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All-22 analysis: Buffalo Bills DT Harrison Phillips

A look at the up-and-down defensive tackle

The Buffalo Bills’ legendary McDermott/Frazier defense has, I’ll be diplomatic here, underperformed this season. This has led to a lot of finger pointing from outside the team’s walls and numerous personnel tweaks inside its walls. Perhaps no player embodies this more than Harrison Phillips. A member of the often-maligned defensive line, Phillips was a healthy scratch for two weeks. He returned against the New England Patriots and was given 41 snaps, his highest percentage of play time this year. Let’s check the before and after to look for clues on this rollercoaster.


Play 1

The game against the Tennessee Titans was just prior to Harrison Phillips being benched for two weeks and makes for a great place to see if anything was going wrong. Believe it or not, this is a fairly kind play to show for Phillips in this game. Frequently outmuscled and outmaneuvered throughout the game, he was pushed aside here to open a big lane. You can also get a look at A.J. Klein at the end of this one too. If you dare.

Play 2

This is one of Phillips’s better plays of the game. I point out the leverage advantage to highlight his lack of strength. He earns a victory and in a relatively timely manner. But he doesn’t look comfortable doing it and his significant edge in the leverage department could reasonably result in a cleaner victory with better strength. He’s not horrific here, but it’s one of his better snaps and it’s still a touch lacking. As a mechanics note, once the arms are locked in, much of the power needed to drive forward comes from the legs.

Play 3

The double team is very brief but effective as Phillips’s hand is slapped to his left side. This exposes his side rather than his chest like he’d probably prefer. Still though, when he drives his shoulder back into the play it’s hardly noticeable.

Play 4

Phillips is competitive at the line and disengages well, but focus on his turn and movement to get back into the play. Defensive tackles aren’t supposed to be known for their grace but this is bordering on clumsy. Now for the confession, I kept this game to four clips and tried to stick to average to good plays.

There were several times Phillips was on the turf, and quite a few worse plays than what we see above. A couple plays stretching to the sidelines gave impressions of molasses for instance. This was a bad game from Phillips.

Play 5

Let’s check the Pats game. Phillips’s opponent tries to twist him to the left side of the screen and Phillips counters right with a swim move. Despite a pretty good offensive holding candidate, Phillips is still moving back toward the play. This would require lower body strength to accomplish.

Play 6

It wasn’t a perfect game for Phillips. There were some losses. Against the Titans there were more like this though. On this snap a lot of this loss is due to exposing his shoulder and side right away. Against the Titans it was more common to simply be outmatched.

Play 7

The main takeaway here is that Phillips needs to watch the play, make the right decision, and then have the burst/lateral speed to get a piece of Cam Newton. Phillips checks all those boxes. While he didn’t make the tackle, he did make the tackle easier for Tremaine Edmunds.

Play 8

Even against the Titans, Phillips flashed solid hand technique. Here he makes a nice jab with his right hand to create space. He transitions to another swim move and gets into the backfield in a hurry. Compare the ease of movement with what we see above in the Titans game. This leans toward gut reaction, but I felt he looked more comfortable moving in this game.

Play 9

Phillips does well on the block but it’s the cut back and his reaction to it that were surprising on this play. I don’t think this happens in the Tennessee game.

Play 10

And finally a bit of power.

EDIT: Good catch by LakewoodBillsFan. This is Justin Zimmer and a nice shot of upside from the game’s hero. Sorry about that everyone.


Summary

Unless you completely lack faith in the coaching staff there always should have been an assumption that Harrison Phillips was a healthy scratch for a good reason. Still, the difference between the two games was more glaring than I expected. I’m not suggesting Phillips was an All-Pro against the Patriots but he put in some good work. He showed off agility, speed, and strength none of which were there against the Titans.

There’s never been an indication that Phillips lacks for effort or motivation so if I was forced to make a guess it wouldn’t be that he was benched to send a message. A better guess might be lingering effects from his injury, whether those effects were physical or mental. It’d be wonderful to see this progress continue and Phillips turn into a consistent impact player. I’m not ready to call that certainty, but for the time being the defense can use any good news it gets.