When the Patriots and Bills met in Week 4, Buffalo’s D held the Patriots to just 9 offensive points. They did a good job mixing man and zone coverage but played predominant zone (Roughly 60/40 zone man). Like many teams have this season, the Bills gave extra attention to Julian Edelman, who finished with just 4 receptions for 30 yards. On several 3rd downs, Buffalo double-teamed or had multiple defenders ready to account for him. They were able to do this in several ways.
Below, you can see that Edelman was aligned in the slot with cornerback Kevin Johnson responsible for him in man coverage. The help would come from safety Micah Hyde, who was aligned on the other side of the formation at the snap and looked to be a potential blitzer.
Hyde dropped out at the snap and hunted up Edelman’s inside route. Brady was forced to go elsewhere with the ball for one of his many incompletions on the day.
Later in the game, with the Patriots facing a 3rd-and-8 from their own 5-yard line, the Bills disguised their coverage and moved after the snap. They ended up playing 2-man (man coverage underneath with 2 deep safeties).
This enabled the corner covering Edelman, again Kevin Johnson, to get underneath him and use a trail technique, knowing that he had help over the top. This kept Johnson between Edelman and Brady. It didn’t come into play on this particular snap because the Patriots had a screen called, but this was just another way the Bills took away Edelman on the money down. In all likelihood, the Patriots anticipated Edelman would receive extra attention, given how he had been handled all day to that point. This resulted in a play that was called to get the ball to someone else.
Later in the 4th quarter, the Bills took Edelman away with a clear double-team right at the snap. With Kevin Johnson again aligned over Edelman, defensive end Trent Murphy (#93) dropped out to provide the help.
Brady didn’t even look in Edelman’s direction, instead trying for James White in a 1-on-1 situation on the outside.
The result was another incompletion.
The approach of double-teaming Edelman on 3rd down has been going around the league, especially in recent weeks. The idea has been to force Brady to target 1-on-1’s elsewhere. Between Brady’s suddenly erratic accuracy and clear distrust in his receivers, the Patriots have struggled to move the ball consistently through the air as a result.
By now, the Pats should be expecting to see this approach. In response, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Brady target Edelman more on 1st down against the Bills, when they are more likely to see zone coverage and better able to dictate matchups.
Calling plays designed to beat man coverage with other receivers on 3rd down will be another critical aspect of the game plan for New England. The below play against Buffalo was a good example of how they can do this. Here, the Bills once again had Johnson over Edelman and would end up bringing Micah Hyde into the middle of the field to provide help.
Edelman ran his man upfield, and the Patriots called for hi-low crossers underneath him. This created a rub/pick (or a block) that sprung Josh Gordon free for a 31-yard completion.
James White will also need to be featured in the Patriots’ passing game against Buffalo. In recent weeks, opponents have used one of their better cover defenders (either a cornerback or a good coverage safety) to take away White in man. The Bills, however, accounted for White with linebackers in Week 4. He finished the day with 8 receptions for 57 yards, 26 of which came on the below play.
This was 3rd down, and the Patriots ran a flood concept towards the offensive left side of the field. Between Edelman’s presence on that side of the field, the route combination, and Brady looking left initially, the deep safety moved in that direction. This left the right side of the field wide open for James White to run his route out of the backfield against linebacker Matt Milano.
It will be interesting to see if the Bills adopt the trend we’ve been seeing out of other defenses and use one of their better coverage defenders on White. If they don’t, the Patriots need to find ways to exploit this matchup like they did on the above play.
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