What will the Eagles see when they take the field on Sunday in Buffalo?
In short? A good team.
The 5-1 Bills are playing tough, efficient football with a roster that's been pieced together with a mix of free agents, key draft choices, and waiver-wire pickups who have come through in a big way. Let's start on defense, where one player, in particular, has to be discussed right off the bat.
Cornerback Tre'Davious White was a personal favorite of mine in the 2017 NFL Draft, and he's met those expectations so far in his young NFL career as a first-round pick. White, who typically lines up at left corner for this Bills squad, is instinctive, tough, competitive, and a ballhawk on the back end.
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I broke down White and read my notes on him coming out of LSU this week on the Eagle Eye in the Sky podcast. He's one of the best players on this team and a big reason why the secondary has been so effective in 2019. The Bills have yet to allow a touchdown of 20-plus yards through the air, and have allowed only 14 such catches all season (third overall in the league). Their pass defense, overall, ranks in the top five in pretty much every major statistical category from a coverage standpoint while also maintaining a top-10 run defense. The Bills have allowed opponents to score points on just 12 of 70 drives this year, a 17.1 percent scoring efficiency rate, which ranks third in the NFL.
What do the Bills do on the back end to keep defenders from pushing the ball downfield? They're a very good zone coverage team, and they major in Cover 4, or quarters coverage. I detailed the pros and cons of quarters coverage just last week, but on Eagles Game Plan I asked Greg Cosell to illustrate a great example of how the Bills use the coverage to limit the big play.
White is a star in the making at corner, but that safety tandem in Buffalo is one of the best in the NFL as well. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer (a former Eagles draft pick in 2013) form a dynamic duo on the back end as a pair of tough, instinctive, interchangeable safeties who can come up and play the run, man up in coverage, or play in zone concepts deep down the field. You get a sense of how well they work together on the pass-off on that vertical shot pass from the New York Giants. Poyer simply makes an outstanding play on the ball for the interception.
The Bills don't ONLY play Cover 4 (no team can play just one coverage all the time), and they do a great job of disguising things on the back end. This is especially prevalent on third down. But before we get to that, let's look at some of those third-down pressure packages, as Sean McDermott brings some Jim Johnson staples that he learned in Philadelphia and applies them to his scheme up north.
The Bills don't blitz as much as Johnson did here in Philadelphia when McDermott was on the staff, but when they do blitz, they're very creative and use their linebackers and defensive backs in the pressure concepts. Now, back to those disguises. I want to look at all three of those blitzes I just showed you on third down, and look at the coverage on the back end of them.
What you see before the snap is not what you'll often get after the snap. You may think it's going to be man, but it's zone. You may think it's going to be one-high safety, but it's two. You may think it's going to be a blitz, but it's just a four-man rush. The Bills are very good at hiding their intentions and keeping offenses guessing. It's going to be a big test for Carson Wentz and this entire Eagles offense on Sunday.
Offensively, the statistics are a bit more modest, but don't make the mistake of underrating this unit, because it is also a very tough, efficient group. Not only do the Bills present one of the top red zone offenses in the NFL (which creates a fun matchup against the Eagles and their defense inside the 20-yard line), but they're a top-10 rushing team in football. They have a two-man backfield now with veteran Frank Gore and rookie Devin Singletary, and an offensive line that, quite simply, wants to blow people off the ball.
The Bills run primarily "gap scheme" concepts up front, meaning you can expect a healthy dose of Power, Counter, Trap, and various Sweep concepts. These runs leverage the girth and power of the Bills' offensive line and allow the running backs to concentrate on one hole and fly through it to get to the second level. Both Gore and Singletary can "get skinny" in a crowd and pick up tough yards. Neither is Ezekiel Elliott or Dalvin Cook, but this run game is as physical as any the Eagles have seen during this road trip.
Lastly, there's quarterback Josh Allen, who is an X-factor in his own right.
Allen is a big, strong, powerful human being. He can make all the throws. He's extremely athletic and can be a threat outside the pocket with both his arm and his feet. He'll also gain yards with his legs on both designed runs and on scrambles. Sounds a lot to me like Cam Newton, who both McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane worked with in Carolina. Like Newton, Allen will miss some throws here and there, but he can throw a dagger through your heart because of his playmaking ability. He's a player the Eagles must bottle up on Sunday afternoon.
The Bills may not have the most intimidating résumé in terms of the opponents they've beaten so far, but make no mistake, this is a good 5-1 football team who is looking to make some noise in the AFC with a throwback style of play. They will be a big test for the Eagles on Sunday.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominatedEagles Game Planshow which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts,Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as theJourney to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. 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.