The Buffalo Bills are dynamic on offense because they have speed at every position and look to attack you in a number of different ways. Their run game, in particular, is a great example of that. A lot of the same things were said a few weeks ago about the undefeated Carolina Panthers, but this offense is multiple and its multifaceted run game has a lot of layers to it. The first layer to peel back is running back LeSean McCoy.
Eagles fans are familiar with Shady's strengths. He's got a burst in the open field. He's incredibly quick and agile, with the wiggle to make multiple defenders miss consecutively because of his ability to string moves together with the ball in his hands. With McCoy, you have a scoring threat every time he touches the football, and they make it a point to get him out in space in the run game.
This is a two-back sweep against New England, with McCoy and rookie Karlos Williams in a split backfield. Because it's a shotgun run, the back side of the New England defense has to respect the running threat of quarterback Tyrod Taylor. McCoy follows the blocks from Williams and an athletic puller in center Eric Wood, and he's off to the races for a long touchdown. While the Bills will run some inside zone with McCoy, he is typically their perimeter runner. Whether it's with some form of sweep or stretch run, they try to get him on the run where he can make defenders look foolish in space. Williams, who is out for Sunday's game, is the opposite.
When you're game-planning against McCoy, you have to be extremely disciplined in your gaps, especially on the back side. When McCoy was here, Chip Kelly would have to tell his blockers on the back side that they had to block through the whistle, because at any point the "back side" of a play could become the "play side" because of his ability to find cutback lanes, find an inch and take it a mile. Some of the runs that the Eagles' defense gave up last week were because of overpursuit on the back side. That can't happen this week against McCoy, as the Houston Texans found out last Sunday.
The other part of this run game has a lot to do with Taylor and his ability to keep the ball at any given time. The zone read is another layer to this offensive scheme.
Here against Houston, the Bills are running a "split-zone read" play, with a fullback coming across the formation. Taylor reads the back side, likes what he sees and pulls the ball as he runs for a touchdown in the red zone.
The zone read isn't the only time you'll see Taylor keep the ball, however, because the Bills incorporate a lot of "QB run" elements into their game plan. In the red zone against the Patriots, they call a quick quarterback draw play out of an empty set, knowing that they'd get a light box with five receivers split out. Taylor finds his crease and runs for six points.
Even when Taylor drops back to pass, you have to be aware of his ability to beat you with his legs. The Bills call a vertical shot play with a double post (or "Topper") concept, with a wheel behind it. This is one of their favorite plays. New England's defensive front doesn't stay disciplined in their rush lanes though. When Taylor drops back and sees space in front of him, he takes off. "Green means go" as far as Taylor is concerned when he drops back to pass, and it will be imperative for the Eagles' defensive interior to keep him from stepping up and taking off for big gains on the ground when he drops back to pass.
This is the area that I was most surprised by when I studied the Bills on tape. Not only did Taylor "run to run," but he also showed he will "run to throw." What I mean is that, with some quarterbacks, when they break the pocket and scramble they are looking to run to pick up yards. With Taylor, he showed the ability to scramble and keep his eyes downfield to deliver the football through the air, not something you typically see with younger, more athletic passers.
Buffalo's receivers know this, and they do a good job of continuing to uncover as the play develops. As disciplined as the defensive front will have to be against the run, the secondary will have to be as well. When Taylor breaks the pocket, the last thing you want is for defensive backs to leave their area of responsibility to come up and try and tackle him, leaving themselves vulnerable on the back end to big plays down the field. One of Taylor's favorite targets down the field is someone who the Eagles' defense should be very aware of on Sunday, a player whom the Bills gave up two first-round picks to get - wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
This offense is very much based on the vertical passing game when they do decide to go through the air. Taylor throws a pretty nice deep ball. With a talent like Watkins on the outside, it's no surprise that the Bills are willing to play the way they do to complement their running game. Watkins runs a stutter-go here on the outside, and watch Taylor subtly avoid the rush, step up and deliver the football out ahead of his receiver, letting him go and make the play. Watkins has great top-end speed, and he plays faster than his 4.43 40-yard dash time at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. What I mean by that is that there's very little wasted movement with him, and his ability to track the ball and play it in the air not only makes him a very efficient player, but it prevents defenders from being able to make plays on the football.
Just look at Watkins on this sluggo route against the Chiefs earlier this year. Look how quickly Watkins "stacks" the defensive back, getting on top of him as soon as he gets past his upfield shoulder. By running in front of the defensive back, instead of side-by-side with him, Watkins is in complete control of the play, and because he's so good at tracking the ball in the air, he can throttle down, accelerate and change his angle to the catch point at any time and not be inhibited by the defender. If the cornerback gets stacked, there's only two ways he can make a play on the ball (unless you count just throwing his hands up in prayer and hoping for an incomplete pass). He can either draw a holding or pass interference penalty, or he can run around Watkins, get back in-phase, turn and find the ball and make a play on it, all while Watkins is working to do the same thing. Watkins throttles down right at the catch point in this example, pulling the ball in for a touchdown over the cornerback and before the safety can get there on a very nice touch throw from Taylor.
The other vertical threat the Eagles' defense must prepare for is tight end Charles Clay, a dynamic option the team added in free agency this offseason from Miami. The versatile tight end has the ability to get down the field because of his unique speed and athleticism for the position. His production of late hasn't been through the roof, but his skill set is one that you simply cannot ignore if you're defensive coordinator Bill Davis and the Eagles. He's a player who must be accounted for, as you see this vertical "Scissors" concept with a corner route from the No. 2 receiver and a post from No. 1, which is Clay. He delays his release, and Taylor hits him down the seam for a big gain and a first down.
Clay's ability with the ball in his hands is noteworthy as well because he has the athleticism to make people miss and then pull away from defenders in the open field at the second and third levels. Here on this quick crossing route out of max protection, Clay outruns his man coverage and makes two Dolphins miss on his way to the end zone.
Between the multifaceted running game and the dynamic passing options in Watkins and Clay, the Eagles' defense will need to bring its A game to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday afternoon.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.