The Buffalo Bills had 120 more yards than the New York Jets and more than seven minutes longer time of possession. Unfortunately, the Jets were routinely handed short fields to work from thanks to poor performances via the kickoff team. Let’s take a look and see what went wrong.
The NFL made numerous tweaks to kickoffs this year in the interest of player safety. Looking at the above, pre-snap formations for kickoffs are incredibly rigidly defined compared to prior years. The result is a diminished ability to be creative about coverage units. The start of most kickoffs looks remarkably similar. Once everyone starts running though, which direction players head and what speed they attempt to get where they’re going can become pretty strategic.
This is the rest of the play started in the brief primer above. It’s fair to question if Stephen Hauschka had something bothering him prior to the game. This kick is fielded at the 15, which is a very short kick. Andre Roberts also benefits from a poor hang time, getting the ball in his hands quickly. The entire Bills squad funnels into the middle of the field while also allowing a good many Jets to roam free. The result is a wave of green and white hitting the edge and springing Roberts for a 26-yard gain. Luckily for the Bills, an unnecessary roughness flag brought the play back to the 14.
The GIF shows most of what you need to know. The Bills have one player on the right side cross over, leaving only four. The Jets elect to block to that side and create a nice lane for Roberts. A couple missed tackles allow Roberts a few extra yards. It’s also notable that there’s not a lot of variation in depth on this play. Apart from Hauschka, the Bills are all at about the 30-yard line when the lane opens up. Roberts bursts through and Hauschka’s missed tackle still may have saved the touchdown by slowing Roberts down enough for other players to catch up. Even still, the Jets didn’t need much to get into field goal range.
The Bills are adjusting some. While they compress a good deal, the variation of depth is better. Andre Roberts shows some moves, though, and you have to give credit where it’s due. The Bills still haven’t been able to create a touchback, and Roberts gets the ball at about the six-yard line. This furthered speculation that Hauschka might have been injured before the game (my speculation at least). The attempt at a slide tackle is a blemish for Hauschka and might have contributed to some ill-will later. Not that two wrongs make a right.
Right before the half, Hauschka was nailed by a blindside shot you must have seen by now. From this point forward, the kicks were even shorter than the first half. The Jets weren’t expecting the kick and the Bills take advantage. The gunners get the best running lanes they’ve seen all day and Andre Roberts has trouble fielding the ball. Those factors combined to force a fumble which the Bills recovered. Incredible trick or something else going on?
Unless Danny Crossman is foolish beyond belief, it’s doubtful he attempted the same trick twice expecting to catch the Jets off guard again. The Bills kick this one to Chris Herndon hoping he’s not ready for it. Herndon fields the ball cleanly at the 25, meaning there’s zero to be gained compared to a touchback unless the Jets cough the ball up again. A good kickoff can easily go over four seconds hang time, giving the coverage time to get down the field. At about 2.5 seconds travel time, the Buffalo squad has no chance of getting to Herndon early. Better discipline on the edges leads to a tackle after only a ten-yard return.
Another short kick that gets to the returner quickly all but confirms that this isn’t part of some experiment from the coaching staff. This plays out similarly to above, with the coverage team showing improvement from the first half. Unfortunately for them, Andre Roberts gets the ball and chews up 22 yards before he’s brought down.
Several factors seem to have created a perfect storm to put the Bills behind on kickoffs. Hauschka didn’t look right from the first kick and only seemed more hurt in the second half. Less-than-stellar coverage at times only made things worse, and Andre Robert capped it off with some dynamic plays. Add it all up and it was the difference between a win and a loss.