Can the Colts slow down the red hot Bills’ offense?
There is no hiding it anymore: The Buffalo Bills have one of the best offenses in football behind the nuclear arm of quarterback Josh Allen. After the growing pains of the first two years with this offense and this young signal-caller, the Bills have finally ascended with a top tier passing attack. That offense is at its highest point of the season heading into this wildcard match-up with the Indianapolis Colts.
This week has been a tough one for me and my goal of trying to find a weakness in the Bills’ passing attack. I came to one conclusion that won’t sound particularly optimistic for Colts’ fans; The Colts likely won’t be able to full-on stop this Bills passing attack. They can, however, slow it down in a few ways.
For a point of study, I decided to look back on the match-up between the Bills and Seahawks from week nine of this season. This may seem like a weird place to land, as Allen torched the Seahawks for 415 yards and three touchdowns in that game. While the play of the Seahawks’ secondary was less than optimal, I was more focused on how they managed to get seven sacks in that game. What I was able to see was an aggressive way to not stop the Bills’ offense, but to get them behind the sticks and potentially into dangerous territory as an offense.
So today we are going to look at a couple of the Seahawks’ blitz designs from this game and talk about how the Colts can incorporate these into their gameplan to at least limit this hot Bills’ offense.
Despite how putrid the Seahawks defense has been for most of this season, they were able to generate a bit of a pass rush late in the year due to some impressive designs and schemes. These designs worked to the tune of seven sacks against the Bills. While it didn’t stop their offense, it did slow it down enough to the point where the Seahawks were in this game until the end.
The key to how the Seahawks blitz isn’t just loading the box and bringing defenders downhill at the quarterback. The good blitzing teams understand that the art is actually in the window dressing when it comes to a good blitz. In the play shown below, the Seahawks have seven players in the box and are obviously showing blitz. What they do to create optimal pass rush lanes, though, is move every single player around.
They run a double TEX stunt on the outside to get the offensive tackles looking inward. This allows the Seahawks to sneak two blitzers off the edge unblocked by linemen (K.J. Wright is picked up by a tight end). They clean the play up by looping the inside linebacker into an escape lane to keep Allen in the pocket. The result is a group collision in the backfield at the quarterback.
The Seahawks drew up some gnarly blitzes against the Bills back in week 9. Look at this design. Double TEX stunt with extra defenders crashing the edges and the inside backer looping to fill the escape lane. Seahawks sacked the Bills 7 times in this game pic.twitter.com/ICb6Jl9sp9
— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) January 7, 2021
This next blitz will look familiar to anyone who has followed the Colts over the past three years. The Seahawks show blitz by mugging the A gap with both inside linebackers (something that the Colts love to do on passing situations). At the snap, one of the linebackers pulls out of the blitz and one of the down defensive ends drops out of the rush as well. The Bills, expecting a heavy blitz, kept seven players in to protect on the play. What wins the rush is that the Seahawks are able to sneak Jamal Adams off the backside to a one-on-one block against a tight end, which he is easily able to beat for the sack.
Colts fans all know that this is the Seahawks’ version of the “Kenny Moore Blitz” that we have coined here. The key, again, is the window dressing as the offense stays in heavy protection but is ultimately unable to block five pass rushers with seven blockers due to the misdirection of the rush.
These kinds of pressures can even come without bringing extra rushers. Just the act of simulating pressure or pass rushers can free up pass rushers. Here, the Seahawks are again showing the Bills a blitz look. The presence of Bobby Wagner looms huge here as this causes the Bills’ offensive line to shift protection down. As an offensive lineman, you are taught to take the innermost rusher in overload blitz situations and your quarterback is responsible for the unblocked outside rusher. Well, this read backfires as Wagner pulls out into a spy on the play. This leads to the linemen blocking down and leaving the edge defender unblocked for essentially no reason. Just showing that interior pressure can create opportunities for chaos and havoc in the backfield.
How this impacts the Colts
While you are reading this, you may be thinking that this is great except for the small fact that the Colts are one of the bottom teams in the NFL in terms of blitz percentage. While this is true, Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus knows the importance of simulating pressure and speeding up the process of elite improvisational quarterbacks.
Eberflus has faced off against either Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes nine times now in his career as a Defensive Coordinator. In those nine games, the Colts have forced nine turnovers and have accounted for 37 sacks. These are two of the great quarterbacks in this league and they will still put up their numbers but Eberflus understands how important it is to force these negative plays against top improvisational quarterbacks. Here are some examples of his best blitzes and simulated pressures against these two over the past three years:
In three years as the Colts’ Defensive Coordinator, Matt Eberflus has played against Deshaun Watson/Pat Mahomes 8 times.. and he’s done fairly well.
The gameplan has to be similar to facing them this weekend. Multiple looks with pressure from different directions all game pic.twitter.com/dYZDYY9VGi
— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) January 6, 2021
This post is not at all a way to completely stop the Bills’ offense. In fact, these types of blitzes basically say that we don’t think we can just sit back and stop this offense. The point of them is to force turnovers and negative yardage for the offense and get the Bills off the field. The coverage in the backend has to be good for this to work though (or we could end up like the Seahawks).
What I am basically saying is, the Colts have to treat Josh Allen like he is Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes. It may seem crazy to think, but he has been on that level this year. If he is able to sit back and buy time in the pocket, the Colts will get shredded. If they can scheme pressure and speed up his internal clock, they could force negative plays and have a chance.
If Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley is in fact out this weekend, that should be the green light for Coach Eberflus to send the “Kenny Moore Blitz” early and often. On third downs, the Colts have to mug that A gap and get Darius Leonard after Allen. The Colts may not stop the Bills’ offense but they can dictate play by aggressively scheming up pressures and sacks.