The Buffalo Bills’ season is officially on life support after a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. While it’s unclear what team co-owner Terry Pegula thinks of the situation, if the fan base were making the decisions, head coach Sean McDermott’s seat would not only be warm but [looks up surface temperature of the sun quickly]. Everything except officiating was going Buffalo’s way until the defense surrendered 17 points in the fourth quarter, leading to overtime and a loss.
This week I take a look at the drive that resulted in the game-tying field goal and the overtime game-winner. There’s no way you’re getting GIFs of all those plays, so please make sure you read my full notes that for sure are just a PDF and not a virus-laden executable file intended to skim money off you a la the plot to Office Space. Here you go!
FG Drive — Play 1
Warning: Most of these GIFs have a higher-than-normal amount of stops/pauses as, essentially, I’m trying to evaluate the entire defense all at once. Here we go.
The Eagles had plenty of time here, and a field goal would tie. The name of the game should be “don’t give an inch unless you have to.” One criticism McDermott has faced plenty of times over the years is playing “soft” and allowing chunk yards. This play is my stand-in to say that’s partially true.
Why just partially? On the coverage depth pause we see most of the field was playing relatively tight. At the bottom of the screen was that soft coverage that drives people crazy and essentially no consideration of the safety-valve throw underneath. Hurts found the soft zone with ease and Philly had a chunk play and the ability to get out of bounds. It’s okay if this play call frustrates you, as I’m not a huge fan either.
That said, take note that the Bills mixed up the coverage/pass rush with safety Jordan Poyer looking like he’d blitz and then actually doing it. Hint: Pay attention to Poyer’s name as we move forward. Edge rusher Von Miller dropped into coverage and while that sounds foolish on paper, the reality is that it worked out completely okay.
FG Drive — Play 2
Another reason I said “partially true” would be plays like this one. Yes there are cushions to start the play, but the Bills as a group played this coverage pretty tight while still keeping things in front. This play looked ready to concede a few yards on the edge of field goal range to ensure Philly couldn’t convert a big one. It was a success as Poyer crashed down and claimed a pass breakup.
If you’re wondering, Poyer did actually play as a safety on these drives, but also as a blitzer and more of a linebacker/slot defensive back hybrid. He was moved around plenty for just two drives of analysis.
FG Drive notes
On eight defensive plays, Buffalo mostly stuck to Cover 2 looks like both plays above. Two plays leaned more toward a Cover 1 look. There were instances where Buffalo showed one look then quickly swapped to another pre-snap.
The Bills rushed four men on five of the plays, and rushed five men on three of them. Several plays Buffalo disguised who was rushing like we saw on Play 1. This included one instance of showing a blitz and having the possible blitzer dropping back into coverage.
Buffalo played soft coverage on some snaps, tighter coverage on others. Like Play 1 showed, sometimes they did both on the same play.
Is this a resounding success on the part of the Bills’ defense and Sean McDermott? Heck no. They allowed Philly to easily get in field goal range and if it weren’t for two false starts by center Jason Kelce, there’s not even a reasonable hope that the attempt misses.
That said, nothing on the drive convinced me that McDermott has a special flaw when it comes to late-game defensive play calling. Overall, my impression of NFL coaches is that they love to go a bit softer to prevent the big play for some reason, routinely failing to realize that five or six chunk plays is actually a worse outcome than one or two big ones. And the Eagles had plenty of time to take the chunks.
OT Drive — Play 1
To be clear, this would still be a Cover 2 look in the end, but the tomfoolery before the snap was there to make the opponent wonder. Overall I felt Buffalo played tighter coverage in overtime, but I don’t love how this played out.
Even more so than the field goal drive, the Eagles had plenty of time. On defense, they need edto limit yardage for a win. A field goal wouldn’t have won it, but it would have extended it and with waning time to finish the job.
Why then was the running back completely neglected? The most shocking aspect of this play was that it only gained four yards. If Philly had wanted to take a shot, this was very well defended. It dared them to take the small chunk. If this were a 3rd or 4th & 10 down play, I’m fine with this.
This was on 2nd & 2. They basically invited the Eagles to take a free first down. In overtime. With a kicker who just hit a 59-yarder on the other side of things.
OT Drive — Play 2
More than on the field goal drive, the Bills also gambled with pressure. This six-man rush disguised things and had Taron Johnson doing an impression of a Hurts-seeking missile. The quick pressure led to a terrible pass and a very good outcome for Buffalo.
OT Drive notes
I couldn’t bear making GIFs of this, but the biggest culprit for this drive’s failure in my eyes looks like the dreaded “execution” rationale. It is true that McDermott took some gambles that didn’t pay off and could have played it safer. I would note though that this flies in the exact opposite direction of the typical accusation that he played “not to lose.” Check my notes. I felt like several plays were more “Go make something happen and make it happen now.”
The notes name names if you’re curious, but several costly mistakes led to chunk yards and successful Eagles plays. I don’t mean to suggest Sean McDermott can’t improve and didn’t contribute to the loss. Like so many, I’m livid about wasting a timeout then kneeling when you have 20 seconds and Josh Allen. If I had to assign percentages to this drive though, I’d say it’s less McDermott and more the dreaded “e” word from above.
The Final Straw
I mostly covered it above but to recap I think some criticism of Sean McDermott is valid. I also think player criticism is just as valid. Further, if anyone wants to point to a single flaw that McDermott made over and over again I would say that I respectfully disagree. McDermott’s play-calling showed a wealth of variability for such a small sample of plays.
I know what many of you are thinking. It’s McDermott’s responsibility to coach players to avoid mistakes, so their issues are still his issues. And to that I say “Sure, but players have ceilings.” You can tell a player to be faster all you want, but you’re not changing their physiology or neurology with coaching. If McDermott has gotten his team to their ceiling and they fail, it’s not a McDermott issue. If he’s failed to get them to their ceiling, then, actually, I agree with you that their issues are his issues.
Not being in the team meetings and practices, I’m personally not ready to make that call. Here’s the call I’m happy to make. Sean McDermott was far from flawless on the drives in question. The players were far from flawless. The Bills still have my fandom — though, like all of you, I was really hoping for more this year.
And if you thought I forgot, the answer is about 10,000ºF.