Brent Cohen, on Twitter @EaglesRewind
Patrick Causey, on Twitter @pcausey3
The Eagles are playing the Buffalo Bills at home this Sunday at a critical juncture of the season. At 5-7, the Eagles are tied for first place in the NFC East, and a win will certainly go a long way towards improving their chances of winning the division.
Without further ado, here is a scouting report on the Buffalo Bills. Brent broke down the key numbers, while I broke down the tape of the last three Bills’ games. Here is everything you need to know.
By the Numbers
– 538 has the Eagles as 55% favorites, while Vegas has the game as a toss-up. I think that’s a dead-on assessment. However, the Bills have been much more consistent, with just one loss by more than eight points. The Eagles, meanwhile, have been among the most inconsistent teams in the league (29th by DVOA variance). So…everything is on the table here. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but the Eagles have become just about impossible to predict.
– Eagles rank 29th in DVOA against opposing #1 WRs, by far the weakest link. Facing Sammy Watkins, that might be a big deal. I’m not sure how often they move Watkins around, but the coverage plan for him is going to be really important. Clay, the TE, is a good receiver as well, but he’s questionable heading into the game, and beyond that there aren’t any other real threats in the passing game.
– McCoy is obviously going to be a handful. The Eagles rush defense has fallen to 20th by DVOA, and is allowing 4.3 yards per carry. Kendricks will be a key man to watch (not that he isn’t always). Alonso/Ryans simply don’t have the speed to contain Shady at full explosiveness. The Birds were gashed against the Bucs, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about McCoy doing even more damage. The performance against the Patriots was nice, but their rush offense is just OK (and without Gronk/Edelman it’s a lot easier to commit to the run).
– Tyrod Taylor, for those who haven’t watched, is having a hell of a year. His mobility can be tough to handle (31.8 rushing yards per game), but he also takes too many sacks (8.4%), providing some opportunity for the defense to force long yardages. He has yet to record a passer rating below 75 for a game, and is throwing INTs at a rate of just 1.5% per game.
– The Eagles have the best punt return unit in the league. As we saw last week, it only takes one big return to have a massive impact on the game.
– The Eagles rank dead last in opponent touchback rate (72+%). There’s obviously nothing they can do about that, but it’s worth noting. The league-wide median is just over 56%, so we’re talking about a huge difference. With a little mean-reversion, the kick return game might get a few more shots as well.
– With Taylor starting, the Bills are 5-4. However, those 4 losses? 2 against New England, 1 against Kansas City, and one against the Giants. The Bills aren’t a great team, but they seem like a good one, at least by this season’s standards. The Eagles haven’t shown themselves to be anything but mediocre thus far, but back-to-back wins against the Pats and Bills would rightfully change the narrative a bit.
Inside the Film
I watched the last three games the Bills played: against the Patriots (loss), Chiefs (loss), and Texans (win). Here are my general thoughts on the offense, defense and special teams.
– Greg Roman runs arguably the most complex running scheme in the NFL. Here is a good write up on Roman’s offense, courtesy of CBS Sports.com. Boiled down: Roman marries inside and outside zone running concepts with more traditional power runs. I even saw a handful of wildcat plays called (especially in the red zone). In other words, they do almost everything.
– It should come as no surprise that McCoy, not Taylor, is the engine that makes this offense go. After a slow start to the season due to a nagging hamstring injury, McCoy is starting to look like one of the best running backs in the league again. Watch how he turns this inside zone run which should have been a tackle for a loss into a huge gain:
– The run I saw the most was the outside zone run, where Taylor has the option to keep it himself or let McCoy use his explosive speed to get to the edge. They run it to great effectiveness, and it puts the defense in a bind given Taylor’s running ability.
– But Roman uses a lot of misdirection, screens, and even trick plays built off the run game. Expect to see a lot of tight end and running back screens off of the playaction, where the Bills show run to one side of the field, just to go with a screen in the other direction.
– Roman is not afraid to use Taylor in the run game, and will even call what some consider to be “college plays”:
– Big picture: the Bills offense is at its best when it uses the run to set up the pass. In a lot of ways, they are similar to the offense Roman ran in San Francisco with Colin Kaepernick. The run game is the key, and getting McCoy going will be critical for the Bills, especially with Karlos Williams out with a shoulder injury.
– To drive that point home further, on the opening drive against the Texans, the Bills called 6 runs to 1 pass. The pass was the last play call, which was a perfectly thrown fade route to Sammy Watkins in the end zone. McCoy led the way, while Taylor created with his legs as well. That is a vintage Bills drive.
– Speaking of Taylor: he is not a rushing quarterback that can throw. And while he isn’t running an advanced passing game, he is a true duel threat. He is an accurate passer that can navigate the pocket well and tries to give his receivers time to make plays down the field.
– But as Brent pointed out, Taylor has a high sack rate. This is the downside to Taylor always trying to extend plays. He will often hold onto the ball too long, leading to sacks.
