Share this article

print logo

Is Bills' run defense up to the task of containing Fournette?

The numbers simply don't add up for the Buffalo Bills in an area that could very well have the greatest impact on the outcome of their wild-card playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday.

The Jaguars had the NFL's No. 1 rushing attack in the regular season. It was led by standout rookie Leonard Fournette, who had 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns.

The Bills had the league's 29th-ranked run defense. That's only three clicks from the bottom.

So, the question was posed to Bills coach Sean McDermott: "What gives you the confidence that you can at least slow down Fournette in this game?"

"I’m confident in our guys," McDermott said. "I’m confident in our system and what we do, how we do things. The guys have put in a good week of practice ... I think fundamentally, we spend a lot of time on the proper fundamentals. Sometimes you see them come out as a result, sometimes you don’t, but we continue to work on those. That would be, overall, what I see right now."

Of course, he and the rest of the Bills see a couple of other things.

There's the Jaguars' mammoth offensive line consisting of 6-foot-6, 320-pound left tackle Cam Robinson; 6-4, 327-pound left guard Patrick Omameh; 6-6, 315-pound center Brandon Linder; 6-3, 325-pound right guard A.J. Cann, and 6-6, 326-pound right tackle Jermey Parnell.

And there's Fournette, all 6-0 and 228 pounds of thickly muscled athlete who has an amazing combination of power and speed. The Jaguars are getting precisely what they expected when they made the former LSU standout the fourth overall pick of last April's draft.

"You see speed, balance, power, elusiveness," defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. "He's the total package."

"He definitely does a great job of hiding behind (his blockers), hiding behind them, then he's bursting," linebacker Preston Brown said. "When he gets bursting, he's hard to stop. He gets behind his pads, stiff-arming, does a great spin move. And he's got speed to take it 90 yards, which was his longest run. Since he's been in the offense, you can see the whole boost. They're scoring a lot more points, first (in) rushing, and that's what (coach Doug) Marrone wants to do being an O-line guy. He wants to run the ball all day, and (Fournette) makes them great at it."

None of that should make any opponent feel comfortable. It should be particularly daunting to the Bills, who have been trampled by quality backs multiple times this year.

McDermott's faith that his front seven can elevate its performance is shared by his players, perhaps because it's all they have at this point. The Bills aren't bringing in new linemen or linebackers. They aren't making any radical changes to their base scheme.

They are what they are, and can only hope that performing better is good enough to prevent the Jaguars' offensive line and Fournette from taking and keeping control of the game.

"I think it's everybody doing their job," Williams said. "We've had breakdowns. It's kind of everybody took your turn. It's a breakdown here, a breakdown there that's resulted in some big runs.

"It's going to come down to everybody doing their job, being where you're supposed to be. Everything's not going to work out perfectly, but when they break down, surviving it. Everybody getting to the ball and putting them back in the huddle."

The general rule with trying to bring down a back as large and powerful as Fournette in the open field is to hit him low, because he can more easily shake off high hits. That's much easier said than done.

If the Bills are going to have any chance of even slowing him down, they must constantly have numerous defenders making a collective effort to do so.

"It's all about gang tackling, because (the coaches) always tell you to 'gator-tackle him, go low and hold legs,'" said Brown, who led the NFL in the regular season with 144 tackles. "But he gets out of those leg tackles a lot. He keeps those legs running. He's got those big, ol' quads like Emmitt Smith. He's running through stuff.

"So sometimes you've got to hold him up and wait for the cavalry to come. Hopefully, somebody's coming, but sometimes it feels like it's just you and him and the whole world, and you're like, 'Alright, where's everybody at?' But with the defense and everybody swarming to the ball, we should be alright."

Forcing Bortles into mistakes likely Bills' best path to victory

There are no comments - be the first to comment