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On NFL Matchups And Buffalo's Defensive Personnel

KANSAS CITY MO - OCTOBER 31:  The Buffalo Bills line up against the Kansas City Chiefs during the game on October 31 2010  at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY MO - OCTOBER 31: The Buffalo Bills line up against the Kansas City Chiefs during the game on October 31 2010 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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I realize that we've now gone an entire week here without a post in our Buffalo Bills Re-Watch series. We'll get back to our regularly scheduled programming on that front next week, and I'd like to thank everyone for staying patient in what was otherwise an incredibly busy week for yours truly.

However, I didn't want to leave you completely empty-handed for the entire week, so here's a brief article - utilizing the first game we'll review next week, Week 8 in Kansas City, as evidence - on the nature of the NFL as a game of matchups.

This is just one tiny, nearly insignificant example of the chess match that goes on between two teams in any given game. This play is an example of coaches creating favorable matchups for their players, and also of players remaining disciplined and limiting damage - or "living to play another down," as they say.

The Kansas City Chiefs are lined up in a shotgun formation with a basic personnel group of two receivers, two running backs and a tight end. The receivers line up on the same side of the formation, the backs straddle Matt Cassel, and Tony Moeaki lines up on the right side of the formation. As Buffalo's SAM linebacker, Chris Kelsay lines up opposite Moeaki, as that's still technically the strong side of the formation.

Charlie Weis sends Jamaal Charles, arguably the NFL's best speed back, in motion to the strong side of the formation...

... and, well, here's a problem for the Buffalo Bills. Kelsay drops off the line of scrimmage nine yards into a space that, let's face it, he hasn't played much - and for very good reason. It has him out of his element. Sure, George Wilson is over there to give the Bills some bracket coverage, but this is obviously a matchup that favors the Chiefs, even with no blockers in front of Charles. Just look at the space that Charles demands from two of Buffalo's slower defenders at their respective positions.

Is anyone here afraid of guessing incorrectly where Cassel threw this ball? Of course it went to Charles; why wouldn't it? Yet Kelsay and Wilson, despite their shortcomings in relation to Charles' outstanding speed and athleticism, handled this mismatch well: Charles caught a short pass, the two defenders maintained their lanes, and Charles was forced out of bounds a yard short of the first down.

This is not earth-shattering play design by the Chiefs, by any means. As mentioned, though Charles has an incredibly easy go of getting the ball in his hands on this play, he also doesn't have any blockers in front of him. The point, however, is that the Chiefs were able to manufacture seven yards - with the potential for much more - simply by lining up their players in a specific fashion. That's film study at its finest: exploiting personnel limitations.

Buffalo had a lot of that going on defensively last year. Yes, they broke down quite often - but even when they were on, their personnel in the front seven often allowed for these types of mismatches. It got to the point where a three-yard run by an opponent was considered a plus for Buffalo's defense, or, keeping with the theme of this one play, corralling Charles behind the first-down marker was a great play. The better your personnel, the more you can dictate what an offense does defensively. The Bills couldn't do that in 2010.

You didn't wonder before today why the likes of Marcell Dareus, Aaron Williams and Da'Norris Searcy were brought in by the Bills, but this vein of thought is part of the overall reasoning: they are players that create matchup problems of their own. Every player in the NFL, save one or two very special exceptions, has weaknesses. The more athletic and versatile a player is, the easier it is to cover those weaknesses up. Dareus can play multiple positions up front, and is a player that opposing teams will have to account for. The two defensive backs are players that, ideally, should be able to cover and hit from different positions. If things go well, that'll help the Bills play the matchup better going into 2011 and beyond.