Last week, I was curious if the rushing success the Green Bay Packers had against the Buffalo Bills was a sign of things to come, or just a blip on the radar. Fast forward about seven days’ time, and another team (the New York Jets) had success running the football against the Bills. Buffalo allowed the Jets to run for 174 yards at 5.4 yards per carry. Let’s take a look at some film from Week 9’s setback loss.
Bills run defense problem: poor tackling
Quarterback Zach Wilson is in the gun pre-snap, with running back Michael Carter to his left. At the snap, the left guard and tight end C.J Uzomah both pull right. The left guard engages defensive end Shaq Lawson, and Uzomah turns up into the hole while Carter runs right behind him. Defensive tackle Tim Settle goes right, and the right guard slides his feet and rides him out (Settle takes himself out of the play). Rookie linebacker Terrel Bernard whiffs on the tackle in the hole. The right tackle climbs up to the second level and blocks linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who can’t shed the block. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips is pushed out of the play to the left by the center. This leads to a massive hole for Carter to run through, with no one in the hole to tackle him after Bernard.
Bills run defense problem: poor contain
This rushing play results in a first down due to Lawson losing contain. When running back James Robinson takes the ball, he runs right. As the play starts, Lawson ideally should shed the right tackle and get in front of the running back (or at the very least get left enough to where the back can’t just go around him) to force him inside, where safety Jaquan Johnson is located. None of this ends up happening, so Robinson runs right around Lawson and the right tackle. Johnson then runs left in pursuit of the back and attempts to make the tackle, but he falls off of Robinson (and he runs for the first down).
Bills run defense problem: lack of physicality
Robinson runs right at the snap out of the gun, with Uzomah as his lead blocker. The right tackle goes to the second level and blocks Edmunds downfield; Edmunds struggles to shed the block. Both the center and right guard push defensive tackles Phillips and DaQuan Jones back; they’re also both moved into an upright position. This leads to a clear hole for Robinson to run through nearly a full yard past the original line of scrimmage.
Bills run defense problem: misalignment
For the life of me, I can’t explain why safety Damar Hamlin is so far back at the start of the play (we’ll get back to that part at the end). Robinson runs right along with the left guard and tight end, which causes Bernard and Edmunds to flow left. When the linebackers flow left, Robinson stops and runs inside, which should be a win for the defense (someone should be in the hole ready to make the tackle). Instead, Phillips gets pancaked inside, Edmunds can’t get off his block, and Robinson runs through a hole with no one in front to make a tackle for about 15 yards (until Hamlin finally stops him). So, why isn’t Hamlin closer to the line of scrimmage before the snap? The Jets aren’t some explosive passing attack, and Hamlin should be near the line to make the tackle so Robinson isn’t running up the field untouched.
Bills run defense problem: block-shedding
Here, Phillips and defensive end Greg Rousseau cannot get off their blocks. At the snap, the right guard goes out to the second level as a lead blocker for Robinson, who runs through a wide-open hole and follows the guard. With neither of Rousseau or Phillips able to disengage from their blockers, Robinson runs right between both.
There are a few ways to look at Buffalo’s poor rushing defense against the Jets. You could say the Bills were without both safety Jordan Poyer and linebacker Matt Milano (two Pro Bowl-level players). The Jets also have a solid offensive line and two good running backs.
Even accounting for all that, giving up 382 rushing yards combined in back-to-back games isn’t good at all. Edmunds’ strength is against the run, yet he was struggling to disengage from offensive linemen at the second level (something that happened against the Packers as well). Phillips, Settle, and Jones all left a lot to be desired as well in the run game. Coming up in the next few weeks, the Bills will face teams that run the ball with good backs and offensive lines— such as the Minnesota Vikings, Cleveland Browns, and Detroit Lions.
Are you concerned this two-game slide is a bigger issue for the Buffalo Bills’ run defense?