During any football season, fans will pick up common themes and track them as the year progresses. Unfortunately for the Buffalo Bills, most of those themes defensively in 2010 (aside from the "Kyle Williams is awesome" theme) dealt with their inadequacies. Can't stop the run. Can't rush the passer. Can't defend tight ends. Can't stop any play with misdirection.
It's that last theme that the Kansas City Chiefs exploited with a high degree of proficiency in the two teams' Week 8 matchup last season. In that contest, Chiefs star running back Jamaal Charles gained 238 total yards offensively, including 177 on the ground. That ground total included his long gain of the day, a 32-yard scamper on an end around in the first quarter.
Buffalo's breakdowns on this play aren't a hard and fast rule as to why they struggled to defend misdirection last season, but this post will hopefully serve to illustrate just how difficult it can be to stop this play with even one player breakdown.
Because Charles is so versatile, the Chiefs were able to come onto the field heavy, with one receiver, two backs and two tight ends. That dictated that the Bills bring on their base defense (at the time), a heavy 4-3 look with four 300-plus-pound guys on the line and Chris Kelsay at linebacker. That removes a lot of speed in Buffalo's front seven, and it allows Charles - one of the fastest backs in the league - to line up in a way that'll get him on the edge of the defense.
As you can see, Charles lines up with tight end Tony Moeaki on the right side of the alignment, split out wide. Everything else about the alignment is standard. This is a very basic end around play that functions like a sweep, with Moeaki running ahead of Charles as his lead blocker. At the snap, Buffalo's defense - seven games deep into a run-defending neurosis that made them more susceptible to keying hard on the run - is tracking Thomas Jones in the backfield.
Kansas City's offensive line is a key here, as they block as if Jones is getting the football. Left tackle Branden Albert is responsible for getting to the second level and erasing a defender, in this case Paul Posluszny. That leaves defensive end Dwan Edwards uncovered. Effectively, the Bills have two defenders free against one lead blocker. Charles is in space, but the Bills can at least limit the damage.
Edwards, as was the theme with every Bills defender, bites hard on the initial run action. He's come too far inside, leaving his gap and allowing Moeaki to forego that block and get to the second level, where he can take on cornerback Drayton Florence.
This is an end zone view of Edwards' gaffe. He's crashed too far inside - something that Bills back-side defenders are particularly proficient at - and Moeaki, knowing he's blocking for the speedy Charles, runs right past him and heads to Florence.
In this shot, you can see that Albert has taken care of his responsibility, as he's latched onto Posluszny as the Bills linebacker struggles to shed the block. With Edwards all but out of the picture, Moeaki's got Florence dead to rights, and the receiver, as was his assignment, is setting up to take on the safety (Donte Whitner).
Say what you will about Edwards' mistake on this play, but if that guy is anything, he is balls to the wall. That guy plays his butt off, down in and down out. Despite being woefully out of position, he's hustled back into the play - and if this were any other back besides Charles, he might have a prayer at making up for his mistake. Note also that Moeaki has latched onto Florence, and Albert is in the process of sealing off Posluszny. Andra Davis and George Wilson are starting to give chase, but Patrick Willis and Ed Reed wouldn't have fared much better.
Charles hits another gear and speeds past the hustling Edwards and Florence, who got off of his block just a touch late. Posluszny remains eliminated from the action. Charles is off to the races...
... and there he goes. If you refer to the first shot in this post, you'll note Leodis McKelvin standing across from Charles on the 40-yard line (you can only see part of him). Were it not for his speed and hustle, Charles might score on this play. McKelvin gets over in time to bump him out of bounds after a 32-yard gain.
Against a heavy front like Buffalo's, misdirection is designed to keep back-side defenders honest in maintaining gap integrity. Buffalo couldn't stop the run worth beans last year, however, and Edwards keyed too hard, getting himself out of position to, at minimum, force Charles to make a move, whether it be to bounce it further outside or cut it back into the middle. His missed assignment allowed Florence to be blocked up (and it's possible that he was Moeaki's assignment all along), and Albert really took care of Posluszny. One misstep made an already good-looking play call look even better.
I spoke on Friday about good NFL teams finding ways to dictate the game with their personnel. This is another example: Charles is a guy that every league defense has to account for on every snap, but Kansas City's personnel package dictated Buffalo's defensive personnel. With the play call, that was all the advantage the Chiefs needed.
For the record, the Chiefs attempted to run another end around in the second quarter, giving the ball to Dwayne Bowe. This time, Buffalo's back-side defenders played their responsibilities much better, and Whitner was able to move forward quickly and hit Bowe for a four-yard game, sending the receiver flipping through mid-air.