New season, new team, same evil genius. Head coach Rex Ryan and his Buffalo Bills are looking for their first playoff berth this century. Knocking off the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, and notching a division win, would help that goal. Mark Schofield previews Rex vs Brady XVI.
Sunday in Orchard Park the 1-0 Buffalo Bills host the 1-0 New England Patriots. The marquee matchup in that game will be the 16th meeting between a Rex Ryan defense and a Tom Brady led offense. While Brady’s Patriots have won 11 of the previous 15 meetings, the QB’s statistics against Ryan’s defenses are lower than his average numbers. I do not hide my feelings for Rex: I consider him an evil genius.
So, what has he done to Brady in the past and can he duplicate that success in Buffalo?
The main element Ryan uses against Brady is pressure. Many pundits believe that the way to slow down the Patriots’ quarterback is to attack the A Gaps, getting pressure in the signal-caller’s face quickly. While this has worked against Brady, it tends to work against all quarterbacks. Therefore, interior pressure is just one element Ryan uses. There are three core concepts that the coach uses to attack TB12: A Gap pressure, overloads, and late shifts.
A Gap Pressure
In the first meeting between the Jets and Patriots in 2014, Ryan’s defense attacks Brady through the interior. The Patriots are clinging to a one-point lead early in the fourth quarter, and facing 2nd and 10 at the New York 46-yard line. Brady is in the shotgun with 11 offensive personnel on the field against the Jets’ base 3-4 defense. Notice the width of the defensive front ‒ this is something we will address shortly:
Defensive ends Sheldon Richardson (#91) and Muhammad Wilkerson (#96) each line up in a 5 technique on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackles. Both outside linebackers, Calvin Pace (#97) and Jason Babin (#58) also line up on the line of scrimmage, well outside the tackle box. Inside linebacker David Harris (#52) is stacked behind the nose tackle, while fellow ILB Demario Davis (#56) lines up behind Wilkerson, staggered to the outside.
Davis is coming on the blitz, right through the A-Gap:
Left guard Jordan Devey (#65) is so preoccupied with the width of the defense ‒ you can see him gesturing to the outside pre-snap ‒ that he ignores the ILB and his A-Gap responsibility. Both he and left tackle Nate Solder widen at the snap, and Davis has a free shot at the quarterback. Brady is forced to dump the ball quickly to Rob Gronkowski, and the play goes for just a five-yard gain.
Last week in Buffalo, Ryan’s Bills defense also attacked Andrew Luck through the A Gap. Early in the second quarter the Colts face a 2nd and 7 on their own 22-yard line. Luck stands in the shotgun and sees Buffalo’s 4-2-5 nickel across from him, and they are indicating double A Gap Blitz:
Inside linebackers Preston Brown (#52) and Nigel Bradham (#53) line up in the A Gaps, while defensive tackles Stefan Charles (#96) and Corbin Bryant (#97) are positioned in the B Gaps, using 3 technique. On the edges, both defensive ends, Jerry Hughes (#55) and Mario Williams (#94), use a wide-9 alignment.
Again, the defense uses width to create the illusion of danger on the edges. But the A Gap is the point of attack, and both Brown and Bradham are gonna blitz ‒ but they aren’t coming alone. Lurking just behind the six defenders is strong safety Aaron Williams. He’s gonna join this A Gap party too:
With this build-up, a sack seems inevitable:
Williams times his blitz perfectly, forming a trio with Bradham and Bryant that overloads the center and right guard. Two lineman cannot account for three rushing defenders, and the pocket quickly collapses in Luck’s face. The QB tries to climb the pocket, but Bryant and Bradham scrape off the mass of bodies to share in the bounty.
Bait And Width
Having touched on how Ryan uses width ‒ or the illusion of width ‒ to help create traffic in the A Gap, it is time to look at how the defensive genius has used wide defensive fronts and creative looks to generate pressure on the edges.
In Week 16 of 2014 the Patriots traveled to MetLife Stadium and again were given fits by the Jets and their defense. New England faces 3rd and 14, with Brady in the shotgun and 11 personnel in the game. The Jets have their 4-2-5 nickel defense on the field showing Cover 4 in the secondary:
Notice the width of the two defensive ends. At the top of the screen Pace is in a wide-9 alignment, far outside the right tackle, Sebastian Vollmer. On the opposite side, Babin is stationed beyond not only left tackle Nate Solder, but also tight end Rob Gronkowski, in a wing alignment. In addition the DT, Wilkerson is standing up in a two point stance, lined up on Vollmer’s inside shoulder:
Both Wilkerson and Pace drop into coverage, as well as ILB Harris. Babin and inside linebacker Davis run a cross stunt on the left side of the offense, meaning that out of the front six defenders, only three come after the QB.
Antonio Allen (#39) blitzes from his cornerback position, and he ties Davis in the race for who gets to hit Brady:
You can see from this angle that the Patriots slide their protection to the right before the snap. With Wilkerson and Pace both lingering on the outside, the offensive line is making sure to account for all the obvious threats. But because both defenders drop into coverage ‒ as does the linebacker on that side ‒ the Patriots end up with their center, right guard and right tackle blocking one defender while everything goes Armageddon on the other side:Here’s Buffalo last week, using the same concept to come after Luck. Early in the fourth quarter the Colts face 3rd and 10 in their own territory, and the Bills have their 3-2-6 dime defense in the game. This is the pre-snap defensive alignment:
Bradham lines up in wide-9 on the left edge, well outside both the LT and the TE. Mario Williams slides inside on this play, using a 4i technique to the inside shoulder of the LT. Brown is stationed in the A Gap between the C and RG.
And, well, look at that right side. DT Kyle Williams (#95) is in 9 technique outside the RT, while both Hughes and CB Ron Brooks (#33) are on the line of scrimmage, just to the outside of the huge defensive tackle.
Similar to the previous example, both Brown and Bradham drop into coverage, with only defensive back Nickell Robey (#37) blitzing from that edge. But Williams and the trio on the outside all attack the right side of the offensive line:
This time it’s Kyle WIlliams who forces Luck from the pocket. The QB tries to scramble but is pursued and brought down a sack. This still probably sums up how the pre-snap alignment and scheme impacted the OT ‒ check out LT Anthony Castonzo looking for someone to block:
Lining Up Late, Causing Chaos
Finally, Ryan likes his defenses to get into their alignment late in the play clock, delaying and/or preventing the OL from making the correct protection line calls. Disguising their intentions as long as possible breeds confusion when overloads and gap blitzes can come from anywhere.
Here is an example from the Week 16 meeting between the Jets and the Patriots. Brady and the offense face 3rd and 3 just inside New York territory, and the QB stands in shotgun with 11 personnel on the field. The Jets have their 4-2-5 defense on the field. Watch how the defense waits to get lined up until just before the snap, which leads to a sack of Brady from the outside off the edge:
Here are the Bills from last week against Luck and the Colts:
The defense continues to move and shift until just before the snap, and both Bryant and Mario Williams get pressure off the edge. The defenders both turnstile the left tackle, Costanzo. Luck is forced to get rid of the football quickly as Williams crashes in, and the pass falls incomplete.
When Brady and Ryan meet for the 16th time this Sunday, the quarterback and his team might very well emerge victorious. But as he has shown in the past, the defensive evil genius Rex Ryan has schemes to generate pressure on Brady. And as he showed last week, he’s got the same playbook in upstate New York as he did in the Big Apple.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.