Play-action pass success is one area the Buffalo Bills might try to target as they search for ways to improve their anemic aerial game the second half of the season.
The New England Patriots are an ideal example.
Tom Brady was superb, as usual, in the play-action pass game in New England’s 25-6 victory Monday night.
Brady was 9 of 12 for 123 yards and was sacked once on play-action fakes. It’s hard to stop Brady’s play-action game. The Bills’ linebackers naturally took a step up upon seeing the run fake, and the Pats often pulled a guard to sell the run even more. That opens up a window for Brady. It happened on a 29-yard crossing pattern to Chris Hogan, an 18-yard cross to Julian Edelman and an 11-yard cross to Rob Gronkowski, all in the second quarter.
Bills quarterback Derek Anderson, meanwhile, ran five play-action fakes and was 1 of 3 with a sack and a penalty. The completion was on the 40-yard pass to Kelvin Benjamin. Of course, second- and third-and-long situations are not conducive to play-action.
Another caveat: The Patriots obviously have a giant personnel edge over the Bills. Their passing numbers are going to be better than Buffalo’s any way you break them down.
This isn’t to suggest that Brian Daboll’s play-calling is high on the list of Bills offensive problems. Bill Walsh and Sid Gilman together would have a hard time squeezing production out of this outfit.
Daboll did show creativity by running Wildcat plays. It was a good wrinkle. But production requires execution.
Take the unsuccessful third-and-8 draw play to LeSean McCoy in the second quarter – probably an unpopular call with fans. On 24 third-downs from 7, 8 or 9 yards this year, the Bills had not run the draw once. Maybe Daboll was thinking: Change it up. Furthermore, McCoy might have had a running lane if guard Vlad Ducasse hadn’t been beaten cleanly by Deatrich Wise.
Nevertheless, for an offense struggling for any answers, more play-action is an option moving forward.
Here are the position-by-position grades for the Bills, based on video review and on a scale of 1 to 10:
Quarterback (1.5): Anderson passed for 290 yards, but he had 154 through three quarters before the Pats defense started defending the clock. There is some hope. He hit Zay Jones on some hot routes against the blitz. Chris Ivory had a drop early in the third quarter (Anderson had Charles Clay wide open on the play, too). Anderson dropped a snap when the Bills had called a deep shot. Early in the fourth quarter, Anderson made the wrong read on a third-and-3 play, throwing for Clay and nearly getting intercepted instead of targeting Jones. Pats safety Devin McCourty was playing a robber technique from a two-deep look on the interception return.
Running back (1.0): The Pats are hard to run against. In the first half, they played a 50 front with five men on the line and the beefy DTs clogging the middle. The Bills ran nine times for 22 yards vs. the 50 front. The way to attack it is either to go wide (not easy) or, preferably, to throw. In the second half, the Pats played mostly 40 fronts with four D-linemen. The Bills ran nine times for 25 yards vs. 40 fronts and did a little better between the tackles. On the first play of the second drive, McCoy wasn’t patient, cutting back instead of waiting for the line’s surge to develop. Otherwise he didn’t have much room. Marcus Murphy missed a pick-up assignment on the last sack.
Receivers (1.0): The wideouts needed to win more one on one, particularly Benjamin. Zay Jones had six catches and played fast. Charles Clay is not a big target in the middle of the field. Logan Thomas got blown up by Trey Flowers on a minus-5 run. Flowers was great.
Offensive line (2.0): The pass protection wasn’t awful vs. a good pressure team. The Pats blitzed 15 times (35 percent), the most of any Bills foe this year. But the Bills pass game couldn’t take advantage. Anderson was 7 of 12 for 67 yards (a poor 5.58 per attempt) vs. the blitz, with a long of 14 yards. Dion Dawkins took a faulty drop step and did an ole vs. Kyle Van Noy on the sack-fumble play. Russell Bodine held up OK vs. tough nose tackles. Again, it all comes back to an inability to back teams off with the pass.
Defensive line (3.5): Jerry Hughes had two hits on Tom Brady and two hurries. Kyle Williams was superb, with a hit and two hurries. He played stout vs. Joe Thuney. With Trent Murphy out, Lorenzo Alexander played 39 of his 58 snaps as a defensive end or edge lineman and was brilliant. He had two sacks and two hurries and defeated Gronkowski blocks numerous times.
Linebackers (3.5): Matt Milano rebounded from a sub-par showing in Indianapolis with a great game. He did a good job chucking Gronkowski, including on the touchdown-saving near-interception on the goal line. Tremaine Edmunds played a good first half, even though he got manipulated some in zone coverage by Brady. Julian Stanford played 32 snaps and was solid. Gronkowski did get the Bills on the 22-yard run by Cordarrelle Patterson. He defeated Shaq Lawson at the point of attack and blocked Milano on the second level. No other elite tight end in the NFL blocks like that.
Defensive backs (3.5): Tre White did a good job while guarding Josh Gordon a lot. The secondary teamwork was superb in the red zone.
Special teams (3.5): Stephen Hauschka made two tough kicks. Micah Hyde returned a punt 31 yards, with the help of good jamming (Ryan Lewis, Lafayette Pitts). Corey Bojorquez got away with muffing a punt snap.