To celebrate the Buffalo Bills signing defensive end Jerry Hughes to a two-year extension I decided to bring back one of my favorite analysis twists from this last year. Rather than the traditional method of “watch games and select representative plays,” when it came to Hughes I was so confident of his talent I let Twitter* decide which plays to pull for most of the analysis.
Full methodology is below so we can get to the good stuff faster, but I went with the first seven responses giving credit to the person who submitted them below. Thank you to everyone who responded.
#AutismDad J without the ay (picked: 8, 2, 9)
Defensive ends with subtlety are dangerous. Hughes’s initial angle (and likely some earlier reps) have his opponent thinking he’s going a little wider. Hughes drives in instead and gets solid push.
Brian Cooke (picked: 9, 2, 15)
When you’re selecting plays at random sometimes things don’t go perfectly. It’s still a positive to see that Jerry Hughes can knock over Star Lotulelei and win physics match-ups when necessary, but this is probably not how the play was drawn up.
wejustmet (picked: 716)
A much-maligned facet of the defense over the years is the suggestion that defensive ends drop into coverage. In the case of Hughes, I’m personally for it as an occasional wrinkle. Hughes typically acquits himself well (though there’s not much work for him on this specific play). Take note, though, that the left tackle still has to account for Hughes before moving on to another assignment, which can create opportunities.
Buffalo also used a variety of packages along the defensive line based on anticipated offensive play call. On this play the Bills seem to be thinking a quick pass is coming (which it does). In this scenario, Hughes is unlikely to hit home and an extra man in coverage isn’t a bad thing by any means. Finally, Tremaine Edmunds comes in hot and nearly hits home. Arguably, this game could have had a better result, but the ability to cause confusion in the pass rush is huge.
anthonymario (picked: 10, 4, 2)
Both Hughes and Lorenzo Alexander burst off the snap incredibly fast. It’s unlikely that one person can react this quickly to seeing a snap, let alone both. More than likely the savvy veterans time the snap count and the edge they gain is clear in the clip above. This doesn’t hit home, but look at how the pocket shrinks despite Hughes being double-teamed. A quarterback who becomes reluctant to step into the throw can be in deep trouble.
CN (picked: 4, 3, 17)
This is against David Bakhtiari who is pretty darn good. The extended arm to gain space is a common tactic for ends and Bakhtiari is ready for it. Hughes resets incredibly quickly and gets his hand up. Note that as he bends he drops the hand off. The sudden removal of the support causes the end to crash into the tackle when properly done. It’s a feat that takes a great deal of balance and timing to pull off. If you don’t already, treat yourself to a game or two of Hughes and you’ll see some textbook examples of this skill before too long.
bryce (picked: 5, 4, 7)
The GIF adequately shows Hughes driving his man back. This play drew some criticism as Hughes had the sack but it slipped through his fingers. There are two things to take away from this, however. Hughes’s temper is often cited as a negative. He didn’t get a penalty for roughing Marcus Mariota and he didn’t lose his cool after the play either. This is a great play to illustrate the pains Hughes has taken in recent years to avoid hurting his team. The second thing is that in his defense, Mariota’s arm goes into a pretty weird position and the ball ends up behind Jerry Hughes’s head. His reaction confirms he felt the ball was thrown. This further validates the decision to not slam a quarterback to the ground while also showing why Hughes felt the play was over.
Andy (picked: 3, 3, 3)
Despite the randomness introduced into the exercise we end on a poetic note. A very subtle bit of footwork allows Hughes to take care of Riley Reiff. Because this occurred in the third quarter, you can see the Minnesota Vikings adjusted to double-team Hughes. Prior to this, Hughes was in the Minnesota backfield so often that the Vikings made him a captain the following week.
I asked Twitter to give me three numbers, which are next to the person’s handle above. I did not explain what the numbers were for. The first corresponds to game number (1-16). The second is quarter (1-4). The third is play number (1-18). That last one runs the risk of failing for a couple reasons. There could be less than 18 defensive plays in the quarter selected. Alternatively, Hughes is on the field about 2⁄3 of the time and a specific play might not have Hughes in it. Both cases came up in the plays above. When this occurred, the number was lowered until I found a Hughes play.
*Thanks again to Chris Hoffman who made it work the first time!