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All-22 analysis: Buffalo Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes’ 2017 sacks

A look at all (sigh) four Jerry Hughes’ sacks from 2017 and what could make 2018 a better year

The Buffalo Bills 2018 season will be starting before you know it. One of the major areas the team will look to improve in will be rushing the passer. With that in mind, this breakdown will change gears slightly. While we’ll focus on Jerry Hughes, there’s some important lessons about the team this go around. If you’re looking for a standard write-up on Hughes you’re in luck. For a bonus activity, it’s worth the extra tab to open up the Shaq Lawson all-22 found here. Hughes and Lawson tied for the team lead with four sacks each, but closer look illuminates that there’s much more to it than the stats.

Hughes takes down Cam Newton

On the part of Jerry Hughes, the first angle highlights how far he leans during his bend. The second angle gives a slightly better view of him swatting with his right hand to prevent Matt Kalil from maintaining his block. You’ll see similar moves from Hughes again.

From the team perspective, it’s critical that your defensive linemen can be a threat if they’re one-on-one. This is especially true when only rushing four, like the Bills do here. Hughes and Lawson get the single opponent and Hughes takes advantage. Cedric Thornton and Kyle Williams also do their part shrinking the pocket and limit where Cam Newton can find safety. Star Lotulelei will be expected to enhance the line’s ability to collapse the pocket from the front. Because Newton can’t effectively step up he drifts right to where Hughes can get him. At the last second, Newton looks like he’ll test Lawson’s direction but it’s too late.

Hughes takes down Cam Newton again

Hughes is one-on-one again and elects to use an inside spin move. The second angle shows two lines on the first pause. The red line represents the angle that Hughes aligns his shoulders anticipating contact. The blue line represents the angle his shoulder would need to be aligned for Matt Kalil’s block to be effective. The quick shoulder shift negates any push Kalil wanted to have. The second pause shows Hughes driving into Kalil’s right side which sets Kalil off balance and prevents his right hand from attempting to engage with Hughes a second time.

The Bills crowd the line to confuse the defense offense* and it pays off. It’s only a four-man rush again, but the confusion on which four allows the defense to gain some ground as the offensive line of the Panthers set up and pass off blocks. Shaq Lawson uses a spin move himself on the other end. While he can’t get around his man, it does allow him to stay off the block and maintain the edge in case Newton decided to scramble. Trent Murphy should be competing for Lawson’s end of the line and could become a consistent threat to complement Hughes. If so, opponents may have to pick their poison on some plays.

Hughes’ strip sack of Matt Ryan

Hughes uses a move very similar to the one that earned the first sack on Cam Newton. The team rushes six men here, clearly looking to disrupt a pass. The pause in the first angle shows the difference between the offensive line’s position at the line of scrimmage (red line) and the pocket Matt Ryan has to step into his throw. Like the first two plays, the rest of the line is limiting the options for the quarterback to find breathing room.

Impact plays live on a razor’s edge. Ryan nearly gets this pass off despite several victories by the defense. The individual effort (Hughes in this case) can often be easily erased if the rest of the team isn’t pulling their weight. If Ryan had worried more about Hughes on this play the end result would likely be stepping into Preston Brown. The no-win situation created against the Falcons represents an ideal pass rush scenario.

Hughes makes sure Brady is acquainted with the turf

Hughes shows off a lot of moves to get this sack. Hughes’ lean is again showcased on the first angle. This time, though, he uses it to go back the way he came, rather than around the back end of his opponent. On the second angle Hughes starts off tilting his left shoulder back (red line shows angle) which makes it difficult for Nate Solder to grab his jersey . Hughes clears Solder off of him entirely with hand fighting and then punches with his left arm (red outline) to keep his distance.

The Bills have only rushed four again to take down Tom Brady. Even though the defensive line has maintained respectable integrity on their gaps/assignments, there’s room for Brady to step up. Hughes’ ability to remain clear of Solder allows him to step up to make the play. Brady isn’t known much for scrambling but needs to try here as the back seven have his receiving options blanketed.

*kudos to blknites for the catch, leading to the correction.