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Breaking down Cam Lewis at safety vs. Minnesota

Trying to fit a square peg into a round hole? Or just a young player learning a new position on the fly?

Minnesota Vikings v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills lost a heartbreaker of a game to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 10. The Bills were without All-Pro safety Jordan Poyer again this week. After fellow safety Jaquan Johnson had a rough game in Week 9 versus the New York Jets, the Bills decided to try something different and put converted cornerback Cam Lewis into the starting safety role.

Bills fans primarily know Lewis as the backup slot corner for Taron Johnson, which is his natural position. The Bills tested Lewis at safety during this year's training camp, and his versatility ultimately played a role in him making his way onto the roster this season. Let’s take an All-22 look into how Lewis, a natural slot corner, fared playing the safety position.

Coverage disguise and poor tackling

Throughout the game, I liked how Lewis tried to disguise the coverages, and this play is a good example. He shows a Cover 2 shell pre-snap and then quickly gets to his one-high safety position. This all means nothing when you can’t make a tackle; he needs to wrap the ball carrier's legs here and forget the hand-fighting. He gives up an extra 10 yards here because of this missed tackle.

Route recognition

In this play, the Bills are in a “2 Man Under” or “Cover 5” coverage, which means they have five defenders underneath playing man-to-man, and then two free safeties over the top. Oftentimes, you will see the underneath players playing a “trail” technique because they know they have help over the top. Dane Jackson plays this trail technique, but he never gets the help over the top from Lewis. Lewis was playing deep, which I can respect, but his eyes are locked in the backfield and he isn’t aware of what the routes are in front of him. He should realize that wide receiver Justin Jefferson is the only receiver on his side of the field, and that he can play heavily on his route. I would like to see Lewis be able to break on this in-route and discourage the quarterback from even throwing the ball there.

Late run support

I understand that Lewis is breaking to the middle of the field to be the free safety in Cover 1 on this play, but I think he could have been a bigger factor on this run play if he would have diagnosed it earlier. I believe that this is where Poyer is missed most; I can picture him seeing the run play at the snap and flying up the field to help in run support.

Underneath zone coverage

The Bills play Cover 3 and have Lewis drop down from his safety position to play an underneath zone. He does a nice job of staying patient and seeing the routes in front of him. He is in a good position, and takes away any throwing lanes for the quarterback.

Red zone coverage

This is a fantastic play by Lewis! He understands what coverage they are in and where his help is. You can see that Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson fakes like he is going outside on his route, but Lewis doesn’t fall for it because he knows he has help to the outside. Lewis jumps the route—and likely would have come up with an interception if it wasn’t for the offensive pass interference.

More coverage disguise

Another example of Lewis disguising the coverage well. Pre-snap, he plays close to the line of scrimmage to act like he is going to play man-to-man, then he backs out at the snap to play Cover 2. He does a wonderful job of getting depth and staying on top of the post route.

Bad angles in run support

Here’s another play where the Bills miss Poyer (and Micah Hyde). I have confidence that running back Dalvin Cook would have been tackled on this play if Poyer or Hyde were in Lewis’ position, but they weren’t. This just comes down to Lewis taking a bad angle. There were more problems for the Bills on this play than just Lewis, but Lewis is the last resort; he should make this tackle.

Caught peeking

Lewis gets caught peeking into the backfield on this play, and ends up drifting to the left side of the field. Meanwhile, he leaves his side of the field wide open and allows a big completion. There was no reason for Lewis to leave his zone, and it cost the Bills.

Patiently playing routes

Lewis stays patient on this play and lets the routes play out before he commits to breaking on a route. Lewis seems to be in a better position when he is less worried about what the quarterback is doing and focuses on how the routes are developing in front of him.

Knock it down!

It's 4th & 18, just knock the ball down. Lewis is in a great position the entire play... Knock. It. Down. This one hurt to watch.

In summary

The Bills are playing musical chairs trying to find a quality backup for Poyer when he is injured, and I don’t think Lewis is the answer. Luckily, safety Damar Hamlin is turning into a solid starter while replacing the injured Micah Hyde. Hopefully, Poyer can return to action soon, but in the meantime, the Bills have to find an answer for his backup. Maybe newly acquired safety Dean Marlowe is the answer?