The Buffalo Bills took their lone regular-season trip to the West Coast to take on the defending Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams. Both teams entered halftime with a meager ten points thanks to sloppy play by Buffalo’s offense and a way less sloppy performance by their defense. A major story when the pink smoke cleared was the rebound by the Bills’ offense. The defense just kept doing what they had been. A ferocious pass rush led the way, and that’s where the film
couch room takes us.
From the very first time Matthew Stafford dropped back, there were signs it’d be a long day for the veteran quarterback. You’ll see the 2.5-second mark a few times in this article as it’s a decent cut off point for a quick throw vs. a “standard” time to throw. At that mark on this play, Von Miller has punched Joseph Noteboom into next week and Greg Rousseau is already coming around Rob Havenstein with a speed rush. Stafford connects on the pass, but it’s in spite of the pass rush.
I don’t like to call a performance “dominant” if the opponent was a pushover. The Rams likely had an off day, but they weren’t oblivious to what Buffalo was capable of. This is still early in the game and you can see that they use a chip block and allow Rousseau free quickly to get off this blitz-beater pass.
If there’s one theme from this game it was winning individual battles. Von Miller absolutely won his. The punch here is impressive for its force as Noteboom lurches back. Check out the arms windmilling though. It’s not just force that did that, Miller’s hand placement to Noteboom’s shoulder popped his arms up violently. It allows Miller space to pick his spot as he attacks the reeling left tackle.
Since we’re focusing on pass rush, I should mention that this alignment on the defensive line is not something you’re likely to see if head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier think it’s a run play. When they were convinced it was a pass, they loved to use these large gaps. There are a few things they can do as a result of this, but the overarching rationale is that you can dictate how the line responds to a large degree.
For this play, you can see the left guard doesn’t end up helping anyone a whole lot. Everyone else ends up in a one-on-one. This is a pretty simple design but ensures you have at least some of your players going talent vs. talent with their opponent. Pretty much everyone wins, but Stafford does a good job getting the ball out fast. In addition to the seven sacks by Buffalo, they had 15 QB hits. That means Stafford hit the turf at least 22 times.
This has a large gap as noted above, but the alignments overall have a lot of differences. I have Ed Oliver circled as he appears to be the player this design looks to be scheming to a clear lane. Note how Von Miller is on an island to our left side. Oliver is very close to DaQuan Jones, both of whom are on our right side. Greg Rousseau is pulling some Wide-9. Rousseau and Jones both cut inside hard, while Oliver cuts outside trying to stunt around the right tackle. Rob Havenstein shows off his veteran savvy and does a good job picking it up. As you may have noticed, the entire offensive line doesn’t fare as well as Havenstein.
While it’s true of every NFL coach, it’s especially true that you don’t want to telegraph your play against the Bills. The lack of a running back remotely near Stafford tips their hand and Buffalo’s defensive line is ready to stampede. At the pause, I wanted everyone to notice Jordan Phillips’s left hand. He need to work in a pretty tight space, even with his spin move working as well as it did. He has the presence of mind to do a compact swim move so as not to get caught up in the clutter.
A pass rush can certainly help make things happen for the defense, but I felt it was important to show that even when things are going well there are ways to beat it. Stafford again gets the ball out pretty quick and essentially throws the perfect pass for this play.
There’s some play design trickery here, but without individual effort that’d all be for naught. A bit of help slows down Von Miller, though he’s still pretty successful. The other 75% of the defensive line all beat their matchups and meet in the middle of Matthew Stafford. Would you believe that the first eight plays all came from the first half? Right from the start, the pass rush was making it their game.
I could have used a myriad of second-half plays to show off what I was looking to cover, but in the end I selected this one toward the end of the game. Why this one? Up 21 points, Buffalo could have gone pretty ho-hum. They’re still using stunts to confuse the linemen. Aggressive to the end.
I don’t know if you can predict the same results every week, but absolutely appreciate this week’s performance as the pass rush was a master class. Quite literally, you could make a good-length highlight reel for every single defensive lineman. While the coaches put everyone in good position, the players executed at an incredibly high level.
So why won’t I predict the same results every week? First and foremost, it would be hard to be this dialed in emotionally and mentally every week. Second, Matthew Stafford is not a mobile quarterback, which allows the defense to attack more. Other quarterbacks will dictate a different approach. Third, while this isn’t some reinvention of the wheel for Buffalo, there are a few new things that will need to be studied by opponents. As the league sees what Buffalo is doing, some countermeasures should be expected.