New England Patriots FS Devin McCourty joined CSSNE to analyze how the Buffalo Bills were able to have success running the ball against the Patriots. We’ve touched on how the Bills passing attack waltzed down the field unhindered, and McCourty does a good job of explaining how the Bills took advantage of the Patriots rushing defense.
“It starts with their two best athletes on offense, [LeSean] McCoy and Tyrod Taylor,” McCourty says. “They just want to get them the open space, get them one-on-one tackles, try to do things like that.”
McCourty draws up a play where the Bills have three players bunched on the nearside of the field and one player on the far side, with McCoy and Taylor in the backfield. The three players have “blocking angles” according to McCourty, if McCoy runs behind them.
The goal of these three players is to crack block the edge defender- Jabaal Sheard- and the linebackers - Dont’a Hightower and Jonathan Freeny- away from the running back, while setting up McCoy for a one-on-one against a defensive back- Logan Ryan- in the open field.
The Patriots were able to counter this scheme on the Bills first offensive play of the game.
The way to disrupt this run is to not allow an open lane and to continue to push McCoy towards the sideline until he runs out of space. Here, Dont’a Hightower does a great job of setting the edge and destroying the blockers. Jamie Collins and Jonathan Freeny do a nice job of avoiding the blockers at the second level to help on the near side. Logan Ryan makes the stop after shedding his blocker.
“The key is, defensively, you just need everyone running,” McCourty says. “You need Jamie coming, you need the safety coming, you need everyone fighting through single blocks, trying to get out here [the direction of the run play] and just keep washing this thing to the sideline. Couple times we did it, most of the game we didn’t do it.”
The Bills had a lot of success running variations of this run over the first half.
Hightower gets taken down by the fullback and Sheard is also held up in the traffic. The tight end and the offensive tackle prevent Collins and Freeny from getting anywhere near the play.
Ryan was playing off coverage, so he was unable to stop the play at the line of scrimmage and Robert Woods does a nice job of sustaining his block on Ryan. That really leaves McCoy one-on-one with McCourty, and if a free safety is the only hope of a defense, then that means McCoy has already picked up a big chunk of yards.
If Hightower was able to stay on his feet, or if Freeny beat the tight end’s block, then perhaps the Patriots could have made a stop.
Another issue is that Taylor is a threat that needs to be watched, too.
“When you have a quarterback that is able to throw the ball down the field, so you really can’t cheat everyone up because he has a strong arm,” McCourty explains, “but he also can run, and now you think you [Patriots] have the angles to come outside this way [to the near side], but now you [Bills] have the angles to block here [to the far side], you can block here, you can do all kinds of things, and now this might be your running gap and Tyrod Taylor goes flying up here.”
The Patriots defensive linemen read the Bills strength to the offensive right side of the field and the Bills use that to their advantage. The Bills win every single block at the line of scrimmage and the left tackle seals out Jonathan Freeny, who appears to take a poor angle out of the snap.
The fullback lead blocks and just crushes Ryan, leaving Hightower and his bad knee in a one-on-one with Taylor. Taylor wins this one easily and McCourty is left to clean up the mess.
“From the numbers to the sidelines is a lot of space for a guy like McCoy,” McCourty says and it could also apply to Taylor. “And for a guy like Logan to bat 100% against McCoy is tough.”
Ryan had a chance to stop McCoy at the line of scrimmage here, but whiffed, and the Bills did a good job of blocking out the rest of the Patriots defenders.
I should note that all of these plays seemed to go in Ryan’s direction, as did all of the passes. It seemed like the Bills were actively picking on him. Ryan actually made 9 positive tackles according to Pro Football Focus (and 6 other tackles came after allowing a big play), but the cornerback earned all of the Bills attention.
The fix for the Patriots was pretty simple. The secondary was playing extremely defensively in the first half to take away the big throw, as McCourty admit in the breakdown, but the defense was much better in the second half and focused on being more aggressive and competitive.
Another change will be the return of Rob Ninkovich, which should have a domino effect on the linebackers. I would expect Ninkovich to take Hightower’s role as the strongside linebacker on the edge of the formation, and for Hightower to move back inside as the middle linebacker. This will Freeny off the field and the entire Patriots second level will become more stout against the run.
The Bills took advantage of a timid Patriots defense and made them pay the entire first half. Sloppy tackles and poor performances on the edge against the run set the Patriots back and they were not able to recover.