EJ Manuel played well enough to impress many observers. CJ Spiller got bottled up. Get the complete look at some of the highlights, and lowlights of the week one loss to New England as Jeremy White brings you his first All-22 Review.
Howdy gang, I’m glad to be back for another year of All-22 breakdown. Last year I did my best to stick to a theme each week but this time around I’m just going to watch the game and highlight the plays that I think merit the most conversation.
I’ll touch on the struggles of CJ Spiller, the confidence that EJ Manuel has in the offense, and the design of Nathaniel Hackett’s system as well. You may have heard about “packaged plays” by now and it’s pretty clear to see that the Bills are running these sets. You’ll see the same play out of slightly different formations, which is not unusual, and also slight variations on plays (and I mean ever-so-slight) in the same series marching down the field.
Without further ado...away we go!
CJ Spiller did not have a very good day in the opener. It bears mentioning that Spiller rejoined his team late in the week due to a family tragedy, and that there’s certainly reason to think that CJ can have a wonderful year. So what happened on Sunday? From the looks of it, he missed a few of his spots.
1st and 10 - Buffalo 10 yard line - First offensive play.
The Bills line up with EJ under center and Spiller in a single-back set. This is a look that they really didn’t show too much in the game. The call is for a handoff to Spiller over the right guard. Wood, Urbik, and Pears are all set to slide to the right and take on three Patriots defenders.
By the numbers of it, this looks like a good matchup to start. Wood slides over, Urbik steps left and then moves to his right. By the time Urbik gets over to his defender, the play is blown up a bit.
This is where CJ Spiller makes his money though. If you’ve seen Spiller on film, from the end-zone camera that you’ll consistently see him sliding in and out of holes, and finding cutback lanes.
That didn’t happen here.
It's one yard and a cloud of dust. Just the first play, right? No. Multiple times, with cutback lanes available to CJ, he either didn’t see them or didn’t take them.
The yellow line would indicate the cut back lane that CJ didn't take. He bounced outside for no gain. Sometimes cutbacks are designed, and sometimes they're improvised. It's a safe bet to guess that CJ missed a few that would be improvisational, and perhaps a few that were designed as well.
On this first play it may be the misstep of Urbik, or it might be on CJ’s failure to turn it into something. It’s asking a lot for your running back to find those lanes, but his running style feasts on them, and it was famine in game one. Credit the Patriots? Work out the kinks? Time will tell.
The truth about Stevie Johnson
Stevie Johnson says that the Patriots don’t have anyone that can cover him. He’s right. I know, I know he dropped that one pass and that’s awful. He should own it. It’s on him. That said, if we’re looking ahead with these tapes, at what went wrong and what can go right, then it’s worth noting that Stevie burns almost everyone he faces when he’s one-on-one.
Here’s a good example. Johnson lines up in the slot with Aqib Talib, the Pats top corner lined up in press coverage.
Talib attempts to jam Johnson at the line and, as is usually the case, it doesn’t work.
Johnson breaks free for a nice gain as Manuel finds him over the middle. Take a look at the time that Manuel has to survey the field here. It’s a consistent theme throughout the game. When he dropped back, he had plenty of time.
Note something else here: The design of the play. Look at the routes. Remember them. Study them. You’ll see them again. Spoiler alert - check Robert Woods at the bottom of the screen.
Question: Why was I looking at Robert Woods?
Answer: Offensive design
Did you see Woods breaking free of his man down the sideline? He got behind the Patriots secondary and the Bills took note of it (or perhaps planned on that happening). A few plays later they call this play....
Johnson and Chandler squat in spots because the Patriots have dropped back into more of a zone coverage. Woods is singled up and while he beats his man, the throw isn’t where it needs to be. In the first run of this play the Patriots have Safety Steve Gregory manning up against Scott Chandler. In the second, he’s back in more of a Cover 2 zone and stays with Chandler as he runs right at him.
