Scouting report: Inside the Bills
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The Leslie Frazier era got off to a winning start for the Minnesota Vikings, and several underachieving players had big games. Now the team has a homecoming against one of the league's enigmas. Sam Monson from ProFootballFocus.com, which breaks down tape from every NFL game, takes an inside look at the Buffalo Bills.
Coach Chan Gailey has a history of bending his offense to suit the players he finds himself relying on during a season. When the Chiefs were forced to use ex-Vikings QB Tyler Thigpen as their main passer under his tenure, Gailey tore up the playbook and installed a pistol offense to make best use of Thigpen's skil set. This season, the Bills have become as wide open an offense as you will find. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, the Bills opened the game with four straight passes and five straight plays from the shotgun with multiple-receiver sets.
When the Bills run, they use a simple man-blocking scheme with designed running lanes, but they have become a pass-heavy offense led by QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (6-foot-2, 221 pounds). They will spread a defense out, force them into their nickel and dime coverage packages and try to find matchups they like.
On defense, the Bills started the season as a pure 3-4 team but have since bailed on that strategy, moving between three- and four-man fronts. Against the Steelers, they had a four-man defensive line for 54 snaps and ran with three down linemen just 20 times. In coverage, they run a good amount of Cover-2 and two-deep coverage with the corners in man coverage. They have recently begun to adjust their coverage schemes, particularly at safety, because of the struggles FS Jairus Byrd (5-10, 210) is having in his second season.
The Bills offense all starts with Fitzpatrick. He may never be a great quarterback, but Fitzpatrick does have a swagger to him and ignites the Bills at times, even when they look dead and buried. He's no Michael Vick, but he is also athletic enough to break contain and scramble for first downs when the protection collapses around him or when defenses lose their focus.
Fitzpatrick's accuracy can be spotty, but he is particularly fond of attacking the intermediate routes, with six of his 12 touchdowns coming on passes targeted between 10 and 19 yards downfield. Like the Bills as a team, Fitzpatrick doesn't have the measureables people look for, but he does seem to be greater than the sum of his parts.
NT Kyle Williams (6-1, 306) might just be the best player you've never heard of. Not only that, but more incredibly, he might be the best defensive tackle named Williams in the NFL right now, going by 2010 form.
While the rest of the Bills defense has struggled regardless of the defensive front used, Williams has been dominant, especially against the run. He exploded in the game against Pittsburgh, getting a pair of sacks and a host more pressure, and while that was his best game of the season, he has been a destructive force all season.
Obviously, it's not all good news for the Bills, and they struggle in places, especially in the deep secondary where both SS Donte Whitner (5'10, 208) and Byrd have been exposed this season in coverage. Both players have allowed the same number of touchdowns (four for Whitner, three for Byrd) as they have passes defensed on the season, and opposing passers have a rating above 115 when throwing at either safety.
Strengths and weaknesses
The biggest weakness of the Bills is still a patchwork O-line. They have used nine linemen already this season, and while Fitzpatrick is most comfortable running a spread-out, shotgun style of offense, it does put a lot of pressure on the linemen to hold up in pass protection. The unit isn't the disaster it was last season anymore, but it is certainly a weakness that a rejuvenated defensive front of the Vikings should look to exploit, limiting the time Fitzpatrick has to make his reads and distribute the ball.
On defense, the Bills are definitely stronger against the run than they are the pass. Williams is a force up front, and several other players are playing the run reasonably well this season. Where they struggle badly at times is in coverage, where they ask a lot of their secondary without a pass rush up front to help them out. The Vikings seem to want to establish the run under Frazier, but the Bills are another of those sides whose defensive frailties in the secondary will tempt them into opening it up a bit more.
The bottom line
Every week, the Bills come into a game as a major underdog, and every week, they show teams they are greater than the sum of their parts. If they are overlooked, they can make a team pay. The Vikings need to play as they did against the Redskins -- control the trenches and not take their foot off the gas if they get in front.