Despite a solid team victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the run defense of the Buffalo Bills caused a little more anxiety throughout the day than most fan were comfortable witnessing. Averaging 5.8 yards per carry, the Jaguars gained 226 yards on the ground. So what the heck was their deal?
Backed up on their own goal line early, the Jaguars needed Leonard Fournette to bail them out of a potential tragedy. While this wasn’t the longest run of the day for Jacksonville (that would be Play 8) it gave them valuable breathing room. This is pretty cut and dry. James O’Shaughnessy (80) is able to turn Jerry Hughes away from the lane. Despite such a narrow opening, Fournette identifies the right gap.
Good blocking in the trenches allows Fournette through the first line of defense. Taron Johnson usually ends plays like this but doesn’t wrap up the ball carrier. Johnson was in perfect position but gets run over a little bit. Fournette keeps churning and turns this into a bigger gain than it should have been.
Taron Johnson attacks the run and is in good position. A single arm tackle just isn’t going to cut it though. Johnson’s aggressiveness opens up the outside. As Fournette heads that way, he breaks another tackle and scoots away from the pile. He’s slowed down, but not tackled for about another five yards. What could have been a run for zero gain turns into a good-size chunk play.
The Bills are finding out that speed does kill, but not always your opponent. The Jaguars scheme up a pretty great play to block the middle and hope for a lane. Jerry Hughes is in the backfield fast. Just a little too fast. The secondary is there to shut it down, but only after the Jaguars have another good size chunk.
The Jaguars are selling out on run blocking with this play call. No one even pretends to run a route and it’s all blocking right from the snap. To this point in the game, the Jaguars were splitting evenly between run and pass. The Bills are looking to defend both and put themselves out of position. Tremaine Edmunds is disturbingly fast and almost makes a play to limit the run but almost won’t cut it.
We’re into the second quarter now and the Jaguars have stopped pretending to believe in Blake Bortles. Whereas the first quarter was an even split, the Jaguars opened the second quarter with a pass followed by 13 running plays in a row. Like they were in the last play, the Jaguars start consistently asking the entire team to run block. Credit this commitment to the run and Fournette’s patience for converting on third and short. The Bills sell out to stop the run, but Fournette waits to see something develop. Edmunds bites to his right (our left) and the Jaguars eventually create a small lane.
Fournette gives us some more highlights on this play. Against most backs, Jordan Poyer has a tackle for a loss. Fournette isn’t having it. Matt Milano is there to limit it to a short gain. Except Fournette doesn’t attack right away and lets Matt Milano commit before accelerating, knowing tight end Ben Koyack (83) is there to get a piece of the linebacker.
There’s precisely one Jaguar who looks remotely interested in a passing play. The Jaguars match speed for speed and let their skill position players become high speed move blockers. Several of them do a great job, but hats off to Keelan Cole who blocked half the Bills’ secondary to help Dede Westbrook break a 43-yard run.
Last but not least, the Bills call an almost suicidal defense on this play. Using their speed line, it’s a safe bet the Bills were expecting a pass play. As we saw during the bye week, Leslie Frazier uses this lineup nearly exclusively against the pass (73 out of 78 plays in the reviewed sample). The Jaguars show why it’s not a great run defense. Fournette has a huge lane and cuts off his left tackle beautifully. The linebackers have already attacked the line and it’s safety or bust if the Bills want to prevent a touchdown. Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde box him in, but not until after the Jaguars have yet another large gain.
A combination of factors led to the Jaguars’ big day on the ground. The Bills made a few errors on defensive play calls, which allowed the Jaguars to take advantage of sizable holes. Several times the speed of the Buffalo defense came back to bite them. Yes, missed tackles were a problem, but a combination of aggressive defenders and a heck of a running back in Leonard Fournette left the defense reeling the entire game.
The commitment to the run game from Jacksonville has to be considered a primary reason for their success on the ground. Creative blocking and consistent execution had the Bills on their heels frequently. If the fight and general attitude of the game didn’t convince you, the run game should. Despite a losing streak entering the game, the Jaguars came to play.