clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Video analysis: How the Buffalo Bills created pressure against the Carolina Panthers

It was a perfect storm of one-on-one wins and effective playcalling.

In a narrow 9-3 loss to the Carolina Panthers, the Buffalo Bills’ defense kept their team in the game with an outstanding start-to-finish performance. Despite playing 39 minutes of the game, Buffalo limited the damage to three field goals. In particular, the pass rush had a day, harassing Cam Newton all afternoon and preventing sustained drives.

I watched each of the 42 plays where Newton dropped back to pass. The Bills created six sacks, four additional hits, and seven additional hurries on those plays, pressuring Newton on 40.4 percent of his dropbacks. What made the gameplan so successful?

Winning individual matchups

To start with the Carolina game we have to start with their offensive line. The Panthers have a solid interior group, but they suffered a blow when center Ryan Kalil was a gameday scratch with an aggravated neck injury. Suddently a backup was making the protection arrangements. Their tackle situation isn’t great, either. Left tackle Matt Kalil signed a five-year, $55 million deal despite playing terribly at the tail end of his time with the Vikings, and right tackle Daryl Williams, while physically tough, doesn’t deal well with speed or change of direction. This was a perfect opportunity for the Bills to unleash their pass rushers - assuming they could bring down the 6’6” 250 pound Newton.

The largest benefactor of facing Carolina’s front was right defensive end Jerry Hughes. Against Matt Kalil, it was usually no contest. Hughes has the outside speed and the inside counter to dominate a technically weak tackle.

Scheming a sweet source of chaos

Although their line was up to the task of winning individual matchups against the Panthers, the Bills also used a variety of presnap looks and blitz packages to create even more favorable matchups.

Here’s an early example from the first quarter. Buffalo lines up two linebackers in the A gap, two defensive tackles in the B gap, and has its defensive ends all the way out in the D gap. It’s an aggressive look, especially against an empty backfield with a running back and a tight end in the slot.

Newton took a quick drop and delivered to his tight end on this play, but Shaq Lawson coming in untouched was an early sign that the Bills had the upper edge.

The Bills sprinkled a healthy helping of sugar onto their defensive gameplan. The Bills schemed for what’s called “sugaring” the A gap, lining up their linebackers into the space between the guard and center. There may be one or two, the linebackers may or may not blitz, but the goal is to create confusion for the blocking scheme. The fundamental blocking calls in an offense use the middle linebacker as the pivot point for allocating blockers. If he’s lined up as a potential pass rusher, it creates chaos as a trade-off for creating some space in the intermediate middle of the field. This is a Sean McDermott trademark.

The Bills “sugared” the A gap with linebackers on 16 passing plays. 12 of those plays, they positioned two linebackers in the A gap, and four of them only used a single linebacker.

Six of Buffalo’s seven hurries came with the A gap sugar. Two of the four hits and three of the six sacks also followed that look. With 11 pressures on 16 snaps (68.8 percent), it was an extremely effective look for the Bills.

On Sunday, the look didn’t even need to be accompanied by a corresponding blitz. The team was even seeing success just with rushing their base four linemen and dropping the linebackers into coverage.

Keep throwing curveballs: blitzes and stunts

The Bills brought a complete plan for attacking the Panthers with their front seven, incorporating blitz packages and stunts instead of simply counting on their front four to do the work.

Buffalo blitzed ten times on passing plays (23.8 percent). Those blitzes created four hurries and two sacks, a pressure rate of 60 percent. Five of those blitzes were accompanied by A gap sugar, and those plays were the source of the four hurries. The two sacks came on plays without that presnap look.

Here’s a look at the play where Jordan Poyer got his second sack of the season. Despite Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, and Jerry Hughes being on the bench, the Bills created confusion and brought unexpected pressure.

The play that saw Eddie Yarbrough’s first career sack was one of my favorite calls. This time they brought down a linebacker but had him stand next to Yarbrough in the C gap. Lorenzo Alexander is creeping up toward the line in the A gap, while Kyle Williams is lined up as a nose tackle (one technique) and there are only two other down linemen - Yarbrough and Hughes.

Alexander timed his approach perfectly. At the snap, the Bills morph into a four man rush, with Humber dropping back into coverage. Using stunts on both sides of the line, they manufacture an opening for Yarbrough’s sack.

The Bills saw success most of the time when they deviated from a standard rush-four drop-seven approach. They would sometimes rush one of their sugar linebackers on a blitz, and that created more opportunities.

Even when they only rushed three (three plays), they got a hurry and a QB hit out of those plays. The hurry came on a play with A gap sugar.

The Bills had 20 passing plays where they rushed four and didn’t sugar the A gap. On those plays, they had one sack, one additional hit, and one additional hurry.

On the remaining 22 plays, where the Bills rushed three or five-plus, or where they sugared the A gap, they had five sacks, three hits, and six hurries. Nearly 65 percent of the time, they created pressure.

Against the New York Jets, who abandoned the run in favor of quick passes (Josh McCown averaged fewer than 2.25 seconds to pass in week one), the Bills didn’t have enough time to make it home. The Panthers tried a more balanced offensive gameplan, and the Bills took advantage of their weaknesses for massive dividends.