An excellent pass rush and solid back coverage allowed the Buffalo Bills defense to put a stop to the Los Angeles Rams’ powerful passing offense in Game 1 of the season.
The Rams led the NFL in 2021 with 18 passes of 40 yards or more, and they averaged four 20-yard passes per game.
The Bills allowed just two 23-yard completions to Cooper Kupp on deep throws from Matthew Stafford. The Rams’ 190 net passing yards were the lowest in Stafford’s 22 games with Los Angeles. It was the 17th time in the last 25 regular season games that the Bills defense allowed less than 200 passing yards.
“I thought within the defense, the rush helped the coverage and the coverage helped the rush,” coach Sean McDermott said. “And it went well, and we kind of supported those Buffalo fans in that stadium, which also helped. Loved watching our D-line bring the crowd into the game.”
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It was only the second game of Leslie Frazier’s tenure as defensive coordinator that the Bills did not blitz, according to Buffalo News rankings. The Bills didn’t blitz once in the Week 5 win at Kansas City last season. Stafford led the NFL in passer rating against the blitz in 2021.
Here is a position-by-position review of the big win, based on the video review and scored on a scale of 0-5:
Defensive line (5.0): Clearly, the pass rush lived up to all the hype. That helped the Rams do nothing on the ground, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. Defensive end Greg Rousseau was particularly good at putting the advantage to help stop the Rams’ wide zone plays.
The first game of the second half was a prime example. It was an outside court draw game. Rousseau and linebacker Matt Milano closed the outside, forcing a cutback, and Jordan Phillips was there to stop the runner for a 2-yard gain. Rams coach Sean McVay was obviously worried about the pass rush. He called first down runs the first three quarters (vs. seven assists) and only three of those runs gained more than 3 yards. The Rams averaged just 3 yards per play on first down.
Von Miller beat left tackle Joe Noteboom with a fierce bull rush early, then beat Noteboom with his “ghost move” speed rush, feigning a handstand and diving under the tackle pads. Jordan Phillips had six pressures and 1.5 sacks. Phillips’ rush in the late middle led to AJ Epenesa’s cleanup sack. Phillips beat guard David Edwards with a spinning motion for a clean sack. Boogie Basham fired “a Phil Hansen” by intercepting his own deflection at the line of scrimmage (remember the 1992 AFC title game in Miami).
Linebackers (5.0): Although the Bills didn’t blitz, a few fake pressures did have an impact. In the first third of the third quarter, Tremaine Edmunds and Milano faked a double-A gap blitz (either side of center). Did it cause Brian Allen to lose focus and take an off-target shot? Likely. The Bills only rushed three men on the play – Milano, Settle and Rousseau, who sacked.
Edmunds led the team in tackles with 10, and he was attacking gaps from the run. Early in the third quarter, Basham lifted a lineman to keep Edmunds clean, and the linebacker stuffed a 1-yard run. Milano was heady in coverage. On a third down early in the second quarter, he anticipated a hook pass to the right, which forced Stafford to check to the left flat, where Micah Hyde made the tackle.
Defensive backs (5.0): The young cornerbacks worked in tandem with the safeties to prevent any deep, cheap finishes. Early in the third quarter, Basham got a coverage sack. Christian Benford locked in Kupp deep, while Jordan Poyer popped a crosser from below. Stafford had nowhere to go with the ball. Benford capped off a solid start on the final defensive snap with classic coverage of a fade into the end zone for Allen Robinson. Benford used the sideline as an assist to close the pass.
Dane Jackson read Stafford’s eyes by triggering an early knockdown. Poyer’s interception came when Stafford attempted one of his “no-look” throws. The QB had his eyes out and whipped the pass down the middle, too high for Kupp, who tipped the pass. Terrible decision by the 14th year QB. Kupp is so dangerous to chase after capture. He broke three tackles on his late 28-yard receiver screen.
Quarterback (5.0): A few notes of appreciation for Josh Allen, who set a career high for completion rate (83.8%). Teams that want to sit in two-tier coverage are going to need an elite pass rush.
Allen’s first run was a play option against a lightbox over 7 yards. It was like flying.
Want to blitz with two safeties deep? This leaves plenty of space underneath. Allen’s first run in the third quarter went 8 yards against that look, and he slammed body safety Nick Scott for good measure. Few QBs get past Bobby Wagner like Allen did on the TD’s 4-yard run. Allen wanted Jamison Crowder at left but a linebacker came into the passing lane. Allen had four runs designed for 17 yards and five scrambles for 40 yards.
Allen beat a 47-yard deep post blitz to Gabe Davis. That’s what great quarterbacks do – win from the pocket late in the down. The pocket tightened.
Receivers (4.5): It says a lot about the elite talent of Allen and Stefon Diggs that Buffalo didn’t shy away from All-Pro Jalen Ramsey. Diggs had three catches for 69 yards on Ramsey, including the 54-yard TD. Ramsey was caught peeking into the backfield on Davis’ 26-yard TD. Isaiah McKenzie caused the first interception by swinging an oblique pass, but redeemed himself with a touchdown take on an oblique pass later.
Running backs (4.0): It was encouraging that Devin Singletary was averaging 6 yards per carry against a defense that ranked No. 6 against the rush last year. He blitzed linebacker Ernest Jones on the 47-yard pass to Davis. Bills have shown promise against light boxes. On the first run of the third quarter, there was a close play at the head of the full-backs, with Reggie Gilliam blocking Bobby Wagner on a 12-yard singletary run.
Offensive Line (4.5): Aaron Donald had a sack against Ryan Bates and three more pressures. That’s about the best damage control you could hope for. The fact that Allen got rid of the ball so quickly helped a lot and was part of the Bills’ good game planning. Bates held Donald back on the TD pass to McKenzie. Dion Dawkins held Donald back on the Davis bomb just long enough. Mitch Morse shaded a ton alongside Donald. Dawkins and Spencer Brown did not yield to any pressure. Dawkins got a good push and Morse had a good seal block on a 13-yard run from Singletary.
Special Teams (4.0): Tyler Bass is used as a weapon during kickoffs and the Bills have little fear of opposing returns. Bass was asked to kick on just one of the six kickoffs. He had an error, a kick out of bounds. But of the other four, the Rams started practices on the 17th, 11th, 22nd and 24th. The average NFL practice start was the 25th after kickoffs last year. So that’s 26 yards of field position that the Bills gained over the Rams just in kickoff coverage. Bass’ kickoff to open the second half had a suspension time of 4.22 seconds (4.0 or better is great). Siran Neal and Taiwan Jones made the tackle at 11 to set the tone for the final 30 minutes.