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2018 opponent scouting report: Buffalo Bills defense

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NFL: Tennessee Titans at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

On October 21, 2018 the Indianapolis Colts will host the Buffalo Bills In this week seven match-up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our new look offense.

The 2017 Bills went to the playoffs for the first time since the Clinton administration. They went 9-7 in what was their fifth winning season in the past two decades. The last time these two teams played it be came an all time favorite game for me. Both teams battled through what looked like a foot of snow to try to play football at its highest level. The Bills came out on top in a close, fun to watch game but this year the game will be played indoors so hopefully there will be a different result.

Let’s figure out what we can expect in week seven.


Defense

Sean McDermott runs a defense that will look very similar to our Colts new look defense. A 4-3 one gapping, attacking base with zone heavy coverages on the back end. The difference between the two are the Bills blitz packages. Don’t get me wrong they don’t blitz like the Rex Ryan Bills but McDermott comes from a coaching tree where zone blitzes were prominent. Again, I’m not saying the Bills use a ton of zone blitz schemes (from what I’ve seen they don’t) but their blitz schemes do seem to be more complex than what the Colts have shown thus far.

At it’s heart the Bills defense, like the Colts is less about surprising the offense and more about executing their assignments. I noticed a few things from the Bills defense will show on Sunday.

This double A gap blitz. McDermott likes to show this pressure and it’s a versatile pre-snap alignment for the defense. At times one linebacker will blitz, one will drop into coverage, other times both will blitz and on occasion both will drop into coverage. It gives McDermott a lot of options while possibly disguising his intentions.

On the play above, the Packers run a play with a natural rub off the line off scrimmage that could have made it very difficult for the corner to stay with his man, in this instance the corner just got beat, but it was a well designed play to beat the blitz.

If this defense looks familiar, it should, the Colts lived in similar looks in the first five weeks of the season. This looks to me to be quarters (or cover 4) coverage. Quarters is a diverse coverage but it tends to allow underneath completions. I don’t know how often they’re going to sit back and just let Andrew Luck pick them apart underneath but they seemed fine to let Rogers do it from time to time.

Here the Bills are in the same shell but Mariota made a really bad read. The underneath receiver was open and it was second down, he didn’t have to push the ball yet. Either way the corner made a good jump on the ball and came away with the turnover.

This defensive scheme isn’t complicated. It’s not complex. It relies on speed and playing smart assignment football. It’s also most effective with an effective pass rush, something these Bills have.


Defensive Line

Trent Murphy, Kyle Williams, Star Lotulelei and Jerry Hughes will start up front. Beyond that we can expect to see Jordan Phillips, Shaq Lawson, Eddie Yarbrough and Harrison Phillips. Based on their snap count numbers the Bills defensive line rotates through a total of 8 players, though the starters do play the most.

Trent Murphy is having a good year, Kyle Williams in what he has said will be his final year, is having another very good year at 35 years old, coming down with 3.5 sacks so far. Star Lotulelei isn’t showing up in the box score but he generally does a good job eating blocks and impacting the run game and Jerry Hughes is playing as well as he ever has.

Before anyone starts complaining about the Jerry Hughes trade, for the love of all things good in this world please move on. That was two general managers ago. But yes, he’s really good and he’s having a career year at 30 years old.

Harrison Phillips, a rookie out of Stanford has played a limited role but is getting around 40% of the teams snaps and has played very well in his role as a run defender. Eddie Yarbrough is also playing well with two tackles for loss, playing around 37% of defensive snaps. Shaq Lawson started the season starting in Trent Murphy’s spot but suffered a hamstring injury. So far his career has been disappointing but his play earlier in the season was better than in the past, at this point he’s a very valuable player to have rotating. Jordan Phillips came to the Bills recently by way of the Dolphins. Phillips hasn’t made a large statistical impact but the early reports have been promising. He’s a big very athletic man who looks to be thriving in a one gap scheme.

This is yet another very good defensive line for the Colts this season. I don’t believe it to be the best we’ve seen, but once again it will be a challenge for our young offensive line.


Linebackers

Tremaine Edmonds was drafted 16th overall and has played every defensive snap for the Bills this season. Early reports so far are that he has struggled as a run defender but has excelled in coverage due to his amazing athleticism. In years past Lorenzo Alexander was an every down linebacker for the Bills, the 2018 version has him on the field around half of the time to defend the run where he’s playing very well in the twilight of his career.

If you don’t know who Matt Milano is, it’s okay you’re in good company but Matt Milano has stepped up and looks like one of the best off-ball linebackers in the league.

These Bills linebackers are very good but they are beatable. Edmunds is a 20 year old physical freak that is still learning the game. With the defensive line they have in front of them, their lives are easier and running won’t come easy on Sunday.


Defensive Backs

If you have any Vontae Davis retiring at halftime jokes, I’m still not tired of them, put them in the comments.

For all of the DB’s that haven’t retired mid-game this year we can expect to see TreDavious White, Phillip Gaines and Taron Johnson at cornerback. Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde will start at safety, with Hyde coming off the field situationally.

TreDavious White has played well and generally taken away whoever he has covered and given the Colts wide receivers he wont have much of a challenge. The word on Phillip Gaines is that he’s a physical freak of a corner who can cover and run with anyone and he has almost no ball skills whatsoever. Before this season he was flagged often but he has only had one flag thrown all year, I would challenge him early to see if we can get him to get grabby.

Taron Johnson is probably another guy you don’t know much about. Johnson is a rookie out of Weber state that the Bills selected in the 4th round. Johnson has been the best rookie on the field for the Bills this year, which is impressive considering the fact that the Bills had two top 20 picks.

Micah Hyde has played well in around 70% of defensive snaps this season, playing more in run support. Jordan Poyer, is also really good. Poyer almost never leaves the field and has intercepted two passes so far this season.

The Bills have a very good, but young, group of defensive backs. If the Colts offense were at full strength, I would feel fine about how they matchup against these five players. Instead I feel they’re far better than the unit the Colts will send out on Sunday.


What to Expect from the Colts Offense:

The Bills have solid players at all three levels of their defense. Their weakest link is probably at linebacker, but it isn’t as if the linebackers are bad. I fully expect to see a healthy dose of Eric Ebron. I also think Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines have a chance to get involved in the passing game if either of them decide to catch a ball. Otherwise, the Colts may struggle to move the ball in this one.