After a two week road stint, the Rams are back in Los Angeles to host the visiting Buffalo Bills. Both teams are heading into this week with win streaks. The Rams have won their last three games after an embarrassing opener versus the San Francisco 49ers, while the Buffalo Bills are coming off of wins over the Arizona Cardinals and the New England Patriots. The Rams and Bills have both had their hiccups along the way, but both teams are in a good position after four weeks and now have an opportunity to keep their win streak alive.
~ Special thanks to Chris Trapasso of Buffalo Rumblings for providing insight on the Buffalo Bills ~
Rams Offense vs Bills Defense
DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) would suggest that this battle has been decided before it has begun. According to Football Outsiders, the Rams offense ranks 31st in offensive DVOA. Only the Houston Texans rank behind the Rams, but the margin is thin between the two. The Bills defense, on the other hand, is 14th in defensive DVOA. That does not put them in the elite group of defenses around the league, but they are above average, and are trending upward after having only allowed 18 points to the Arizona Cardinals and shutting out the New England Patriots (3rd string QB, but still).
In non-nerdy terms, the Bills defense is a good deal better than the Rams offense. The Bills have cleaned up their sloppy play from the Jets game and have turned into a stingy group. Kyle Williams has lead a quality front seven to start the season and now All-Pro Marcell Dareus will be returning to the lineup. His first game back may be rough, but he has destructive ability.
The Bills secondary has certainly cleaned itself up. Over the past two weeks, Buffalo’s secondary has allowed 56% of completion and zero passing touchdowns, while nabbing four interceptions. Safeties Aaron Williams and Corey Graham have great value in the passing game and give the cornerbacks more freedom to be aggressive, which is perfect for cornerbacks like Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby.
- Jerry Hughes is an outstanding speed rusher on the edge. He could be a problem.
- Buffalo’s inside linebackers, Preston Brown and Zach Brown, are both good, especially in run defense. They get to their gaps in a hurry.
- If offenses go four or five wide, the Bills have no problem rushing only three and forcing quarterbacks to beat coverage.
Kyle Williams is a ‘Tackle For Loss’ Waiting to Happen
Marcell Dareus missed the first four games of the season with a substance abuse related suspension. In his absence, Kyle Williams was forced into the star role. Williams has always been good and may be one of the most underrated players of this generation, but seeing what he did early this year, at age 33, without Dareus is incredible. He’s been blowing up runs, creating pressure on quarterbacks and being a nuisance in every way imaginable.
This is peak Williams. Williams shifts over into a 3-tech alignment (gap between guard and tackle) before the snap. As soon as the ball leaves the center’s hand, Williams fires off the ball, punches and discards Mike Iupati, then makes his way over to David Johnson for a tackle for loss. Williams has been able to do this all year without Dareus. With Dareus back on the field, the Bills front has even scarier potential.
Buffalo’s Aggressive Coverages
Rex Ryan plays with a lot of aggressive coverages. He likes man coverage, often times including the safeties as man-to-man players in coverage. Safeties will sometimes be asked to start a play from their traditional safety spot, then bolt toward their man-to-man target at the snap of the ball. It’s a confusing and aggression coverage, yes, but that confusion and aggression comes with the price of risk.
Prior to the snap, the Bills show man coverage. The cornerback at the bottom of the screen is lined up square to the receiver and the cornerback to the other side of the field follows the motioning wide receiver. In this case, the motioned receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, motions from a No.1 receiver spot to a No.2 receiver spot in the formation, thus switching the assignments of the defenders. Fitzgerald is now the nickel defender’s responsibility.
The tight end to the strong side of the formation releases vertically and gets in the way of the nickel cornerback, creating a natural pick and allowing Fitgerald to roam free in space. Direct man-to-man coverage will cause problems like this for a defense because following receivers across the formation or out of bunch sets is asking for a lot.
Through the first four weeks of the season, the Rams have shown that they have a handful of different bunch and trey (trips with a tight end) formations in their playbook. If the Bills defense is going to play aggressive man-to-man coverage, ccreating as many natural collisions and picks as possible would make Case Keenum’s job a heck of a lot easier.
Rams Defense vs Bills Offense
After an embarrassing week two loss to the New York Jets that put the Bills at 0-2 to start the season, the Bills fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Roman’s offense was centered around the deep passing attack. If Sammy Watkins is healthy, focusing the Bills offense around the deep passing attack isn’t a bad idea. In many ways, it could have worked in the same way that the old Torrey Smith aerial assaults worked in Baltimore. Watkins is not and was not healthy, though, and the offense suffered.
The offense could not live off of the abilities of a single wide receiver when that receiver was hobbling around the field on an injured foot. Once Roman was fired - likely for failing to adjust the offense - the Bills offense began throwing more to the shorter areas of the field and letting quarterback Tyrod Taylor get the ball out sooner. At the expense of a few more opportunities for big plays, the Bills offense has become more efficient over the past two weeks than it was during the first two.
- Tyrod Taylor is not easy to corral. He’s an excellent athlete and is a threat to run at any time. A few times per game, he will take off unexpectedly. Man coverage may be a dangerous play in this game.
- The intermediate area is foreign to Taylor, but he’s been efficient in the short area of the field. He’s a quick decision maker and throws a decent ball. He’s going to allow the offense to stay on schedule if he is given enough time in the pocket.
