The Buffalo Bills pulled off a shocking upset last Sunday, knocking off the undefeated Atlanta Falcons and improving to 3-1 on the season. As good as quarterback Tyrod Taylor and running back LeSean McCoy are the team’s strength lies within their defense.
Buffalo has forced seven turnovers in four games this season, all seven coming during their three wins. They have not allowed a single team to score more than 17 points yet. In their week two loss to the Panthers they only allowed nine points to the Cam Newton led offense, keeping them out of the end zone all game.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had one of worst games in years against this defense. He posted a 61.8 passer rating, his worst rating since the Falcons week 5 matchup against the Washington Redskins way back in 2015 where he posted a 57.14 rating, and his worst in a loss since the 47.2 rating he put up against the Arizona Cardinals in 2013. The reigning NFL MVP was responsible for all three of Atlanta’s turnovers on the day and shutting him down was key to the Bills victory.
Both the Bills pass rush and pass defense were huge all game. Ryan had trouble all day finding open receivers downfield and the fierce Bills pass rush forced him to make many ill-advised throws.
On this play, Atlanta attempted to use a rub play to free a receiver out of the slot on the right side. Buffalo’s defenders do a great job taking angles to avoid each other and get to their receiver in man coverage. Ryan’s first read is the Falcons tight end and slot receiver on that side who both have defenders on them. The quarterback makes his next read on the other side of the field, but he has already run out of time as the four-man rush is already rounding his protection. There is only one receiver on the other side of the field who his being smothered by a defensive back. Ryan has to get the ball away, though, and just throws it over his head out of bounds and into safety.
Buffalo only rushed four on this play but their defensive line was still able to easily beat the Falcons protection. When they did send more rushers, though, they overwhelmed Ryan’s protection and even forced his most costly turnover of the day.
The Bills rush six and sent both linebackers through the strong side B-gap. Matt Milano (No. 58) almost gets through but his burst through the Falcons offensive line clears out room for linebacker Preston Brown (No. 52) who is coming up behind him. Meanwhile, both Lorenzo Alexander (No. 57) and Jerry Hughes (No. 55) have both beaten the tackle on the edges and close on Ryan. Alexander, Hughes and Brown all reach Ryan almost simultaneously and force the ball to be popped upfield for a fumble. TreDavious White (No. 27) picks up the ball and takes it the other way for a touchdown.
Upon further review, whether it was actually a forward pass on a fumble by the quarterback is not clear. The end result is all that matters though, and the Bills amazing pass rush earned them a crucial touchdown in a competitive game.
The Bills secondary made plays on their own even without the help of the pass rush at times. They forced errors out of Ryan with their discipline and not allowing any Falcons receivers to get beyond them.
On this play, the Falcons are backed up within their own five-yard line. They try to catch the Bills off guard and run a play action into a deep pass to Julio Jones. This is a dangerous play, as a sack or holding call in the end zone leads to a safety, but it can also quickly change the entire game in the Falcons favor. The Bills initially bite but are quick to get back into coverage. Jones runs a vertical route and gets trapped in a double team. Ryan has a clean pocket, but his primary receiver is removed from the play. He has another receiver wide open in the flat but is forced to rid of the ball fast not wanting to risk dealing with the oncoming rush and overthrows for an incompletion.
The Falcons quarterback’s first interception of the day came on a play where there was no pass rush.
On this play, Atlanta rushed 4 and dropped 7 into zone coverage. Their linebackers show amazing discipline not biting on the play action and quickly getting back into their zones when they realize it is a pass play. Buffalo’s linebackers cover up all of the shallower options for Ryan, but he does see a man in single coverage deep. He lets it fly deep towards Taylor Gabriel, but Micah Hyde makes a great play to undercut him for an interception.
Ryan should have thrown a better pass, but you cannot fault him for going deep here. None of his receivers could gain any separation and he had been harassed by the Bills pass rush all game by this point. The clock in his head was running out of time so he threw the safest pass possible to the receiver with a best chance to make a play on the ball. Hyde makes an athletic play to snag it away, though, and the Bills managed to extend their lead from 4 to 7 on the ensuing possesion.
Late in the game, the Falcons offense went into a panic mode despite having enough time to tie a one possession game. His second interception of the day came on a pass affected by the rush.
The Bills were in cover-2 man against a five receiver set from Atlanta. They rushed four and yet again got to Ryan’s blindside with ease. Hughes gets to Ryan as he throws and forces him to throw to far in front of his receiver. Nick Williams has a step on his man over the middle and this should have been a huge completion for the Falcons to get a potential game tying drive on the move. He has to dive to get it though and ends up tipping it into the air to Hyde for his second interception of the game.
Buffalo’s secondary held the Falcons pass attack in check all game. Obviously, both Julio Jones and Muhammad Sanu leaving the game with injuries helped them out a lot but they got the job done. Ryan was forced to through to shorter underneath routes throughout the game and rarely connected on deep passes. Last years MVP only completed 24 of his 42 attempts of the day, for an underwhelming 242 yards in a losing effort.
The Bills were not supposed to be a very good team entering 2017. They made a few huge moves right before the season started to bring in the likes of Jordan Matthews and a few future draft picks. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year after a bad 2016 campaign.
They are in first place right now though. The Miami Dolphins look lost with Jay Cutler at quarterback, the New England Patriots defense is one of the worst in the league and the New York Jets are going nowhere this year. New England will most likely get it together and it is hard to bet against Tom Brady, but the Bills may give their longtime rivals a real fight this year and maybe even compete for a wild-card spot. They will be led by their elite defense that looks like they can take on anyone, but their offense needs to start doing their part is they hope to have continued success this season.
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