One of the more common refrains from Buffalo Bills fans on social media this week has been to challenge other fans to “find something to complain about” in the victory over the Miami Dolphins. You’re in luck because we found something. Let’s talk about Levi Wallace.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this, so we’ll let the one example do the talking. Levi Wallace is an alright blocker. He’s not the most physical and sometimes gets blown off his spot. He recovers relatively well on this play. Essentially, he’s fine and this isn’t likely a reason why he lost half his snaps to Kevin Johnson against the Dolphins. That last point is important, though. Wallace hasn’t been drawing the most positive attention this year from fans and pundits, and the coaching staff seems to agree.
That GIF doesn’t seem to point any fingers does it? That’s because it’s not. Wallace’s solid campaign last year wasn’t a mirage and he puts a lot of good reps on tape still. For now the big takeaway is that Wallace is in man coverage, which has increased this year by all accounts.
More man coverage but the coverage is not as good. The curl at the top of the route gives some separation. This clip isn’t conclusive, however, especially as the play ends just as the route is. Both Wallace and his opponent pull up.
Wallace starts off well here too. The quick stop gives his opponent a fair window to make a catch if the ball were coming his way. It’d have to be a timing play to be sure but, if so, Wallace isn’t stopping it.
Let’s take a break for another positive. I commented at the end of last year that I liked Wallace’s recognition and reaction to plays, and nothing changed my mind on that. He sees this the whole way and blows the play up.
Getting back to flaws, I think this is an example of inexperience and imperfect angles. Wallace flinches and moves to Landry immediately so, personally, I don’t see anything contradicting the awareness comments directly above. I’m less convinced that Wallace sees the route’s path or the best pursuit angle. Despite that, he’s not too far off from making a play.
So-so physicality and imperfect ability to quickly turn can lead to the occasional mishap like this one. When there are questions already surrounding your performance, the last thing you need is to have this be your last meaningful snap of the game.
I’ll let the GIF do the talking on this one as we have two more to go and we need to have a conversation about them.
Corners are hard to give you great analysis on because most of their snaps are theoretical in that you need to guess what would have happened had a ball come their way. So all the stuff we see above gives the hypothetical for this snap. What would happen if Levi Wallace could’t turn fast enough and the ball came his way? This happens. So what’s actually the issue?
Take a close look at Wallace’s hips. As soon as the play starts he turns them parallel to the sideline and sprints with the receiver. The body positioning between the two players is very similar. What this means is that both players have a similar capability of changing direction. However the receiver knows the route, including when a change of direction is coming. Wallace can only react after the fact. If both players are roughly physical equivalents, the advantage is always to the receiver.
If only there were a way to be physically faster than the receiver to make up for the delay in reaction time.
There is and it’s called the “backpedal.” Look at Tre’Davious White in man coverage. He gives a cushion and backpedals. When the receiver makes his move, White doesn’t need to change the direction of his entire body and instead just starts driving. Let’s go back through our Wallace clips. See the trend? He rarely backpedals.
In Play 2, Wallace’s hips aren’t a liability. With the receiver at the sideline Wallace knows the receiver can only stop and turn or try to run by Wallace. A really nice cut like in Play 4 can work, but look how narrow that window is. In Plays 3, 8, and 9 the receiver has more options.
There’s a really good case that Levi Wallace is a weak link for the Buffalo Bills’ defense. And the chain is only as strong as the weakest link, or so they say. If you buy that concept then you should really feel great knowing the Bills are the third-best passing defense in yards/attempt and yards/game. And they’ve allowed the second-fewest amount of touchdowns in the air. Play 7 is coincidentally labeled as it was the seventh touchdown through the air allowed this season. Miami was unable to make that count higher.
Wallace is arguably better suited for more zone concepts where he can keep the play in front and keep his hips oriented more like he’s backpedaling. His habit of turning immediately at the snap isn’t doing him any favors. That said, Wallace is still a starter-quality defensive back and isn’t anchoring the team down in any significant capacity.