The Buffalo Bills are off to a 3-1 start, surprising many in Western NY. This start has come mainly due to the strength of their defense, which some also might consider surprising due to the fact that in the past couple of years the Bills have had more success on the offensive side of the football. What this says about the past coaching staff, might be best left unsaid for now.
However, what I do want to talk about today is what has been powering the Bills strong defense, and that is turnovers. In total, the Bills defense forced three turnovers and scored a defensive touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons. One man was responsible for two of those turnovers himself. That man is safety Micah Hyde. Hyde came over to the Bills from the Packers as a free agent signing. What is interesting about Hyde is that the Packers used him a variety of ways, including slot corner and both safety positions. The Bills however, have tended to use him most playing deep at free safety. Of course, this isn’t to say that Hyde hasn’t been used elsewhere, just that he has been more of a deep safety here in Buffalo versus when he was with Green Bay.
Now that we have our background on Hyde, let’s take a look at his two interceptions. The first play is a called “shot play.” What this means is that Atlanta was looking for a big play, it is max protection, with seven guys staying in to block along with the opposite side tight end coming across to help sell the split-zone play action. In this situation a very common play call is a deep post along with a deep dig from the opposite side, to try to high/low the safety. The Falcons run something very similar but instead of the deep dig, the WR stops in the middle and then works himself back to the sideline. The Bills are in a basic cover-3 coverage here, with safety Jordan Poyer as the eigth man in the box and Hyde in deep centerfield.
When you watch the play, notice the linebackers come up hard on the play-action fake, but once they realize it is a pass, they do a great job dropping back and finding receivers to cover. When Gabriel runs the post, the defensive backs switch off the coverage like they are supposed to and it is one-on-one with Hyde and the speedy receiver. Being one of the fastest WRs in the league, Gabriel actually starts to step on Hyde and if Ryan throws the ball 65 yards he might have a touchdown here, but Ryan can only manage to get the ball about 57 yards which makes it a jump ball situation. If this was Julio Jones, it might not be as bad of a situation, but Hyde has a good 4-inch height advantage and does a great job attacking the ball at its highest point and coming down with the interception in a four point game.
The second of Hyde’s two interceptions takes place on 3rd and 17 with the Bills up 20-17 and under 4 minutes left in the 4th quarter. The Falcons have “11” personnel on the field with one tight end and one running back, but have everyone spread out wide. At the bottom of the picture, you can see linebacker Matt Milano lined up over running back Devonta Freeman, and if you look at the alignments/shades of all of the other defenders you can a pretty good indication that this is man coverage. The Bills also show a late rotation to a 2-deep look, which Ryan seems to notice judging by his throw choice.
When looking at the play you can see Johnson playing excellent trail coverage. The coverage is 2-man, so he knows that he has help over the top, so he can be aggressive and challenge anything underneath. Also by being underneath the receiver any type of throw by Ryan will need to have a bit more air under it to get it to the receiver.
Hyde INT #2. Ryan really trying to thread the needle, WR wasn't open pic.twitter.com/T15ddaCbWI— YardsPerPass (@YardsPerPass) October 5, 2017
I included this screenshot because I thought it was amazing that Ryan would attempt this throw. Granted it was 3rd and 17, and his team was down 3, but there is absolutely nowhere to throw this football.
The EZ view is here, I am not sure that it is physically possible to get the ball in there, the coverage is perfect. Finally, great credit to Hyde for breaking on the ball. The Bills have tended to play their safeties a bit deeper, so being able to make up that ground and make a play is a huge deal.
EZ view of Hyde's 2nd INT, great example of trail coverage w/ safety help over the top pic.twitter.com/rk0w4ZGMAX— YardsPerPass (@YardsPerPass) October 5, 2017
As we all know, Hyde’s interception led to a field goal, which forced the Falcons to have to go for a touchdown instead of a tying field goal on their final drive. The Bills formula for winning this year is stellar defense, forcing turnovers, and not hurting yourself on offense. The Carolina Panthers game is a good example of what happens if the offense struggles and you do not get turnovers. But if the offense can move the ball a little more, and the defense continues its top-tier play, a certain eight-letter word that Jim Mora made famous might be in play.
Just had to include this one so everyone could watch again, one of Tyrod Taylor’s best throws as a Bill. Especially because Charles Clay isn’t either of the main options for the play.