Bear’ defense. Why? Because Buddy Ryan was with the Bears when he did that.”
According to NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks, Williams is so aggressive that, like Ryan before him, he will use unsound coverage principles on the back end to get to opposing quarterbacks.
“From a schematic standpoint, Williams will use every front in the book,” Brooks wrote in 2014. “At his core, though, he’s a 4-3 over/under guy. He implements a defensive audible system that adapts to offensive formations, allowing his guys to be in the best possible call on every down. Although the complex nature of the scheme puts a ton of pressure on the linebackers and safeties to make adjustments, it is a system that produces outstanding results when mastered.
“On passing downs, Williams certainly isn’t afraid to mix in a variety of blitzes from exotic looks – including some Okie fronts (3-4 or nickel 3-3 packages) – as well as the standard 4-2-5 nickel front. He will order up Cover 0 all-out blitzes in any area of the field, which makes him the ultimate gambler as a play-caller.”
Unfortunately for Williams the Jets have dealt with issues at the linebacker position in each of the last two years, which have compromised this unit’s effectiveness. Former Baltimore Raven C.J. Mosley – who missed most of last season with a groin injury – opted out of 2020 due to COVID-19, and Avery Williamson missed all of 2019 because of an ACL ailment. Williamson is out for Week One with a hamstring injury, leaving the Jets with just two healthy inside linebackers – Neville Hewitt and Blake Cashman.
New York also has shaky depth at cornerback. Beyond former Indianapolis Colt Pierre Desir – who is an underrated man-cover corner – the team’s depth chart is made up of Brian Poole, Quincy Wilson and Bless Austin.
Luckily for those defensive backs, the Jets have a solid safety tandem behind them to cover up for any mistakes. Former second-round pick Marcus Maye is a versatile and rangy safety who can do it all, and Bradley McDougald, acquired from the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for Jamal Adams, is none too shabby himself.
Up front, New York has two prototypes for run-stuffing defensive tackles in Henry Anderson and Steve McLendon, and Jordan Jenkins is the team’s best pass-rusher. Quinnen Williams, the third-overall selection out of Alabama in 2019, had an up-and-down rookie year.
GASE’S OFFENSIVE SYSTEM HASN’T CHANGED MUCH
When Jets head coach Adam Gase was the Denver Broncos’ offensive coordinator in 2013 and ’14, he helped Peyton Manning and his stable of targets (Demaryius and Julius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Emmanuel Sanders) reach unprecedented heights – culminating in a record-breaking season in ’13 and a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII. Gase has taken that system with him to New York, and while he hasn’t had quite the same success there and in previous stops in Chicago and Miami, it’s still somewhat productive.
In addition to a zone-based running game that is executed by the versatile Le’Veon Bell and future Hall of Famer Frank Gore, the Jets like to align their wide receivers and tight end – deep threat Breshad Perriman, shifty slot receiver Jamison Crowder and veterans Chris Hogan and Chris Herndon – in ways to help young starter Sam Darnold identify certain coverages. According to former MMQB/SI writer Andy Benoit, “No NFL coach loves any formation more than Gase loves an unbalanced three-by-one (three wide receivers to one side and a tight end alone on the other).
“The unusual distribution forces a defense to reveal if it is in man or zone coverage. It also creates opportunities to flood one side of the field or set up downfield crossing patterns.”
Darnold, a former third-overall draft pick out of USC, has decent mobility and solid arm strength, accuracy and intelligence. His elongated release and penchant for throwing interceptions have carried over from college, as he has thrown 28 interceptions in 26 NFL games.
Darnold operates behind a Jets offensive line that is in transition. Not a single member of New York’s offensive line was a starter for the team a year ago – save for left guard Alex Lewis, who is questionable for Week One with a shoulder injury. Center Connor McGovern, right guard Greg Van Roten and right tackle George Fant were all brought in via free agency, and rookie left tackle Mekhi Becton – a mountain of a man at 6’7” and 364 pounds – was drafted in the first round back in April.
The many changes to the Jets’ offensive line and wideout corps need to pan out for New York. Last season they finished dead last in total offense, 31st in rushing and 31st in scoring.
BUFFALO’S DEFENSE IS DOMINANT
Over the last two years, the Bills’ defense has become one of pro football’s elite units. Led by stalwarts like Tre’Davious White, Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Ed Oliver and Jerry Hughes – and supplemented this year by the free agent signings of Mario Addison, Quinton Jefferson, Vernon Butler, A.J. Klein and Josh Norman – last year’s defense ranked third overall in the NFL. Additionally, they were 10th against the run, fourth against the pass, seventh-best on third down, 10th in sack percentage, 10th in interception rate, second in points allowed and 12th in sacks.
Schematically, the Bills’ defense mostly relies on basic zone coverages after the snap, but before the snap it is complex – safety rotations to disguise their coverages keep opposing quarterbacks guessing, selective pressure looks at the line of scrimmage and coverage exchanges at the snap 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 unit, 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).
Because of a hamstring injury suffered recently, Norman will not suit up against the Jets. Levi Wallace, last year’s starter at cornerback opposite White, will likely take his place.
BILLS’ OFFENSE NOT GREAT LAST YEAR, BUT TRYING TO IMPROVE SCORING
Going into Week 11 last year, the Bills’ offense was ranked in the bottom half of the league in nearly every major offensive category. To address this lack of production, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll moved from the field up to the press box to call plays and get a bird’s eye view of what was happening on the field.
The decisions to go upstairs and use more of an up-tempo attack paid off for the most part, as Buffalo got significant contributions from players like Josh Allen, Devin Singletary, John Brown and Cole Beasley over the last seven weeks of the season. The Bills also increased their usage of 11 personnel (one back, one tight end, three receivers), resulting in better production both through the air and on the ground as evidenced by the Bills employing the NFL’s eighth-best rushing offense.
The proof was in the pudding. According to Warren Sharp, before week 11 Buffalo had utilized 11 personnel on 63 percent of their snaps. From then on, that number increased to 81 percent, the most in the league.
However, the Bills’ inability to score points consistently – they averaged just 19.6 points per game – caught up to them in the playoffs against the Houston Texans. To address that problem, they went out and drafted running back Zack Moss and traded for wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who is tied for fifth in the league in receiving touchdowns over the last three years with 23. Diggs is an exceptional route runner, excels in making contested catches and operates well out of bunch and stack formations.
Buffalo’s offense is a Patriots-style system 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 and sweeps with Isaiah McKenzie).
- The Bills’ record against the Jets at New Era Field is 6-2 since 2012.
- Crowder put up big numbers in both meetings between the Bills and Jets last year, compiling 22 catches for 165 yards and a touchdown in two games. The Bills must find a way to contain him in order to win on Sunday.
- The Bills’ defense has given up less than 400 yards of offense in 27 out of their last 29 games dating to last year (including playoffs), the best such mark in the NFL.
- According to Chris Brown of buffalobills.com, four of the last five games between the Bills and Jets have come down to just single digits on the scoreboard, and both games last year were decided by a combined eight points.