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All-22 analysis: Buffalo’s big interception day

We look at how the Bills set up their defense for success through the lens of their interceptions

We continue celebration week with the almighty All-22 analysis. A defensive slugfest went the Buffalo Bills’ way and what better way to show that to you than the lens known as a multiple interception game. WARNING: As there’s only four GIFs this week, I took the liberty of stopping them way more often and getting a bit “wordy.”

Interception 1

If you haven’t already, take a look at my Devlin Hodges preview here. Shameless self-promotion aside, I highlighted what Hodges was good at—which helps explain some of the choices made by the Bills. As a quick summary, Devlin Hodges had been throwing a pretty nice deep ball and relying on short accurate passes around the line of scrimmage. From there, Mike Tomlin’s staff had been scheming plays a lot like the one we see here. With multiple receivers running deep and Hodges able to hit short and long throws it forces defenses to concede a lot of middle ground, which allows for a lot of YAC.

Well, it forced other defenses to concede the middle ground. One of the biggest things the Bills did to limit the Pittsburgh Steelers we see here. They rushed four (but made it look like five), trusted their back end to limit the 50/50 deep shots and kept players in that big empty middle zone to crash down and limit YAC. If you’re curious as to how much differently the Bills made the Steelers play, check out this chart of throws by Devlin Hodges on the NFL’s Next Gen Stats site vs. the Bills. Now compare it to the rest of his charts, with a focus on Weeks 6, 13, and 14 (Hodges’s starts).

This 3rd-and-15 play design will only give up a first down on a missed tackle. Pre-snap motion is a great way to rattle a raw player, and the long developing routes give the pass rush time to start getting scary. One fairly floating pass later and the Bills had their first interception of the game by Tre’Davious White.

Interception 2

If you’re into really good analysis and haven’t read this either, check out Dan Lavoie’s guide to attack Cover-0 looks here. There’s a really great explanation on how a condensed formation like the Steelers use here makes it a lot easier for a defense to disguise their pass rush. The Bills aren’t in a Cover-0 look, but a lot of it still applies.

The Bills rush five of six and the Steelers keep their running back in to block creating a 6-on-4 advantage for the Bills. The pocket shrinks rapidly to Hodges’s sides, which encourages him to get the ball out. At this point he’s been hit more than he’d like, which helps the decision as well. I ask you to look at the coverage for a second with a pause and even a quick glance shows that his passing lanes are incredibly narrow. Add all that up and have your defense reading a quarterback’s eyes who has yet to learn to look people off and that’s how you get interception number two.

Interception 3

This play has a lot of similarities to the last interception, but I’ve illustrated the way the Bills clogged throwing lanes in a more direct fashion. As noted, I have heard murmurings that there was a throw to be had, but it’s pretty easy to see that Poyer had that covered and that zone only became open after the ball was in the air. Finally, I hope you read that piece by Dan. The Bills only rush four but, because their pre-snap formation showed more possible rushers, the Steelers got a bit confused, which didn’t help matters.

Since there’s fewer GIFs this week, I’ll add a “guest” speaker who probably has no idea he’s making an appearance. In this short but informative clip, a different Dan (Orlovsky) shows some of the strategy Sean McDermott used to set his team up for success. For the record, I’m a big fan of defensive timeouts.

Interception 4

There are 15 seconds left and a lot of field to cover. Pittsburgh is out of timeouts, which gives them very limited options. They can toss to the end zone, or try a quick sideline pass to set up a toss to the end zone. Buffalo is well aware of this and keeps seven back deep to protect the score.

None of that is necessarily beyond common sense or anything special by the Bills. Leading up to this moment, though, the Bills have done plenty of things that contribute to their success here. After four sacks, seven hits, and seven tackles for a loss it’s very clear to Pittsburgh that the Bills are getting penetration. Even with a four-man rush.

This prompts the Steelers to keep a running back in the game to block even though we all know this is truly going to be another four-man rush. In an already skewed numbers game, the scales tip further toward Buffalo. When the four-man rush is once again successful, Hodges is flushed to one side effectively eliminating one more target. Now the scales come crashing down in favor of Buffalo.

Game over.