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Crumbling their cookies: How the Buffalo Bills should attack the San Francisco 49ers

Stretch Deebostrong

Every week, I write an opinion column on a few general game-planning tactics I like for the Buffalo Bills to use against their upcoming opponent—ones I think have a chance to be successful based on personnel usage and scheme along with the strengths and weaknesses of each team. These may take many forms, though I typically try to come up with at least one tactic on offense and one on defense.

The Bills head back to the nightmare-inducing State Farm Stadium in Arizona, this time to play the San Francisco 49ers. What can they do to keep the train rolling to 9-3 to further increase their odds of a home playoff game? I have some thoughts...


Horizontal offense beats vertical defense

The Bills have been successful over the last couple of weeks in part due to the amount of blitzing they’ve done, specifically with A.J. Klein. Allowing him to move forward has limited the reactionary and space deficiencies that had shown up in his game previously and, as a result, helped him become the AFC Defensive Player of the week for the best performance of his NFL career last week against the Los Angeles Chargers. The wide zone runs, misdirection and screen game run by the 49ers, along with the jet motion and wide receiver running common in both this offensive system and the one previously seen by the Bills against the Los Angeles Rams, could and should necessitate a slightly less vertically aggressive approach. Press up to the line of scrimmage, compress the offense and stay disciplined in your fits. Force 49ers starting quarterback Nick Mullens to throw the ball down the field, which is left-handed work for this offense.

Get ready for zone

‘Niners defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has made some pretty good chicken salad with what he’d been given personnel-wise to go into 2020. Without star pass rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, lacking the interior presence of DeForest Buckner (traded to Indianapolis), and missing Robert Sherman for a spell along with a toe injury to budding star safety Jarquiski Tartt, Saleh has cobbled together a strong defense that uses zone and versatile defenders to confuse quarterbacks. San Francisco doesn’t have the horses to hold up against the Bills’ wide receivers in man coverage—they know it, and the Bills should know it. Lack of man coverage tendencies do not make a defense less dangerous. Bring all your zone beaters to the table as an offense and take advantage of eyes in the backfield with double moves.


...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter @BruceExclusive and look for episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every Thursday and Friday on the Buffalo Rumblings Podcast Network!