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Bills’ defensive scheme and play-calling issues vs. Bengals

DC Lezlie Frazier’s unit wasn’t ready to defend its home turf

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Cincinnati Bengals v Buffalo Bills Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

With the dust of new-fallen-snow now well-settled on the Buffalo Bills’ deflating divisional-round playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, all that’s left to do is analyize the results of a mostly poor outing.

There were some questionable defensive play calls by Bills defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier during the team’s divisional-round playoff. Let’s take a look at some more tape to see what happened to Buffalo en route to one of its more underwhelming defensive performances of the 2022 NFL season.

Five-man pressure

There were multiple times against the Bengals when the Bills employed a five-man rush. That’s fine when the defense isn’t getting regular pressure with four. The only problem is that Buffalo’s defense wasn’t getting pressure with five, either.

Here, you see linebacker Tremaine Edmunds blitzed. Cincinnati used their center to pick up Edmunds fairly easy once he committed. Quarterback Joe Burrow was then able to throw with a clean pocket due to no pressure coming from the blitz.

My overall question about the defense is to wonder why the unit didn’t drop an extra guy in coverage instead of blitzing a fifth player? Also, if blitzing, why not blitz six or more to at least get an overwhelming numbers advantage? Blitzing with five and getting no pressure is just wasting a guy who could have helped in coverage.

Always playing the pass

There were two concerning things for the Bills on this play, the first being that edge rushers A.J. Epenesa and Greg Rousseau tore upfield like they knew they were for sure playing the pass. That seems weird to me, considering it was 2nd & 5 and a running back was in the backfield with Burrow. None of that telegraphed that a pass is certain, but the way both ends went upfield, you would have thought it was 3rd & 10 with the Bengals in empty. Epenesa going upfield was extremely problematic, because he ran himself right out of the play, and the offense ran to his side.

Nickel cornerback Taron Johnson took on a pulling offensive lineman in the hole, which was also problematic. I know the Bills love playing nickel, but at what cost? When you have a 192-pound corner taking on 300-pound pulling offensive lineman, the lineman wins that battle every single time. I think the Bills need to invest in a third linebacker who’s more suitable to play in running situations.

Bracket coverage

The Bills found themselves bamboozled on this play. Tight end Hayden Hurst ran by both cornerback Tre’Davious White and linebacker Matt Milano. The two Bills defenders bracketed receiver Ja’Marr Chase as he faked going for a receiver screen.

What made this such a faulty play is that Hurst never set up to block for the screen, which is what the tight end would typically do for such a play. So, with two defenders on Chase (who’s a decoy), Hurst then ran up the field unimpeded, and safety Jordan Poyer couldn’t get over in time to make a play. This resulted in Burrow throwing to an open Hurst for the touchdown. Milano should have run with Hurst, or even simply jammed Hurst to slow him down (if the Bills were determined to bracket Chase). That would have at least given Poyer a chance to get over to Hurst in time.

In summary

Leslie Frazier made more than a few questionable play calls, and the defensive game plan seemed a bit out of sorts — particularly early in the game. What does everyone think was the big issue with the defense? How can the defense improve moving forward? Was it just as simple as a bad day?