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Bills video analysis: Looking back at Charles Clay’s game against the Jets

Clay was everywhere.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

One of the things we heard about Rick Dennison’s offense was that it was going to get the tight ends more involved in the passing game. We saw it during the preseason, but would it carry over to the regular season? For week 1, it certainly did, as Charles Clay led the team in targets and was second in both receptions and receiving yardage. Let’s take a look at Clay’s involvement in the passing game and what went right and what went not so right.

On the first 3rd down of the game, the Bills come out with a bunch formation to the right. Clay is the inner-most receiver in the bunch and runs a quick in route. The Jets are in a Tampa-2 coverage here and the middle linebacker is aligned very deep. This leaves a big void in the short-middle and Taylor has a nice pocket in which he is able to easily see the field and hit Clay for a first down.

The second play I want to illustrate is Taylor’s interception that was intended for Clay on the Bills opening drive. The Bills are lined up with two wide receivers to the right, along with Clay at tight end on that side of the formation. The play involves high-low reads to both sides, with Clay providing the “low” to the left side running the shallow crossing route. The Jets are in man coverage with two safeties in each half of the field. Taylor looks Clay’s way the whole time as the tight end has a mismatch vs a linebacker. Taylor fires the ball in to the tight end, but by the time the ball gets there, so has the safety who hammers Clay and the ball goes off Clay’s hands and into the waiting hands of a Jet defensive back. This play has caused a bit of controversy on the timing of the throw and whether or not Clay should have been able to hold onto the football. Needless to say it was a tough catch to make and a play that did not work out as well as the Bills hoped it would.

The third play is notable because the Bills are again in a goal-to-go situation and again Taylor goes right back to Clay. I really liked the formation and pre-snap motion of this particular play because it made the coverage clear to the quarterback. This is something that you see a lot from some of the best passing teams in the league, notably the Patriots. The formation has three receivers to the left and Clay lined up close to the formation to the right. McCoy then motions out wide to the right taking a linebacker with him. By having a linebacker follow McCoy it is a very strong indication that it is man coverage, by spreading the field it also limits the amount of disguising a defense can do. In this situation the Jets rush five and play man coverage all around with a safety in the middle of the field. To the right side, McCoy runs a fade with Clay running a quick out. Clay shakes his defender on his release and it is an easy pitch and catch for the touchdown.

This next play is a three-level flood to the left off of play action. The play action along with the switch release of the tight end and wide receiver creates a coverage bust in the Jets secondary. It appears as though the Jets are playing cover-3 sky with the safety in the flat and the linebacker as the seam/hook player. Most likely it was the linebacker whose job it was to carry the vertical, but he bit hard on the play-action fake. The Dennison offense uses play action a lot to generate its “chunk” plays and this is a good example of that. It is why running the ball will be so important because everything is based off of it being successful. Nice job by Taylor to identify the mistake by the defense and get the ball to Clay.

The last play I wanted to highlight is a play that needs to be made by Clay. This play came at the end of the 1st half when the Bills were trying to drive down the field for a quick score before the half ended. It is a mirrored pass play where both sides are running double outs against more man coverage from the Jets. Due to the lack of explosive threats in the passing game, I would expect teams to challenge the Bills passing game with tight man coverage this season. Personally, I would have liked Taylor to go to Holmes here as Clay is being ridden hard off the line and Holmes gets a free release vs off coverage. However, Taylor sticks with Clay and throws a good ball that hits the tight end in the hands. Nobody likes a drop, but with this offense that is based less upon the “big play” as previous years were, it is even more important that there is sound execution in the passing game.

Throughtout the preseason we heard that the Bills were keeping it very vanilla as they did not want to tip their hand for the regular season. However, watching Week 1 we can see that all of those throws to the tight ends in the preseason were not a feint, but instead were a signal of things to come in the regular season. This week will prove a tough test for the Bills’ short passing game as Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are two of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL. It will be interesting to watch and see if Clay continues to get a lot of targets or will it be the wide receivers’ turn down in Carolina.