– As well as Taylor played, he is not a QB that should be throwing the ball 35+ times a game. Don’t expect to see advanced passing schemes during this game. What Roman does best is simplifying the passing game, much like he did in San Francisco for Kaepernick, to put Taylor in the best position to succeed. Taylor is at his best when he is throwing deep off of play action. The Bills will set up the deep threat by pounding the run game repeatedly, and then going over the top to Sammy Watkins. Taylor has one of the best deep balls in the game right now. There is simply no covering this:
– The Eagles had a very good gameplan against Cam Newton, forcing three interceptions. Part of that was mixing up coverages and getting good pressure on Newton, confusing him and forcing him to make careless mistakes with the football. I expect a similar plan against Taylor. The Texans dropped two easy interceptions when Taylor was under pressure: the first resulted from Taylor throwing off his back foot, the other time Taylor failed to see a linebacker sitting in zone coverage.
– But here is the scary thing: Taylor ranks as the 5th best passer under pressure per PFF.com, completing 55.8% of his passes (which ranks 6th overall), throwing 4 touchdowns to just 1 interception. Obviously, context is key with these numbers, as the aforementioned 2 interceptions that were dropped by the Texans would change his ranking. But it still shows how highly he is playing: his area of weakness still grades out favorably against the rest of the league.
– If I were to rank my areas of concern, it would be LeSean McCoy first, followed by Sammy Watkins second. Watkins is Taylor’s favorite deep threat, and he uses his good route running, hands and great speed to make plays down the field. I don’t like Maxwell against Watkins in this matchup: he is just too slow to keep up with him. The Eagles are going to need to give Maxwell a lot of help over the top, or Watkins could have a big game. And the scary thing? Even when Watkins is covered, he still makes plays. The more I saw of him, the more concerned I became.
-Ever since Jordan Hicks went down with an injury, the Eagles have struggled covering running backs catching passes out of the backfield. McCoy could really give them fits in this game:
– One final thought: the Bills were able to do something virtually no one does: shut down J.J. Watt. He had 2 tackles, 0 sacks, 0 quarterback hits, and 0 pressures. I had to look for him throughout the game just to make sure he was playing. They made Watt a focus: double teaming him, using fullbacks to help chip block him, and most noticeably, running runs to the opposite side of the field from Watt to negate him entirely. As Vic Carruci pointed out for Birds 24/7, the Bills plan to employ a similar game plan against Fletcher Cox. While Cox is playing at an extremely high level, it will still be important for Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton to have big games.
– The first thing to know about a Rex Ryan defense is that he likes to bring pressure often. He long down and distances, but he is not afraid to send the house on first down either. The Bills do a good job of mixing up their blitzing concepts and disguising their blitzes.
– The biggest concern I have here is that Bradford is not able to audible from a play depending on what he sees. The offensive line is going to need to play well, Bradford is going to need to make quick and decisive reads, and Kelly is going to need to incorporate a lot of check down/short routes into the passing game to respond to the pressure.
– The matchup I like the most in this game is Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews over the middle. Alex Smith, Tom Brady and especially Bryan Hoyer used the short passing game over the middle to dink and dunk their way down the field against the Bills defense. Bradford has shown a tendency to attack defenses in similar fashion. And the Bills defense were beaten repeatedly with crossing patterns and curl routes. Expect the Eagles to attack the middle of the field in this game.
– Another advantage the Eagles theoretically could have is in the deep passing game, especially targeting rookie cornerback Ronald Darby out of Florida State. I know that Darby is getting a lot of press as a potential defensive rookie of the year candidate, but I saw him get beat repeatedly by Sammy Watkins, Jeremy Maclin, and Travis Kelce. Against the Chiefs, he gave up two touchdowns on deep throws — one to Maclin and one to Kelce — and almost gave up a third but Alex Smith overthrew an open receiver.
– I said theoretically though because until this point, the Eagles do not have an outside deep threat. Perhaps Huff or Agholor finally step up today and allow the Eagles to attack deep. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.
– The Bills are not stout against the run, and have been especially vulnerable to runs up the middle. If there was ever a game for Murray to step up big, this is it. They also had a tendency to wear down as the game progressed. Against the Texans, the running back started to get five yards down the field before first contact in the fourth quarter.
– But the Bills are good at shutting down slow developing outside zone/stretch runs. The Bills have a lot of team speed and swarm to the ball. Most of the time I saw that play run, the Bills shut it down. Kelly will call the outside zone run regardless, but he should only use Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner on that play. Murray is just not quick enough or decisive enough to get to the edge for that play to be effective against this Bills team.
– The Bills have an impressive front four with Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes, Marcell Dareus, and Corbin Bryant. The first three get most of the publicity, but Bryant (#97) really popped on the tape with good penetration and pressure. The interior of the Eagles offensive line is going to have their hands full with him.