The bumps and bruises from a hard day at the NFL office feel a lot better after a victory.
Tight end Jason Croom was feeling it Monday after the Buffalo Bills pounded the New York Jets, 41-10.
“I’m pretty sore,” Croom said. “It’s all worth it when you go out there and win. We always preach giving our all and being able to make plays without the ball.”
Croom did a lot of dirty work in the game. The Bills ran the ball 46 times for 212 yards, and the second-year tight end did plenty of quality blocking.
Specifically, Croom was asked to block the back-side edge defender on a lot of inside zone running plays.
It’s one of the bread-and-butter plays of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s attack.
The tight end lines up as a wing or H-back in a three-man bunch on one side of the formation. At the snap, the tight end comes underneath the offensive linemen to the other side and takes care of the unblocked defensive end or outside linebacker.
The Bills ran that action 15 times in the game, and on 12 of them Croom was the blocker who prevented the backside defender from “crashing down” and making a play on the running back.
(An example of the play, and note the good block Wyatt Teller, No. 75, gets at the point of attack:)
The Bills rushed for 85 yards on those 12 plays, including LeSean McCoy’s 28-yard touchdown on the second play from scrimmage.
The Bills’ offensive linemen deserved most of the blocking credit for the rushing success. You can block the back-side pursuit all day long but if the linemen on the front-side of the play don’t win the line of scrimmage, the play isn’t going anywhere.
Nevertheless, the back-side block is essential, and it sets up an entire series of plays in the offense.
“The challenge is you don’t how the defenders’ going to play it,” Croom said of his block. “You’ve got to take a different route going towards him and you have to adjust on the fly. That’s the only challenge about it. It’s really just to make sure that backside defender doesn’t make the play. You’re going against elite players every week. You’ve got athletic D-ends, long D-ends, who come off the edge and are able to squeeze down and make that backside play. You don’t know where the ball will end up. It’s appointed to go one way but it might go the other way.”
Let’s say the run is to the right. The running back’s landmark generally is the inside leg or the butt of the right guard. The runner can then bend the run back behind the center or left side of the line if the defense is flowing too far to the play side.
The tight end has to give up his body. McCoy had a 23-yard run on the play in the second quarter in which he made a spin move to elude a blitzing safety. Edge defender Jordan Jenkins (No. 48) stormed into the backfield from the back side and knocked Croom flat. But Croom prevented Jenkins from making a tackle.
“Like I said, they all play it different,” Croom said. “Forty-eight got it in his mind he was going to come hard and blow the play up. At the end of the day, you have to make sure your man doesn’t make the play. It ended up working out very well for us and Shady turned it into a big play.”
Lining up with the tight end in a cluster gives the defense the impression that a power run or outside zone run could be coming that direction. The linebackers have to respect it, maybe inch in that direction. The linemen can push in that direction and create a seam or create a good cutback lane for the runner.
Bringing the tight end to the back side enables the offense to pick off the weak-side end without lining someone up over there.
Then the Bills can run a play-action fake off it, and the tight end’s underneath cut further sells the run. Or they can fake the outside zone run, bootleg and throw to the tight end coming across. Or they can run a reverse to a wideout and have the tight end ignore the back-side end and lead the blocking on the second level. (The wideout on the reverse is going so fast he can usually avoid the unblocked back-side end.)
Another thing the Bills have done, which is a page out of the Patriots play book, is have the tight end come underneath and “wham” an unblocked defensive tackle for a run up the middle. New England does it expertly with tight end Rob Gronkowski.
It’s all part of Croom’s education in what is his first year on the NFL field. He was a practice-squad player last year. At 6-foot-5, 246 pounds, Croom essentially is a big wideout. He had 13 catches this season while playing 34 percent of the offensive snaps.
His blocking is improving.
“It’s going good; obviously I did a lot this past week,” Croom said. “But I feel it’s gotten a lot better. I’ve been working on it every day.”