- Taylor has a tendency to pass up intermediate-deep throws that are not straight verticals.
- Taylor opens up to the strong side of the field every time. That is not uncommon, but he does so almost automatically.
- The Bills have a good interior offensive line, but their bookends can get sloppy. Robert Quinn could have a field day.
Buffalo Can Run the Ball
When the Bills made the switch at offensive coordinator, the passing attack was rewired in order to ease the pressure off of Tyrod Taylor. Through both offensive coordinators, the running game is the real reason that the offense has had the success that is has to this point. Running back LeSean McCoy has had an excellent season to this point, averaging nearly 100 yards and a touchdown per game between rushing and receiving. He’s been a menace to tackle and run down in space. Kyrie Irving calls himself the Ankletaker in the basketball realm, but LeSean McCoy is the NFL’s version of the Ankletaker.
In addition to McCoy, Taylor is a threat to run from the quarterback position, both by design and out of necessity on broken plays. Mike Gillislee has proven to be a solid rotational back behind McCoy, too. Up front, the offensive line has done a good job of generating push and creating clear lanes... something the Rams are entirely unfamiliar with.
The Bills Wildcat formation is probably the best place to start with their rushing attack. As of late, Buffalo has used the Wildcat a fair amount, both with McCoy and Gillislee. They’re ran a handful of concepts out of the formation, but ‘power’ has been their most effective play out of the Wildcat.
‘Power’ does not get ran much better than this. In short, ‘power’ pulls a guard (in most cases) from the back side to the play side and asks them to be the lead blocker. That, of course, requires the rest of the offensive line to give the pulling guard a clean path across the formation and open up the gap for him to lead through. On this play, the Bills left tackle forces a Patriots defensive lineman inside and fullback Jerome Felton executes a mean kickout block on former Ram Chris Long.
Once the lead blocker is in the running lane, he has to be heads up and quickly move toward any defender. Luckily for Buffalo, the only true threat at the second level is linebacker Jon Freeny, who overruns the play a little bit. The pulling guard, John Miller, finishes Freeny off and officially springs Gillislee into open space.
‘Counter’ can look like ‘power’ in a lot of ways, but it is not quite the same. ‘Counter’ is less deliberate and more tactical than power. The goal of ‘counter’ is to reel the defense in one way with the the false step by the running back and, in this case, the alignment of the fullback to the strong side of the formation.
At the snap, the running back takes a step away from the true play side and the fullback hesitates for a slight moment. Both moves hold the defense to the strong side of the formation, creating a 2-on-2 situation to the play side. When it’s 2-on-2 in a blocking situation, neither side has a numbers advantage, but the offense has the advantage of physics with the pulling guard and the moving full back. The two blockers get a running start toward their desired spot, while the defense is hopping around to try to figure out the play before they even get a chance to shed their blocker. Inertia wins every time.
The rare NFL triple-option. Taylor has two different reads on this play. First, Taylor must read the end man on the line of scrimmage. That defender pops out of his stance and shuffles across the line on this play, scooting too far inside to be able to defend Taylor to the outside, so Taylor keeps it. Next up, Taylor has to read the space defender. With the option to pitch the ball backwards to the wide receiver, Taylor bolts up field as soon as the defender gets too far outside with his leverage in order to defend the pitch. Taylor, being the athlete he is, finished this play for a 49 yard gain.
Buffalo’s ground game can and will do anything. They can run ‘power’, ‘counter’, option plays, dives, off-tackle, pitches- anything. The Rams’ stout defensive line is going to be tested. They have proven that they can slow down opposing rushing attacks this year, but none quite as efficient and multiple as Buffalo’s. If the linebackers get blown out off of their spots by Buffalo’s stampede of moving blockers, the Rams will lose the ground war.
The Bills have not been using rollout passing to the volume that they did last season, but it is still a key wrinkle in their offense and can be deadly if poorly accounted for by the Rams defense. Taylor is effective on the move and rolling out can provide easy throw to a shortened field.
Buffalo uses a ‘mesh’ concept to make this rollout work, using two skill players running across the field in opposite directions to help create separation for the player moving to the play side. The ‘mesh’ forces two unaware Patriots defenders to take each other out and allow for a wide open target for Taylor.
Of course, the two defenders are not going to crash into each other on every occasion. Rams defenders do need to be aware of the ‘mesh’, though, or else they will suffer the same fate as the Patriots did on this play. Plays like this have big potential for the offense if the defense is unsuspecting. Alec Ogletree, Mark Barron and Lamarcus Joyner generally command the middle of the field in coverage and it will be their responsibility to avoid disaster on plays like this.
The clear advantage that the Rams have is that they do not have to travel this week. The Bills have to fly across the country to play the Rams and, as silly as it may sound, it does have some sort of effect on players. Now, that is not to say that Buffalo will be entirely disjointed, but, at the least, they could have a slow start and find themselves behind early on.
This game may come down to how well the Rams can stop the run. According to DVOA, the Bills rushing offense and the Rams rushing defense both rank in the middle of the pack. The Rams have yet to see a ground game as varied, creative and dynamic as Buffalo’s. If the Rams can silence the Bills rushing attack, this game is theirs. In the event that the Bills get their running game going, this game could turn into a tight battle that is decided in the final minutes.