Week 1 Pass Defense Review

Robey Amendola

*I’m going to run a weekly post on the Bills’ passing defense each week. I will chart all of the passing plays against the Bills this season and report what I find. These are my findings and may not match exactly with other totals (such as PFF), but the discrepancies can be a result of me not double counting QB pressures (I’m only counting the first defender there) and also assigning coverage responsibilities differently. (I’m choosing just the nearest player or player most likely to have blown his assignment, but I don’t know the exact play call and scheme for each play.)

The Bills defense held the Patriots to 288 yards and two touchdowns last Sunday. Going into the contest, many were concerned about the depleted secondary facing Tom Brady’s efficient passing attack. On 54 passing plays, Buffalo yielded three passes for more than twenty yards and kept Brady’s net yards per attempt to just 5.06, a great success when compared to his last five full seasons which are in the table below.

Season NY/A
2007 7.81
2009 7.42
2010 7.21
2011 7.87
2012 7

The Patriots passing game got better as the game wore on. They averaged just 4.5 yards per passing play (including sacks) in the first half, and 5.57 yards per attempt in the second half. Here’s their quarterly net yards per attempt.

NE Qtr Att

Another interesting way to visualize the New England passing totals as the game wore on is to see the cumulative yards gained on each passing play. The graph below shows the cumulative yards gained (or lost) as the game wore on. The red portion of the line indicates the attempts in the fourth quarter, and the final drive is marked “GWD.”

NE Passing

Yup, the Patriots were a perfect 7/7 for 36 yards on that last drive that led to a game winning field goal. Kiko Alonoso was responsible for two of the passes (five total yards, both to Shane Vereen) Jim Leonhard was the other defender responsible for two catches as well, one to Vereen and the other to Amendola (nine total yards). That final drive had no passing plays for more than ten yards. Tough to lose on those.

Over the whole game, Leodis McKelvin allowed the most yards per completion, but forced incompletions on ten of the thirteen passes thrown his way. All in all, he had a great day as the team’s top corner. Justin Rogers held his own as the team’s second cornerback, facing ten passes and allowing six for 57 yards. Kiko Alonso was often responsible for covering Vereen, and allowed five catches on six attempts for 41 yards. Four of the five completions came when the Patriots were in shotgun formation and three or more wide receivers. The totals for all of the Bills can be found in the table below.

NE Coverage

The Patriots threw a lot of different formations at the Bills, with varying levels of success.  The table below shows the varying results based on receiver formations.

NE WR Form

A three-wide formation with a receiver in the slot used to be very successful for the Patriots with Wes Welker. The Bills effectively shut that formation down, only allowing 2.57 yards per attempt when the receiver formation was either slot left or slot right. A reason for that increased level of success for the Bills was the surprising success of their defensive backs. When Buffalo had five or more defensive backs on the field, they allowed just 4.2 yards per passing play.

Buffalo ran five defensive backs on the field in thirty passing plays and forced incompletions on fourteen of them. Furthermore, the Bills were able to pressure Tom Brady on twelve (!!!!!) of those thirty passing plays. Mike Pettine’s defense sent five pass rushers ten times when five DB’s were on the field. Six players rushed Brady on two plays with five DB’s on the field. It’s pretty clear that the nickel package (five DB’s) was Buffalo’s best pass defense on Sunday.

It will be interesting to see how the Bills plan to stop Cam Newton this weekend. While he isn’t the passer Tom Brady is, he has some dangerous weapons in Steve Smith, Greg Olsen, and Brandon LaFell.


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The Lord of Buffalo Wins