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Bills vs. Jets: Analysis of Buffalo’s run defense

Everyone’s favorite topic of discussion

Buffalo Bills v New York Jets Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills lost to the New York Jets 22-16 in gut-wrenching fashion on the first Monday Night Football game of the 2023 NFL season. When quarterback Aaron Rodgers was ruled out with an injury after just four plays on offense, most Bills fans were likely thinking that Buffalo should win the game with ease. Clearly, that wasn’t the case.

Many things went wrong in the game that led to the Bills losing in overtime. Was the run defense one of those things that went wrong? The Jets’ offense switched to a heavy dose of Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook runs after Rodgers went down. Maybe the Bills weren’t ready for this? Let’s break it all down and get to the bottom of it!

By the numbers

The Jets ran the ball 28 times for 172 yards, which equals 6.1 yards per carry. Those are not good numbers if you’re the Bills. Leading the way was Breece Hall, who toted the rock 10 times for a remarkable 127 yards. Dalvin Cook chipped in 13 carries for 33 yards.

Clearly, the Bills didn’t do enough to slow down the Jets' rushing attack, but they only let up three rushes for over 10 yards. Those runs went for 83 yards, 26 yards, and 10 yards. I will review all three of those plays below.

The “what if” game isn’t very useful in times like these, because the damage is already done. But in case anyone was wondering, if those three carries that went over 10 yards were taken out, the Bills held the Jets to 25 carries for 53 yards for a measly 2.12 yards per carry... a little shocking right? So we’ll review the bad plays and also feature a bunch of good plays from Buffalo’s run defense.

Video Analysis

The Bad

Play 1

On the first play of the game for the Jets’ offense, they ripped off a 26-yard chunk with running back Breece Hall. I liked how linebacker Terrel Bernard recognized the run play quickly and was aggressive to his run fit, but it took him right out of the play. It’s hard to ask defensive tackle Ed Oliver to do more when getting double-teamed, but he needed to stand his ground better. Safety Jordan Poyer had a free run lane to the ball carrier, which made Hall bounce outside. But we’re used to seeing Poyer make a play in this kind of situation. Defensive back Taron Johnson set the edge nicely, which forced Hall back inside to either Poyer or Floyd, but they failed to make the tackle.

The Bills had chances to get the ball carrier on the ground for no gain, but give the Jets credit — they blocked this well. For reference, the Jets ended up punting on this drive.

Play 2

This play confused me from the beginning. I don’t understand why they lined up the way they did. Granted, I have no idea what the play call was, or if this was how they were “supposed” to line up. Nonetheless, in my opinion, the way they lined up is part of the reason this play went for 83 yards. The Jets had five blockers on an overloaded line to the right, to block three Bills players. On the left side, the Bills had four players against three Jets players. It’s simple math, the Jets were running to the right. Even if you count Tre White as “in the box,” the Jets still had five versus four. Then to boot, it seems that Ed Oliver and Greg Rousseau slanted to the weak (left) side, further helping the Jets’ cause. The entire right of the line was crashed down and made a wide-open hole to have Hall one-on-one with Tre’Davious White — a matchup the Jets are okay with. White has to do better than this. Let’s take a look at another angle.

This is also confusing to me. Why not have Hyde drop deep middle and Poyer help in run support where you’re outnumbered? If that was the play call, then it’s tough to change it. But it’s just another reason this play went for 83 yards. Now, let's take a look at the one good part of this play.

Hustle like this doesn’t grow on trees. Christian Benford has the “it” factor. This type of play is why he earned the starting position, which head coach Sean McDermott alluded to during Wednesday’s media session. Benford saved the TD and the Bills ended up holding the Jets to a field goal. Four-point swing, just for hustle.

Play 3

Another well-designed and well-executed play by the Jets. The Bills still hand a chance to make a play here, though. Safety Taylor Rapp and Christian Benford were fooled by the motion and inward movement by their “man” or receiver. If they both read this toss play quicker, they likely would have been able to set the edge and force the ball back inside, or string it to the sideline.

The Good

Play 1

Does this formation look familiar? It should because it’s the same formation they were in when they broke the 83-yard run. The Bills lined up better this time. Check out defensive tackle DaQuan Jones here. He split the double team and made the tackle for no gain — well done!

Play 2

A lot of people did their job well on this play and Rousseau was at the top of that list. He read the play perfectly and fought back to the outside. He used his long arms to extend to the blocker, get rid of him, and then made a tackle for loss. He even punched the ball out at the end, but it went out of bounds.

Play 3

I love the aggressiveness by Johnson and Bernard on this play. They filled their run fits and forced the ball to bounce outside. Epenesa locked out his blocker and shed him to make the tackle.

Play 4

Ed Oliver wrecked havoc on this play. He exploded off the ball, pushing his blocker into the backfield to disrupt the play. Then he went even further and shed the block to make a tackle for no gain.

Play 5

There isn’t much to say here besides the fact that linebacker Matt Milano is a stud. All-Pro season number-two loading.

In conclusion

I’ll make it pretty simple, the Buffalo Bills didn’t lose this game because of their run defense. Yes, the long runs need to be addressed and stopped, but lets remember Buffalo had a game plan to play against the Jets with Aaron Rodgers. They likely weren’t prepared for a run-heavy game. But when it came down to it, I believe they held up well. The unfortunate news is that scoring 16 points on offense won’t win you many football games in the NFL.