We all know that the New England Patriots offensive line struggled to diagnose and protect quarterback Tom Brady from the pressure of the Buffalo Bills pass rush- whether the pressure was real or not.
There's one play that I want to highlight that shows how Rex Ryan and the Bills defense cooked up a key defensive stand that stopped the Patriots on a third down because the microphones picked up Brady's presnap recognition- and it seems like the Bills had a plan to counter.
Bills bring pressure by using Brady's protection calls against him. pic.twitter.com/DQIQmQea8V— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) November 25, 2015
On this play, you hear a clear exchange between center David Andrews and Brady.
"Who's the Mike?" Andrews shouts back, asking Brady how the quarterback wanted the offensive line to set up their blocks.
"Mike right," Brady replies.
The idea is that Brady will note his perception of the Bills defense and where they're bringing pressure and the Patriots offensive line is expected to pivot and block accordingly. By pointing out the linebacker on the right side as the Mike, it means that Brady is expecting the line- and specifically the center- to pick up blockers from the right side.
Based on Brady's film review, and evident in the tape, Rex Ryan loves to rush extra defensive backs from the right side of the offensive formation, especially on third down. This means that Brady thinks defensive back Corey Graham (#20) will bring added pressure on the right side, which is correct.
This is the result of Brady's protection to the right- an open lane up the middle. pic.twitter.com/CirV2jmjtE— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) November 25, 2015
You can see that Andrews pivots to take on the defensive tackle to his right, while both Josh Kline and Sebastian Vollmer crunch down on Nigel Bradham, the player Brady identified as the Mike.
This gives the Bills the numbers advantage to the left side of the formation, with Marcus Cannon facing Jerry Hughes and Shaq Mason facing a duo of safety Baccari Rambo and Preston Brown, with Brown getting the free lane into Brady's face.
The shell game between the Bills and Tom Brady lasted the entire game as the quarterback would continue to tell his blockers which way to defend, only to have the Buffalo linebackers drop back into coverage, or for a separate defender to come from a completely different angle.
More often than not, Brady would set up the blocking correctly, but the above play is a perfect example of how the offensive line protection can make or break a play. If Brady had diagnosed "Mike left", then Andrews would have been able to pick up the free linebacker and the safety on the right would have had a free rushing lane (although to be fair, Graham was unblocked in the actual play).
Brady probably thought that either one of Brown or Rambo would drop back into coverage after his film review. Maybe those players decided to rush until after Brady defined his blocking scheme. A staple of the Bills defense is for defensive backs to blitz if their tight end coverage responsibility stays in to block, so it's possible for the linebackers to have a blitz option if the quarterback frees up a lane.
"I think our execution was a problem for us all night," Brady said on WEEI on Tuesday morning. "That was things that were really self-inflicted that I know we're capable of doing because we've done it all year and for some reason last night we just couldn't get the communication right and we just weren't on the same page. They put a lot of pressure on [us] and I think the challenging part about that type of defense is they really test you in a lot of ways. They test your protections. They test you in the run game. They test you with different blitz looks and so forth. That's kind of the mark of their defense.
"If you don't really nail it to a ‘T' then they get a lot of free plays and I think there were a lot of free plays that I basically took the ball and tried to throw it away as fast as I could. For one reason or another our communication between all of us needs to be able to improve so that we can have the confidence to stand in there and make the plays when they are there, make the reads and so forth. We just didn't do it as well as we're capable of last night."
The Bills were getting free plays due to breakdowns in the blocking scheme, whether that was due to the physical and mental error of the offensive linemen, or the misdiagnosis of the defensive front by Brady.
Hopefully the Patriots offense can clean up these errors as they head to face their toughest defensive opponent on the year.