Everything becomes easier for your football team when you have one of or both of the following: 1. An elite quarterback. 2. Dominance on the line of scrimmage.
The Buffalo Bills did a lot of good defensive scheming Sunday in putting the Kansas City Chiefs' offense in a straightjacket.
Yet the 16-10 victory all started up front, where the Bills' front seven won the battle against the Chiefs' offensive line.
The Bills eliminated big runs. Kansas City's running backs had 12 carries. None went for 10 yards or more.
Compare it with the previous three games: The Bills gave up 24 10-plus runs to running backs; seven to the Chargers, 10 to the Saints and seven to the Jets.
On early downs, the Chiefs couldn't run or stretch the field. The Bills protected deep against super tight end Travis Kelce. The Chiefs seemed scared to expose their suspect pass protection and kept quarterback Alex Smith working quick-game throws.
That led to good news on third downs, where the Chiefs were just 2 of 13. On 12 of 13 of those plays the Chiefs faced third-and-6 or worse. Even Andy Reid doesn't have magic solutions on third and long.
Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier kept Smith off balance on third down. Here were the successful tactics on the first six third downs:
1. A delayed four-man rush in which Lorenzo Alexander faked a drop then crashed. Hurry. Punt.
2. Overload four-man zone blitz. Checkdown. Punt.
3. Slot corner blitz. Drop. Punt.
4. Four-man double-twist. Kyle Williams hurry. Punt.
5. Three-man rush. Scramble. Punt.
6. Straight four-man rush. Hurry by Alexander. Punt.
Here are the position-by-position grades of the Bills' upset win based on video review (on a scale of 1 to 5):
Defensive line (4.0): Defensive end Jerry Hughes abused Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher. Hughes hustled for a back-side tackle for loss on the Chiefs' first play. He whipped Fisher for a 5-yard TFL. He beat Fisher inside to create Cedric Thornton's sack. He whipped Fisher again for a 10-yard TFL in the third quarter. Hughes stayed home on the key, third-down Wildcat snap to Kelce, which forced a handoff that the Bills stuffed. And Hughes bulled Fisher on a three-man rush to force a throwaway on the second-last play. On the other side, Eddie Yarbrough played only 19 snaps but had two good edge sets and two hurries.
There's a big difference between the Chiefs' middle three and the Saints' O-line studs. Thornton and Adolphus Washington each played 21 snaps and held the line. Big Deandre Coleman played 14 and shut the back-side door on a fourth-quarter run. Kyle Williams had two hurries.
Linebackers (4.0): Preston Brown showed what he can do when he doesn’t have linemen getting quickly to the second level. Brown had nine tackles. It easily was his best showing in six weeks. Matt Milano showed his speed shooting the gap on two tackles for loss. Lorenzo Alexander had a coverage sack. (Smith held the ball for 7 seconds.) Alexander's best play was the bull-rush pressure, because it kept Smith from seeing an open Kelce 25 yards downfield. The Bills blitzed on 9 of 41 drop backs (21 percent), right about their season average.
Defensive backs (4.5): The Bills played nickel all game and effectively "Belichicked" Kelce (don't let the No. 1 weapon beat you). He was stuck in mostly bracket, double-coverage and had his second worst game of the season. Leonard Johnson got all 58 snaps, even on the 16 snaps KC used two TEs or two RBs. The Chiefs should have been able to run against nickel. But on 10 runs from "heavy" personnel, they got just 16 yards.
The Bills didn't jam the receivers much but an early jam by Tre White on Tyreek Hill forced an incompletion. The cornerbacks (White, Johnson and E.J. Gaines) did a great job tackling vs. the run and pass. Ditto for safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Especially after what happened in 2016, it's amazing how few coverage breakdowns occur in the secondary. Defensive backs never are pointing at each other in confusion after completions.
Offensive line (2.5): The run numbers were not pretty. LeSean McCoy went 22 for 49 (a 2.2-yard average). Yet the production was a little better than the numbers indicated. The Bills held the ball for 33:18.
When the Chiefs had eight or nine men in the box, the Bills carried nine times for 21 yards. Six went for 1 or 0 yards. You'd like to see the Bills audible out of the run and throw on those crowded fronts on occasion. That's what Tom Brady would do. That doesn’t seem to be part of the Bills' scheme at the moment.
Eric Wood and Dion Dawkins looked the best of the front five. Richie Incognito had about five superb run-blocking plays and five plays in which he missed blocks or was beaten. Seantrel Henderson saw 10 snaps as an extra tight end, and eight of them were productive plays.
Quarterback (2.5): It's not easy to grade Tyrod Taylor because of the Bills' limited receiving corps. With three receivers on the field, Taylor was 14 of 20 for 109 yards. It's not an explosive pass offense. Nevertheless, it was a winning performance for the QB. He protected the ball, kept some drives alive with 27 rushing yards and made some key throws. The biggest complaint is he threw low to Nick O'Leary on the late, 15-yard gain that could have been 30.
Running back (2.0): McCoy made the most of his running room. Travis Cadet is an upgrade as the No. 2 back.
Receiver (1.5): Zay Jones is making progress. The Bills need Kelvin Benjamin.
Special teams (5.0): Stephen Hauschka continued his brilliant season. Colton Schmidt netted 41.1 yards on seven punts, and his directional kicks to the sideline held dangerous Hill to just 2 punt return yards. Brandon Tate had 61 yards of punt returns. The blocking for Tate by jammers Lafayette Pitts and Johnson was outstanding. He had a lot of green in front of him.
Bills stars of the game: 1. Jerry Hughes. 2. Stephen Hauschka. 3. Preston Brown.