This is essentially the same play. It goes for an incompletion as EJ missed the throw. He missed it a few times during the game. If you’re wondering where the deep ball is?...it’s in the QB’s pocket. The Bills had TJ Graham and Robert Woods stretching the field consistently throughout the game. The deep throw to Graham where Manuel had him deep and missed out of bounds...Remember in the 3rd quarter? TJ was upset after the play and demonstrably gestured where the ball should have been thrown to? That one?
Look familiar? The Bills have, yet again, called the play with two sideline options and a two-tiered option over the middle. The package here was the same and the throw was to Graham. It was a big miss.
EJ’s first good throw
You’re probably here to see what EJ Manuel did well, right?. He only completed 5 passes to WRs but that’s just a number and there are a few plays that Bills fans should be excited about.
We’ll start with a play that was called back on a penalty. The Bills line up with a bunch to Manuel’s right. TJ Graham is the near side receiver (running his go or comeback that he seemingly ran all game). This is the pass across the middle to Robert Woods.
As Manuel drops back a number of options flash open. He has two targets open for short gains in front of the LBs.
Manuel waits, and as Robert Woods clears the LBs (who both step forward to cover the underneath targets), fires a rope into his fellow rookie. It’s a nice play.
Too bad it didn’t count.
EJ’s Confidence in the offense.
I remember a time when we watched Trent Edwards play for the Bills. We all came down to one criticism through time - He did not “throw receivers open”. Obviously in the National Football League you’re going to make timing throws (lots of them) to a receiver that at the time of your decision, or release, or as the ball travels, is simply NOT open. EJ Manuel did this a few times, and with much success.
His BEST THROW OF THE GAME was a seam throw to Scott Chandler just before the Robert Woods TD. Watch the formation and the play, and remember it. (Starting to understand why?)
The Bills line up with Graham to the left where he runs his curl. Stevie and Robert Woods are positioned behind Scott Chandler. Chandler runs right around the LB Manuel tosses it to a spot. Look closely at the next picture.
Chandler is not open. The safeties have not left the zone. I froze the tape at the exact moment that Manuel decides to make the throw. This is over the middle, to a spot, to a covered receiver with safety help. Oh, and one more thing....
Manuel gets crushed on the play, and delivers a strike to Chandler. First down.
EJ squared...holds the safety.
Woods has lots of room, and the throw is on point.
EJ - Throwing receivers open
You might suggest that the most beautiful throw was the touchdown to Stevie Johnson. You might be right. Johnson is lined up in the slot and Manuel knows that he has the throw he wants.
It’s a wrist flick to a spot, to a receiver that wins a footrace. It’s a great throw.
Perhaps most impressive about this throw is Manuel’s body. He didn’t step. He just flicks it to the spot and Johnson hauls it in. It’s an elite throw. All due respect to the last guy, but this is the exact throw that he could not make.
I can't tell you how many times Stevie Johnson, TJ Graham, Donald Jones (last year), or whoever, beat his man on this type of route only to see the ball underthrown. If it wasn't underthrown it was off target. If it wasn't off target the QB didn't get the throw off because he'd have to haul back and HEAVE it.
With Trent Edwards we found that he only threw to receivers that were already open. This just can't be the way your QB plays in the NFL. It's fairly obvious, yet those at the highest level will stick with guys that just don't get the job done. EJ Manuel in his first ever start did a few things very well.
This throw is a great sign.
- CJ Spiller’s struggles aren’t a major concern, yet. It’s tough to figure whats going on in just one week and how the Bills will make adjustments.
- EJ Manuel showed an awful lot to be excited about. Perhaps more than anything is his understanding of the offense.
- I think the Bills offense is just scratching the surface of what they intend to be, and it’s pretty exciting.
I’ll watch Carolina-Seattle to get an idea of what to expect. In the meantime, tweet me @JeremyWGR or email me firstname.lastname@example.org