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  • Bills DT Oliver voted Pepsi NFL rookie of the week
    by Sean Murphy on December 6, 2019 at 9:00 pm

    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports The first-round pick had his first multi-sack game last week Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver, the team’s first selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, was voted Pepsi NFL rookie of the week for his performance against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. For the first time in his career, Oliver had two sacks in a game, taking down Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott twice in Buffalo’s 26-15 win. Oliver totaled four tackles, one four loss, one quarterback hit, one pass breakup, and one forced fumble to go with his two sacks in yet another solid performance following a mid-season benching. In Oliver’s first nine career games, he combined for one sack, 20 tackles, one tackle for loss, and four quarterback hits. The last of those games, a 19-16 loss against the Cleveland Browns, saw Oliver not register at all on the stats sheet, as he only played 23 of 69 defensive snaps in the game. Since then, Oliver has played like a man possessed. In the three games since, Oliver has four sacks, registering at least one in each game, with eight total tackles, three of which went for a loss. He also has three quarterback hits and a forced fumble. Oliver now has five sacks on the season, good for third on the Bills overall. He trails only Jordan Phillips (7) and Shaq Lawson (5.5) in sacks on the year.

  • Ty Nsekhe officially out for Bills vs. Ravens
    by Sean Murphy on December 6, 2019 at 8:59 pm

    Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports The co-starter at right tackle will miss another game due to an injured ankle When the Buffalo Bills kick off against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, the team will have an incredibly short injury report. Only right tackle Ty Nsekhe even appears on the list, but unfortunately, he is out for the game. Nsekhe injured his ankle on November 17 during Buffalo’s 37-20 victory over the Miami Dolphins. He was carted off the field, and the injury initially looked like a season-ending one; however, head coach Sean McDermott has remained optimistic that Nsekhe will be able to return at some point this year. Earlier in the week, guard Quinton Spain and running back T.J. Yeldon were both unable to practice due to illness, but both players returned to practice on Friday. Neither player appears on the injury report for the game. For the Ravens, only four players carry injury designations heading into the game: cornerback Marlon Humphery (thigh), wide receiver Seth Roberts (ankle), linebacker Patrick Onwuasor (ankle), and Marquise “Hollywood” Brown (ankle). All four players practiced on Friday, and all four players are listed as questionable.

  • Five Bills to watch against Baltimore
    by Sean Murphy on December 6, 2019 at 6:30 pm

    Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports This game is going to be HUGE The Buffalo Bills host the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday in a pivotal December game. You’d have to go back to the 2004 season finale for the last time the Bills have entered a game with nine wins against any opponent in the regular season, so this is some new territory for Buffalo. With Baltimore a consensus choice for the number-one team in football in most circles, the game will be a stiff challenge for the Bills. Coming off a big road victory against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, Buffalo will need to repeat the efficient performance of that game and then up it a few notches in order to come out with a win on Sunday. Baltimore defeated the San Francisco 49ers last week, handing that team just its second loss of the season. The Bills will need big-time performances from their big-time players this Sunday. Here are five who could swing the pendulum in Buffalo’s favor. QB Josh Allen Buffalo’s young, mobile quarterback has improved drastically as a passer since entering the NFL, and he’s even improved since the beginning of this season. After playing one of the best games of his young career against Dallas, he’ll need to continue the hot streak this week. It feels so long ago when Allen played “hero ball” against the New England Patriots, throwing three interceptions in a 16-10 loss back in September. Allen has calmed in the pocket, and he seems to be reading the field much more comfortably than he was earlier in the year. His accuracy, much maligned throughout most of the last two years (even dating back to his college days), has improved, and he completed 79% of his passes last week against Dallas. If Allen can continue to play turnover-free football while moving the chains, Buffalo has a great chance to come out with a huge win on Sunday. Avoiding turnovers and three-and-outs will not only help Buffalo to score, but it will also allow the Bills’ defense to rest—and it will keep electrifying Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson on the sidelines, as well. RB Devin Singletary Speaking of keeping Baltimore’s offense off the field, if the Bills can run the ball consistently, then they will be able to keep possession themselves. In order to run the ball consistently, Devin Singletary will need to continue his stellar play. The third-round draft choice has had a strong rookie year, totaling 553 rushing yards on just 98 carries so far. He actually overtook veteran Frank Gore in rushing yardage last week, as he now leads the Bills in rushing by exactly one yard. Singletary has averaged 17 carries and 81 yards per game over Buffalo’s last three contests, all victories. If he can find some holes against a Baltimore defense that allows 4.5 yards per carry, then the Bills will be in good shape offensively. WR John Brown Another week, another “revenge game” for a Buffalo receiver, though this one isn’t quite as contentious as last week’s edition. Cole Beasley was clearly angry at the Dallas Cowboys for letting him go, and he made them pay last week to the tune of six catches, 110 receiving yards, and one touchdown. Brown has had nothing but good things to say about his time in Baltimore, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt for him to have a big day against his old mates. After starting the season averaging six catches and 82 yards per game, Brown has only totaled five grabs for 65 yards and a touchdown over the last two weeks. As teams have taken him away, Beasley has thrived. This week, I imagine that Baltimore will look to limit Buffalo in the intermediate-middle area of the field, as that’s where they’ve had a ton of success over the last two weeks. This means that Brown could see some one-on-one coverage against the physical Marlon Humphery, who has been called for nine penalties this year. Against a similarly physical corner, New England's Stephon Gilmore, Brown had a solid day in Week 4, catching five passes for 69 yards. I expect that the Bills will look to feed Smoke the ball this week. LB Matt Milano Honorable mention here to fellow linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, as both guys will be incredibly important in containing Lamar Jackson. Since Edmunds is a bit bigger, the team will probably use him to match up against tight end Mark Andrews, perhaps with some help from the safeties, as well. Milano could find himself spying Jackson often, which is an incredibly difficult, if not impossible, task. Milano has had a great year, but he’ll need to be at his best against a team that has some big, physical blockers and some electric runners. Milano can struggle with shedding blocks at times, but he has done a great job when teams try to run to the outside. He will need to play assignment-sound football this week. S Jordan Poyer Poyer is Buffalo’s jack-of-all-trades in the back end. They love to use him to pressure quarterbacks, and he is equally adept at playing deep zone coverages and man-to-man defense, as well. His versatility will help the Bills to disguise their intentions pre-snap, as they can move Poyer around to show a variety of looks, but then switch him into something completely different. Poyer could be used as a deep safety, he could be used as a spy, he could be used to cover tight ends either in man or as a “robber,” and he could be used as a blitzer. If Jackson doesn’t account for Poyer, he could be the guy who forces a game-changing turnover.

  • Five Ravens to watch against Buffalo
    by Sean Murphy on December 6, 2019 at 6:29 pm

    Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports Slowing down Lamar Jackson will be the biggest factor in winning or losing for the Bills The Baltimore Ravens come to Orchard Park to face the Buffalo Bills as the hottest team in the NFL. Winners of eight straight games, they’ve knocked off the 10-2 Seattle Seahawks, the 10-2 New England Patriots, the 8-4 Houston Texans, the 7-5 Los Angeles Rams, and the 10-2 San Francisco 49ers in that span. Whereas many pundits question the legitimacy of Buffalo’s 9-3 record based on the weakness of the Bills’ schedule, nobody is questioning Baltimore’s success this season. The Ravens have consistently dismantled the league’s elite over the last two months, relying heavily on a devastating running game while also mixing in an explosive passing attack. Combine that with the league’s ninth-best defense in terms of yards allowed, and the Ravens appear to be the AFC’s new Super Bowl frontrunner. What will it take for the Bills to come out with arguably the team’s biggest win in at least two decades? For starters, the Bills will need to contain the players on this list. QB Lamar Jackson In the “no kidding” department, the Bills will need to stop Jackson, arguably the top candidate for Most Valuable Player in the league, if they stand any chance at winning on Sunday. Jackson has scored more touchdowns (32) than any player in the league this year, with 25 passing touchdowns and seven more via rushing. Additionally, he has only five interceptions, is completing 66.5% of his passes, and has 977 rushing yards—so it’s clear that Jackson is the top player in Baltimore’s offense. The 49ers were able to limit him through the air last week—he only completed 14-of-23 passes for 105 yards and one touchdown—but they had no answer for him as a runner, as he ran for 101 yards and a touchdown. That was his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season. Jackson is only 63 yards away from breaking Michael Vick’s record for rushing yardage in a season by a quarterback. If Buffalo can delay him from breaking that record, they’ll have a great chance at victory on Sunday. RB Mark Ingram Another important portion of Baltimore’s vaunted rushing attack, Ingram is a downhill monster, averaging five yards per carry this year. He has a total of 837 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, and he’s on pace to rush for 1,116 yards and 12 touchdowns, which would be a near mirror of his Pro Bowl effort in 2017 (he totaled 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns that year with the New Orleans Saints). His best game of that 2017 season was a 21-carry, 131-yard performance against the Bills where he scored three rushing touchdowns. The Bills lost 47-10. They can’t let Ingram run wild again this week; otherwise, they may face a similar fate. TE Mark Andrews Jackson’s favorite receiver isn’t Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, but is instead the big tight end Andrews. He leads the team in targets (79), receptions (53), receiving yards (693), and receiving touchdowns (7). Jackson loves to attack the middle of the field, especially up the seam, as teams try to play a cover-two zone against him with a middle spy. Andrews has done a great job fitting in the soft spots in the zone, and he is a tough match-up for anyone. He’s too big for most defensive backs, and he’s athletic enough to burn linebackers. Buffalo has some great defenders in the middle, players like Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Jordan Poyer, and Micah Hyde, all of whom will need to help in shutting Andrews down. G Marshall Yanda Who’s excited to watch some offensive line play?! It seems crazy to watch a guard, of all positions, on such an explosive offense, but he really is essential to what they do. Yanda is athletic enough to pull and clear space at the second level, but he’s also tough enough and strong enough to manhandle some of the league’s biggest and best defensive tackles by himself. If he can clear the middle of Buffalo’s pass rush to a side, it opens up huge running lanes for Jackson through the middle of the line. Buffalo’s interior defensive linemen have done a great job of late, but they’ll have a difficult match-up this week. CB Marlon Humphery The physical Humphery figures to be matched up against John Brown, his former teammate and Buffalo’s best receiver. Humphery is a strong, physical corner, and he’ll probably try to jam and disrupt Brown at the line of scrimmage. Officials have flagged Humphery for holding, illegal contact, or pass interference seven times this season, and with a player like Brown across from him, the likelihood that he’ll resort to holding increases. given Brown’s speed and elusiveness, the Bills would be wise to attack this match-up vertically this week. If Humphrey gives Brown a cushion, then quarterback Josh Allen could have some easy pitch-and-catch with his top target.

  • Opponent preview: ♪ How do you solve a problem like Lamar J.? ♪
    by Skarekrow on December 6, 2019 at 4:00 pm

    Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images If I can figure out a path to stop Lamar Jackson, the Bills’ coaching staff has a shot, right? Hoo boy. That Lamar Jackson guy sure has looked pretty good this year. There’s little question that the Buffalo Bills face the biggest test of the season this Sunday and because we like to bring interesting content to you, Matt Warren asked me to look at how teams have slowed down Lamar Jackson. Thanks a lot, Matt. Well since we’re very much against a phone call to Jeff Gillooly, it’s time to hit the film room...er, couch. Methodology It was tempting to just analyze the couple games Baltimore has lost, but one of those heavily featured turnovers. Those are hard to replicate in the best of times, and the Baltimore Ravens have been incredibly stingy giving up the ball. Instead, I used the drive-finder tool courtesy of Pro Football Reference and searched for drives of six plays or less that came to an end without a scoring opportunity. To take a look at that yourself, here’s the link to my exact query. With those 31 drives to look up, I set out to find some trends (notes included below). Play 1 There was no shortage of plays where Baltimore was bunched up like this. There’s a single receiver off screen to the bottom with one defender assigned there as well. The Miami Dolphins were successful here because they didn’t overcomplicate things on an obvious play call. Even with that, though, Miami had to play disciplined football to react to the play correctly. Buffalo has had troubles with gap integrity at times this year. Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier should make this a point of emphasis this week. Play 2 This play is selected because it’s drastically different than what most of the defensive stops used. The primary defense on the 31 drives where the defense stopped Baltimore in six plays or less were heavy in Cover-1 looks with stacked boxes to stop the run. Here on 2nd and 11, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ coaches have faith in their team’s ability to come back to the play to prevent a big gain and so used a more traditional look. A fair amount of successful defensive stops had a sack involved. Shocking, I know. Most of the sacks were what are called “coverage sacks,” in which the quarterback doesn’t have anyone open and runs out of time. Buffalo’s secondary stacks up well with any team in the league and will have a shot at creating some coverage sacks. Play 3 A lot of suggestions have included using a spy. Philosophically, a spy is nothing more than extending the idea of man coverage to the quarterback in addition to the skill positions. This is important because that helps open up the idea that a spy can be any defender on the field. While Cover-1 seemed to be the dominant starting look, many of the better defensive efforts used some deceit like this play. Looking more like a Cover-2 concept, one safety takes the role of spy and acts accordingly. Play 4 Like many successful plays against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, this one started as Cover-1. Most times this leaves the outside coverage man-on-man. Interestingly, despite me insisting on the claim that Cover-1 was incredibly common against the Ravens, I haven’t done a great job showing it. Let’s look at a couple stills. I don’t claim to be an expert on schemes, but Cover 1 is an easy look to identify. The circled player is the single “high” safety, in others words the deep man. The role is considered a zone concept usually, but very often can read and react to a wide variety of circumstances. The lack of back-end support can be a problem against a vertical offense. In the lineup above, the compressed nature of the Ravens’ offense telegraphs run so there’s no worry about that. That also allows the Cincinnati Bengals to stack the box. Along with a disciplined approach on this play, things went down here in favor of Cincinnati. The next play the Ravens spread out the offense more. Cincinnati still shows the single high safety but spreads out their players well. Regardless of team and many other factors, Cover-1 was the dominant look used to stop Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. Why is that? This chart from the NFL shows a distribution of passing attempts to various areas of the field for the Baltimore Ravens. There are three sets of information for each area of the field. These include the number of passes thrown, the completion percentage to that area, and the average gain. League rank is included next to each data point. Looking at what I circled then, the rankings are what I want to draw attention to. For passes to the deep left part of the field, the Ravens attempt the fewest in the league. Their average gain of 6.76 yards is near the bottom of the league and completion percentage ain’t much better. The number to the deep right are similar. Deep middle passes are intriguing as they attempt more passes to that part of the field than 28 other teams. The average gain there is mediocre, and Lamar Jackson’s completion percentage is slightly worse than mediocre. Add it all up and the Ravens have struggled to move the ball over the top of a defense. That allows teams to free up a back-end defender who is less likely to be needed that often. Summary Cover-1 isn’t some magic bullet that will stop the Ravens. It was a glaringly common component of successful defensive stops, though. The Bills will still need to be disciplined, maintain gap integrity, and mix things up to try and confuse Lamar Jackson. Shuffling some assignments on the back end, dialing up some fun blitzes, that sort of thing. On the plus side, the Bills do have the defensive backs to trust them on islands. There’s enough speed on the linebacker side of things to have some hope they’ll be able to shoot into gaps and shut down runs down. Sunday should be an interesting day as the Buffalo Bills take on one of the league’s best. More importantly there is some reason to believe that a win is possible. (As mentioned near the beginning of this post, here are my notes): Ravens notes.pdf

 

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