The Buffalo Bills missed an opportunity last weekend when they fell to the Baltimore Ravens 24-17 at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York. They missed an opportunity to qualify for the 2019 playoffs (all other games they needed to fall their way that week did). They missed an opportunity to show the league that they’re an upper-echelon team and not simply the benefactor of a cupcake schedule with opportune games against soon-to-be-benched quarterbacks and soon-to-be-cut kickers. Most notably for the purposes of this article, they missed an opportunity to show that they can beat the Cover-0 blitzing that the New England Patriots hurt them with earlier in the year. Quarterback Josh Allen failed to find his answers accurately and on time throughout the game and was under duress towards one of his worst games of 2019.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are on deck this week in a prime-time match-up in Western Pennsylvania on Sunday Night Football. They have the secondary to do what the Ravens and Patriots did and would be foolish to ignore the success those two teams had against the Bills. What should Buffalo do to see to it they announce to the league they have answers?
I have some thoughts...
In-breaking deep routes instead of out-breaking deep routes
One of the ways you can beat Cover-0 blitzing is through vertical passes. Very few corners in the NFL can run stride for stride with John Brown or Robert Foster without SOME separation allowing for a basket pass. Against the Ravens, the Bills had corner routes set up to beat the blitz, which allowed for them to potentially even be used if the defense was in Cover-1 or Cover-7. The issue with out-breaking vertical routes is a decreased margin for error due to the presence of the sideline acting as an additional defender. Given how much Josh Allen has struggled with the deep ball this year, it would be prudent to give him post-and-go routes to allow him to potentially miss inside and still have a fast receiver make a play on the ball.
RPOs and swing passes
Run-pass options are very commonly slant routes behind the linebacker who is often the conflict defender in those situations. Given that these plays are quick-hitters with little time in the pocket and binary decisions by the quarterback, they can help counter Cover-0 pressure looks.
In the red zone on Sunday, Allen checked into a swing pass for Devin Singletary. He got the look he wanted, but Matthew Judon made a great play to stop what might have been a touchdown. That’s another great answer to the pressure that Cover-0 brings because it lets a speedy player outflank the defense. Lining up a player who has better straight-line speed than Singletary (perhaps Isaiah McKenzie or Robert Foster) in the backfield and throwing that swing pass to them could help capitalize on the defense’s aggression for a big gain on the edge.
Split Singletary out wide
You started to see this in the second half against the Ravens. Having Singletary out wide not only spreads the defense and allows Josh Allen to better identify rushers than he would out of bunch formations, but it provides a horizontal option in the event Allen needs to get out of trouble quickly. Singletary’s elite change-of-direction ability allows him to separate earlier in the route against linebackers a la Cole Beasley and he was a revelation playing there against Baltimore. Having Singletary as even a stationary option provides Allen an outlet that a weaker-armed QB might not be able to utilize.
Bust out the Denver Broncos-week playbook on defense
Always blitz young quarterbacks. Always.
This is exactly what teams are doing to Josh Allen: They will continue to bring pressure and blitz until he proves he can make them pay for it. Pittsburgh quarterback Devlin “Duck” Hodges hasn’t proven he can beat it any more than previous Denver quarterback Brandon Allen. I am of the opinion that Hodges is a better quarterback than Allen, but the Bills need to bring the heat up the middle like they did against Denver and make Hodges show he can beat them. If the Bills’ offense struggles again like it did against Baltimore, they may need to create turnovers and negative plays that can come with pressure to clinch a playoff spot on Sunday night.
...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan for Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter @BruceExclusive and look for episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” every week on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!