After drawing four neutral-zone infractions in last Sunday’s loss against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Buffalo Bills’ defensive linemen have spent the week working on a fundamental change to what to take as their cue to get off the line as quickly as possible.
No longer are they going to key on the movement of the ball. Instead, they will focus on the movement of the man in front of them.
“I made the adjustment during the” Philadelphia game, said end Jerry Hughes, who was twice called for neutral-zone infractions against the Eagles. “After my two offsides, I made that adjustment. And that’s going to have to be an in-game adjustment where, if you feel like your guy is getting off the ball early or if he has an unfair advantage with the snap count being late, you’re going to have to start keying your man.
“We’ve been working on that in practice and things like that so we can kind of be more in tune to it – so that we know, if the ball’s misguiding us in a sense, then you’ve kind have got to go off your man now. Whenever his body moves, I’m going to move.”
All four of the Bills’ neutral-zone penalties at Philadelphia (the other two were on end Mario Williams and tackle Marcell Dareus) came in third-and-long situations. The Eagles, who benefited greatly from the 15 total fouls called on the Bills, were able to convert two of the third downs from the shorter distances. Two plays after the fourth neutral-zone infraction call, they kicked a field goal.
Hughes fully expects Sunday’s opponent, the Washington Redskins, to do everything they can to try draw the Bills’ defensive line into more neutral-zone penalties. Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins is known to be particularly effective with using hard counts to get defenders to jump prematurely.
“I’m sure with the film of us jumping offsides, the way we did on third down, they’re going to use that,” Hughes said. “So we’ve got to be smart. We’ve got to know that, on third down, you have to be alert for hard count, especially on third-and-long. So that way, if we can kind of keep them in those third-and-long situations, it’ll be conducive for us.”
But playing on the road makes defensive linemen more susceptible to being drawn offside because the crowd is quieter when the home offense is on the field and the quarterback’s cadence is easier to hear.
“You’re always looking for an edge, especially at home,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said during a conference call with reporters covering the Bills. “You can utilize your snap count a heck of a lot more effectively than you can on the road. Philadelphia was at home last week and they were able to utilize their snap count. Had that game been at Buffalo, with the crowd noise, I doubt that it would have been as effective. But it’s something we try to utilize.
“We got burnt at Carolina” earlier this season, “when we had three or four defensive offsides. Cam Newton got us. So as a defensive coach, as a head coach, you’re always telling guys to watch the ball. But as an offensive coach, you’re telling your guys to try to utilize the snap count. It’ll slow the rush down or, if you get a free five, great. We have to make sure we do that in a positive way.”
Cousins isn’t counting on Buffalo’s defensive front to be as vulnerable to hard counts or the center’s legal pre-snap movement of the ball as it was last Sunday.
But he does plan to do his best to get at least one “free five.”
“They’re going to come in having understood what happened last week; I think they’ll be well prepared to be disciplined in that area,” Cousins said in a conference call. “But at the same time, the snap count should always be viewed as a weapon for the offense. If it’s not giving you an upper hand or an advantage, then you’re probably not utilizing it properly. As a quarterback, you’ve got to take pride in the snap count and take ownership of it and use it to your advantage.
“But I expect the Bills, off of last week, to be very ready for whatever could be thrown at them.”
Tight end Charles Clay (back), linebacker Nigel Bradham (ankle), offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson (illness), cornerback Ron Brooks (concussion/neck), and safety Aaron Williams (neck) are listed as out for Sunday.
Running back Karlos Williams (shoulder), defensive end Mario Williams (illness), and safety Bacarri Rambo (knee) are questionable. Offensive guard John Miller (ankle), fullback Jerome Felton (back), linebacker Preston Brown (hamstring), and wide receiver Robert Woods (hip) are probable.
Although Mario Williams had his first practice of the week only Friday, Rex Ryan said he expected him to play.
On whether he envisioned Aaron Williams being able to play in either of the final two regular-season games, Ryan said, “Still not sure on that. I like the fact that he’s out here practicing, he’s moving well. But it’s the contact. It’s hard to say, ‘Oh, absolutely,’ and things like that, because right now, he’s not ready for contact.”
Although the Bills’ playoff hopes are remote, Rambo sounded particularly motivated to push through his sore knee and play Sunday.
“You just have to dig deep down inside, man,” he said. “How bad you want it? I really want it and” the injured knee “is not something that’s going to keep me out on Sunday, so I just have to fight through it and I’m going to do it for my teammates because I know they’d do the same for me.”