Inside One Bills Drive, the notion that the New England Patriots might have provided the rest of the NFL with some sort of blueprint for taming Buffalo’s pass rush is considered laughable.
“Blueprint?” defensive lineman Corbin Bryant said Wednesday with a chuckle about future Bills opponents using mostly a spread offense with an empty backfield and having the quarterback throw as frequently and quickly as Tom Brady did in New England’s 40-32 victory Sunday. “I don’t think that statement is valid.”
At first, Rex Ryan sounded as if he agreed with the whole blueprint premise, but that was only to allow him to add, with all of the sarcasm he could muster, “Gosh, I don’t know if we’ll have an answer.”
Rest assured the Bills’ coach isn’t the least bit worried about seeing more of what the Patriots showed and is even less concerned that his defense will generate only two sacks while being scorched for anything approaching 466 yards and three touchdowns through the air.
“Let’s see if we have this conversation at the end of the year,” Ryan said with a stern expression. “Because I know the conversation we’ll have at the end of the year and it’s going be far different than it is now. So I’m confident of that and I believe it’ll start this week.”
This week the Bills travel to South Florida to face the Miami Dolphins. Last season, when Ryan coached the New York Jets, the Bills’ defense managed to sack Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill nine times in splitting the regular-season series. Five came in a November trip to Miami, although the Bills still suffered a 22-9 loss.
The Dolphins are capable of doing what the Patriots did to help minimize the impact of defensive ends Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes and tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. They’ve done it before and will likely show some of it Sunday.
“There are some things that we have in our offense that are similar to that, and there will be times where we’re going to try and block them up and push the ball downfield,” Tannehill said during a conference call with media covering the Bills. “We go into every week with a balance of quick-timing throws that we try to get out of the QB’s hands fast and down-the-field throws that we bring in a little more protection.”
But to say the Dolphins will follow the exact Patriot blueprint is a stretch, mainly because they don’t have Brady, with his elevated skill and knowledge. They also don’t have pass-catchers – such as wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, and tight end Rob Gronkowski – that excel at getting open and making catches near the sidelines and down the seam in the rapid-fire approach Brady used for the majority of 59 attempts.
“People may try to simulate that, but you’re not going against the same talent,” former Pittsburgh Steelers coach and CBS NFL analyst Bill Cowher said. “I think I would be more encouraged than discouraged if I’m Buffalo. Number one, you’re not going to be playing a team that has Tom Brady and all the weapons they have on that offensive side of the ball every week. And, two, what they were able to do with that offense, they’ll be able to come back and put up a lot of points on the offensive side.”
Nearly two weeks ago, in fact, the Indianapolis Colts occasionally tried to use a quick-passing attack against the Bills. On the way to a 27-14 loss, they discovered that Andrew Luck is no Brady and that while he might have some game-breakers in his arsenal, the Colts’ quarterback doesn’t have the sort of weapons that Brady has surrounding him.
“It sounds simple and everyone says it’s a blueprint now for how to beat the Bills,” said former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon, who served as an analyst for CBS’ television coverage of the Bills-Patriots game. “It’s not, because you’ve got a quarterback that’s like a coach out on the field. They’ve got a quarterback they went up against who’s a Hall-of-Famer, who’s one of the most accurate in football, who’s a Ph.D. when it comes to getting them into all of the different protections, adjustments and hand signals and dealing with the crowd noise.
“So you’ve got to factor all of that into the discussion. Not everybody’s going to walk into Buffalo and be able to do what the Patriots did to them. That’s just not going to happen. I think the Bills, on defense, they’re going to be just fine. I think, when it’s all said and done, they’re going to be a top-five defense, they’re going to have a lot of sacks, they’re going to be a really good defense.”
It just didn’t look that way last Sunday.
The average release of Brady’s throws took 1.97 seconds. At that pace, even the greatest of pass-rushers would find it nearly impossible to get to him before the ball leaves his hand. Dareus certainly did.
“That’s hard as hell,” he said. “Fast as I’ve ever played against.”
But that doesn’t mean you stop trying to get to the quarterback.
“You’ve got to keep coming,” Dareus said. “You can’t get flustered … Even if they get rid of the ball fast, you’ve still got to keep going because the next play, you might get a chance to get through there.”
The goal of an offense that has four or five receivers running patterns while working without a huddle is to force the opponent out of its base defense and into prolonged sub packages, with either nickel (five defensive backs) or dime (six DBs) coverage, because there is no time to switch personnel.
“And then it really creates a situation where you have to match up,” Gannon said. “So who’s going to cover Gronk? Who’s going to cover Edelman? Who’s going to cover Dion Lewis out of the backfield? And the thing that the Patriots did a nice job of is you saw at times” Nigel “Bradham or” Preston “Brown or one of the linebackers covering Gronk or one of those guys covering Dion Lewis. That’s not an ideal situation, that’s not really what Rex would want. This game is all about matchups, and they got exposed some just in terms of their ability to match up across the board.”
Said Cowher, “The biggest thing is just the communication. The Patriots were very quick, so I think the most important thing is that you communicate, that you don’t – as Pittsburgh did the week before – give them free plays where no one’s even lined up on certain people. And then you have to be patient and tackle well.”
Solomon Wilcots, a former NFL defensive back who was CBS’ TV analyst for the Bills-Colts game and who will also be on the call for Sunday’s game, cautions that Buffalo’s defense could be in store for more challenging matchups against the Dolphins with talented receivers in Jarvis Landry and newcomers DeVante Parker, Greg Jennings, Kenny Stills, and tight end Jordan Cameron.
Tannehill does pose some problems with his ability to run as well as throw.
“I do see their quarterback being very good with the ball, great mobility to be able to buy time and extend plays if they roll out and do some of the bootleg stuff to kind of get your” defensive “guys running,” Wilcots said of Tannehill. “Because the one thing about a pass rush, you can tire guys out because it’s going to be hot. Was Dareus winded in his very first game last week? Probably a little bit. Mario didn’t appear to be really energetic and coming after the passer like I’ve seen him come.”
It’s entirely possible the Dolphins will employ a game plan that will do its share to cause the Bills’ defensive front to wilt in the South Florida heat and humidity, allowing Tannehill to find success.
But the clear message from inside One Bills Drive Wednesday was don’t count on it.
“Miami has some quick pass in them,” Bryant said. “They’re going to have that type of game plan for a team like us, but we had” five sacks in that November loss “as well. So it must not be as quick as what New England is.”
He then broke into a hearty laugh.