Rex Ryan and the Blitzing Buffalo Stampede

In a big AFC East showdown, the New England Patriots travel to Orchard Park to take on Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills. One of the major storylines in this game is Ryan’s defense against Tom Brady. Aidan Curran examined Buffalo’s defensive approach in Week 1 against Indianapolis and spotted how the Bills pressured Andrew Luck, and how the Colts could move the ball.

What was expected to be a standard AFC East on matchup Sunday between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills has now become a marquee matchup after the Bills ran over the Indianapolis Colts 27-14 in Week 1. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have Rex Ryan as your coach to stoke the flames between the two teams. Ryan’s New York Jets teams always gave Tom Brady a tough matchup, and Brady and Bill Belichick were probably steaming when they found out that Ryan would be staying in the division with Buffalo after getting fired by the Jets.

Rex Ryan’s defensive scheme is one of the more complicated schemes in the NFL, and is also one of the most aggressive. While traditionally a 3-4 styled coach, Ryan’s defense in Buffalo is a hybrid scheme that incorporates 3-4, 4-3 Under and even 46 elements off an Over/Under base front. His defenses give Brady so much trouble because of the variation from snap to snap. Ryan, and Buffalo defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman, will send blitzes from anywhere and everywhere. Part of what makes Brady so great is his ability to diagnose the defense in the pre-snap phase. Against Ryan, that advantage is complicated because you have overload blitzes, corner blitzes, defensive linemen switching positions, and everything in between.

When Ryan accepted the position as Buffalo’s head coach, he was essentially handed the keys to a brand-new fancy Lamborghini. Buffalo’s defense has everything Ryan needs: corners who can play press man coverage; pass-rushing defensive ends; and stout defensive tackles who can stop the run. Stephon Gilmore is the Buffalo version of Darrelle Revis. The fourth-year corner can play with the best of them – he flat out blanketed T.Y. Hilton in Week 1. With Marcell Dareus returning from a one-game suspension this week, Buffalo will also have an elite run-stopper, which is very important when it comes to Ryan’s defense. The goal of the 46 Hybrid – and any Rex Ryan defense – is to stop the run first. This makes the opposing teams one-dimensional and allows Ryan to get creative with his blitzes.

I took a look at some of Buffalo’s blitz packages to see how they utilize players on defense.

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There are a couple of interesting defensive elements on this play in the first quarter. First, look at Buffalo DT Kyle Williams. He is playing at a linebacker’s depth, about 3-4 yards off the line of scrimmage. DE Manny Lawson is next to Gilmore on the left perimeter, across from a WR with his eyes in the backfield. It’s tough to say why Ryan puts a DE out there, because at the snap Lawson runs back to his spot as a 7 tech and rushes the passer. With Williams playing off the line of scrimmage, this allows him to get a running start on rushing Andrew Luck. The only downside to this strategy is a quick throw by any quarterback will negate Williams’s rush because it takes him longer to get to the quarterback this way, albeit while gathering more momentum to push his blocker into the backfield to disrupt the play.
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Right before the snap, slot cornerback Nickell Robey (Player #1 on the above still) blitzes, and strong safety Aaron Williams shifts down to take his man. Buffalo creates the illusion of added pressure by having ILB Preston Brown pretend like he’s rushing, and then drop back into a middle zone. In total, the Bills rush six players here, with their defensive backs playing Cover 1 with man coverage.

On another play, Ryan used one of his favorite blitzes: the overload blitz. The coach loves to cause confusion, and the overload blitz is a great way to achieve that; he will surely throw a couple of these blitzes at the young New England offensive line. Accordingly, the line’s communication will be critical Sunday to identify blitzes and change the protection for Brady.

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With the Colts in 12 personnel with Hilton and Andre Johnson in a stack formation in the slot, the Bills are showing quarters coverage with seven players near the line of scrimmage. Buffalo blitzes with five players this time, including the nickel corner Robey. Luck completes the 30-yard pass to Hilton on this play with Gilmore in coverage because Johnson drew the safety to him with the slant route.

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Here’s what the overload looks like from Indianapolis’s perspective. Indy has seven blockers for five rushers. This is what Ryan loves doing: He gives the illusion of pressure coming pre-snap, and then drops players back into coverage. Here, it was LBs Nigel Bradham and Brown. The Colts had a great route combination to beat the Buffalo coverage on this play, but this is a great example of how Ryan’s defense tries to get in the minds of its opponents.

The third play is another play with Williams at linebacker depth. Buffalo rushes six and Indianapolis leaves in seven to block. Johnson and Hilton are once again stacked, but this time they are to the right of the formation. Donte Moncrief runs a 9 route on the opposite side outside the numbers.

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Williams is much more effective on this play. Luck takes a five-step drop and Williams plows through the line, getting to Luck a second too late as Luck finds Johnson on the 10-yard out route for the 7-yard completion.

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This will be a tough, early season test for the young Patriots offensive line. Communication will be key to ensure Brady is kept upright. I expect Dion Lewis to play a key role in this game, as he will be needed both in blitz pickup and in the passing game to occupy the linebackers. Expect a lot of crossing routes for Julian Edelman, as Buffalo showed a tendency to leave the middle of the field open when it uses Brown and Bradham on blitzes. Overall, it should be a low-scoring, tightly-contested game between the two division rivals. Who emerges victorious likely will come down to who wins the matchup between the New England offense and the blitzing Buffalo defense.

Follow Aidan on Twitter @ARCurran_28.

Inside The Pylon covers the NFL and college football, reviewing the film, breaking down matchups, and looking at the issues, on and off the field.

All video and images courtesy the NFL.

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