Over the weekend, we had a discussion about offseason post topics that the community would like to see explored over the next couple of months. Those posts will have an All-22 emphasis, and the project is already underway, as I've been hammering away at NFL Game Rewind footage of Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams.
The end result, if all goes according to plan, will be to have a handful of posts with the breadth and depth of the EJ Manuel study we put together late last season. Along the way, however, I also plan on posting a few offhand observations about the 2014 Bills. This is one of those posts.
One of the biggest questions facing the Bills heading into the new season is how the team will transition from one excellent season of defense under Mike Pettine to a different scheme (again) under new coordinator Jim Schwartz. We know they'll have a stronger emphasis on the 4-3 - hence their makeover at the linebacker position this spring, among other factors - but we also know that they're working on preserving some elements of the previous scheme to ease the transition (and that those efforts are largely focused on terminology).
If Schwartz is looking to flat-out steal ideas from Pettine's system in Buffalo, however, he could do a lot worse than incorporating the team's bread-and-butter blitz from the 2013 season - and not just because it can be made to incorporate the perceived favored alignment for his defensive ends.
These five stills show one blitz call from three different alignment - and all three came in the first half of the Bills' Week 1 game against the New England Patriots last season.
In our first example, Mario Williams (in yellow) is lined up well outside the right tackle - which, as we all well know, is something we're likely going to see him doing more of under Schwartz. The concept of the rush is simple: Williams goes hard upfield to turn the tackle, the three-technique defensive tackle crashes into the guard, and the two linemen create a massive alley for the blitzing defensive back to exploit.
Here, the concept works perfectly. Williams turns the right tackle toward the sideline (in blue), and a large alley is created for slot cornerback Ron Brooks to beeline, unblocked, toward Tom Brady. Brady ended up throwing this ball away for an incompletion.
Later in the first quarter, the Bills have dialed up the same pressure concept, albeit out of a completely different alignment. Williams is lined up in a more traditional technique, on the outside shoulder of the right tackle. There is no three-technique tackle, so Williams will be responsible for occupying the right guard. Kiko Alonso, the only linebacker on the field in the dime package, lines up next to Williams and will handle the upfield rush responsibility. Brooks is again the player splitting the gap from the slot.
New England had called a designed receiver screen right into the teeth of that rush, which negated the pressure, even though Brooks was again unblocked. Nickell Robey stopped the receiver for a short gain on third and long.
Back in the first line formation we saw, the Bills are dialing up the same pressure. This time, it'll be Da'Norris Searcy that splits the gap, but the Patriots have an ideal play call on to beat the pressure.
You can see, circled in red up the field, that the Patriots had tight end Zach Sudfeld wide open running up the seam. It didn't matter. Searcy is through unscathed, and Brady is forced to eat the ball and take a sack.
Buffalo's scheme may be changing under Schwartz, but it will still be aggressive, and it should continue to be creative in obvious passing situations - with Mario Williams serving as the play-caller's most useful chess piece. Watch any single Bills game from last season, and you're likely to see this specific rush dialed up at least a handful of times per game - and nearly every time it was run, it was on Williams' side of the formation.