If you’ve been keeping up with Buffalo Bills chatter this week the “run defense” has been the talk of the town—and it hasn’t been praise. We’ll start off a little unusually this week by having a bit of discussion first.
The Philadelphia Eagles averaged 5.3 yards per carry. That’s yucky. But is it indicative of a larger problem? The New York Giants ran for 6.45 which is worse. However, no one else has ran for over four. Most of their opponents were low threes, including the New England Patriots.
Time of possession was also a major issue. The Eagles had the ball for 12 minutes more than the Bills. By quarter, the Bills allowed about five yards per attempt in the first, less than three per carry in the second. The third quarter was over 11 yards per carry. Now the 65-yard touchdown counts, but aside form that “mishap” they limited the Eagles to less than three yards per carry in this quarter as well. In the fourth it went to 4.64 yards per carry. In other words, they started off poorly, recovered well and then ran out of gas. Now let’s look at the film.
Play 1 - Q1
As one of Star Lotulelei’s bigger fans even I have to say I trust the guy to work a double team more than I do one-on-one for a lot of plays. Star is asked to work around his man and this is quickly turned against him as he’s driven a bit sideways. A not-quite-offensive holding grab seals him off. Even with that, though, Tremaine Edmunds has a clear shot at the running back but hesitates. When he does make contact it’s...not great.
Play 2 - Q1
I didn’t count them, but Lotulelei faced a good many double teams. He’s doing a lot right as he forces the ball carrier to take a much longer path than he’d like. Cutting inside toward Matt Milano, three separate players (Milano, Lotulelei, and Ed Oliver) can’t break free fast enough to make the tackle.
Play 3 - Q2
This is one of Lotulelei’s worst snaps, in my opinion. He excels at “not moving” and is pretty clearly shoved back right away. If he hadn’t, this play likely goes down differently. Isaac Seumalo (no. 73) times his break from Lotulelei flawlessly and gets a good piece of Matt Milano. The Bills recover but not before they lose a chunk of ground.
Play 4 - Q2
Overall, though, the second quarter saw some good run defense. While a few plays to the edges worked out for the Eagles on Sunday, this wasn’t one of them. Jordan Phillips’s ability to blow up a snap forces a touch of hesitation. Milano’s play recognition and speed on this snap force Andre Dillard (no. 77) to come off his block on Jerry Hughes. And as you might expect by now, Hughes knows how get back into a play.
Play 5 - Q3
First off, this is a great case of “right play at the right time.” When Lotulelei is asked to attack, like any lineman, he’s ineffective once he’s behind the play. Like the Patriots did against him last year, the Eagles see the direction he’s attacking and give him a personal escort to get there. From there, a full-speed block negates Matt Milano.
Micah Hyde, who was trying to knife in around him pays for his aggression by being blocked by Milano. As we’ve already seen above, the Eagles held their blocks well and Tremaine Edmunds struggles to respond to the play. Like Hyde, the rest of the defensive backs played this aggressively and aren’t in position to clean up. With NFL defenses creating layers to beat, a lot of things have to go wrong at the same time for a play like this to happen.
Play 6 - Q3
A lot of what we’ve seen above applies here as well. Jordan Phillips isn’t as well suited to being a wall as Lotuelei and is negated cleanly, exposing a lane to his back. Matt Milano bites to his left, which prevents him from attacking the lane that just opened. As the ball carrier hits the hole, several Bills are there but late.
Play 7 - Q4
The wide alignment on the line is indicative of how the Bills like to attack the pass. Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds are both assigned to specific skill players who pull the linebacker duo very far away from the middle of the field. Shaq Lawson is drawing nigh so Wentz takes off into a lane that would comfortably fit a tractor trailer. Tre’Davious White is playing man-to-man, which puts his back to the quarterback.
Play 8 - Q4
Ugh. No one is able to disengage from their blocks, tackling form has gone to hell, and everyone looks slow. At this point in the game the defense has been on the field for essentially an entire “normal” game. The fourth quarter looked like an exhausted Bills defense.
The clips above focus mainly on rough plays by the Bills. Despite that, there were plenty of runs for a loss or no gain. One of the keys to the Eagles’ success was that they continued to run the ball anyway. This persistence led to them finding plays that worked as well as contributing to volume stats that pop off the box score.
Watching the run defense at work, what really stood out was that the Eagles had a good day just as much as the Bills had a bad one. The ability to maintain and finish blocks allowed the Eagles to delay tackles thereby creating yards. Intelligent play design and good timing on specific play calls took advantage of a few areas of weakness.
Conversely, the Buffalo defense had numerous lapses that turned the Eagles’ good day into a great one running the ball.