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Video (and other) analysis: The Bills’ defense was a lot better than credited

Yeah, I said it

The Buffalo Bills’ loss to the New England Patriots is being taken especially hard by fans (myself included). As is natural, fingers are being pointed. For some reason, a lot of those fingers are being pointed at the defense. I’m not here to tell you they played flawless [cough...cough...64-yard touchdown run]. I am going to tell you they did not “get run all over.” And in fact they played really well overall. Let’s do this!


By the numbers

Usually my recap/analysis pieces are video-centric but not this week. Don’t worry. There’ll be some GIFs, but only from two specific drives for reasons I’m about to make clear. Foreshadowing aside, yes we’re gonna talk about drives.

The New England Patriots had a total of ten drives, one of which was just to ice the clock in the fourth so we’ll discount that one. So nine. Nine drives! Ah ah ah ah, ah ah ah, ah ah! Let’s look at some fast facts for all nine.

  • 3 plays, -1 yards, -13 yards per play
  • 3 plays, 5 yards, 1.67 yards per play
  • 3 plays, 69 yards, 23 yards per play (touchdown, uuuuuuuuugh)
  • 9 plays, 52 yards, 5.78 yards per play (field goal)
  • 3 plays, 4 yards, 1.33 yards per play
  • 4 plays, 25 yards, 8.25 yards per play
  • 5 plays, 4 yards, 0.8 yards per play
  • 14 plays, 59 yards, 3.5 yards per play (field goal)
  • 3 plays, 6 yards, 2.0 yards per play

Of those nine, one was going alright until they gave up a 64-yard touchdown run. I think it’s safe to say the defense is kind of at fault for that one so that’ll save us some words. We’ll come back to the other two scoring drives in a minute but let’s first focus on the other six drives (the ones not in italics).

In six drives the Patriots had 21 plays for a total of 43 yards. For those six drives the Bills not only stopped the Patriots, they slammed the damn door on them. Six drives for the Patriots were completely futile. On that 25-yard drive, the Bills gave up a 17-yard run with time winding down in the second quarter (maybe they thought a pass was coming?). And then they shut it right down.

The first field goal drive had Mac Jones’s magnificent 12-yard pass included and a couple nice chunk runs. The Bills clamped down again and the Patriots ended up settling for three.

On the second field goal drive, a few chunk runs kept moving the chains. The Mac Jones QB sneak series was also a factor.

If you caught my snap count notes, I added a bit about New England’s tendencies this week. They had a sixth lineman in almost two-thirds of the game and a fullback in about one half. In other words, the Patriots sold out completely to make the run game as effective as possible and managed two acceptable drives and a busted play for a long touchdown. Not dominant drives. Acceptable ones. Now let’s watch some plays on the two FG drives.

Some Plays

Play 1

This ten-yard run by Rhamondre Stevenson is initially well covered by the Bills. Star Lotulelei is occupying the gap the run comes through basically at the line of scrimmage. And either loses his balance or takes a wrong step toward our right. He only gets one arm on Stevenson and that’s not enough. Jordan Poyer misses on his shot too but at least forces him toward Dane Jackson who makes the tackle.

Play 2

I’m going to focus almost exclusively on Patriots highlights (puke), but wanted to toss this one in. This is a pretty typical personnel look for the Patriots and, as you can see, there’s not really a lot of players looking like a “route” is imminent. This is for no gain, which there was a few of. Also nine TFLs and a lot of plays with minimal gain. This result was far more typical than any major success.

Play 3

Another play where I think that the Bills have a decent handle on things from a scheme/play-call perspective but little things caused problems. I think there might be an uncalled holding flag here that impacted things a bit.

Play 4

This is mostly just a great play design and execution by New England. They have an extra lineman on the right side. A tight end on the right side. A fullback blocking to the right side. And the left guard pulling to the right side. New England sells out completely on this play and others toward a single point of attack. Damien Harris is patient and finds the perfect lane. Buffalo didn’t play it perfect by any means, but credit to the Patriots here.

Play 5

Look familiar? Sort of like a mirror image of the play above. This doesn’t go for 22 yards, only half of that in fact, but it’s a solid play.

Play 6

Simply put, the Bills don’t seem to be expecting a QB sneak and they don’t have enough mass up front to have a positive result. The next play it’s harder to fault them on as the one-yard sneak is a high-percentage play for all teams.

Play 7

As we see a lot, this is all-in on the run and like the few above quite well executed. What I need to impress on everyone though is that these GIFs represent the majority of truly positive plays for the Patriots all night. I skipped a couple like the long TD run and the miracle 12-yard pass but this really is most of them. Juuuuuust enough to squeak a couple field goals (and a long TD).


Summary

Put differently, two-thirds of the Patriots’ meaningful drive opportunities were quickly and ruthlessly shut down by Buffalo. On the three others, it was mostly a story of squeaking by. Could they have played better? Yeah, of course. They could have played 14 points better to be precise. Were they ran all over? Hardly.

Buffalo dominated most of the game and made New England fight tooth and nail the rest of the way. And yes a busted play that should rightfully be held against them. If you want to see what getting run over looks like, I can refresh your memory. The defense wasn’t perfect, but they played well.