A 35-17 loss in New Orleans tells us the Bills still have a sizable gap to cover before they can play with the NFL's best teams. The All-22 review brings Jeremy White to three major conclusions: 1. Thad Lewis has a major problem to work on, 2. Nickell Robey can be my Nickel CB any time, and 3. Drew Brees and Sean Payton should almost never lose.
The Bills loss in New Orleans went the way that many of us expected it to. Drew Brees was very effective in finding guys wearing black and gold, and those guys took it into the end zone five times. FIVE touchdown passes. Your defense is obviously terrible if it allows five touchdown passes, right?
I'm not so sure.
Brees is debate one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Nickell Robey could tell you this after his first run-in with the likely Hall of Famer. Robey was beaten for a pair of touchdowns, on plays where he had to think he was in good position. This isn't the Leodis McKelvin "Hey you're there, just turn around" coverage. It was more of a "You really can't be much better, but that's Drew Brees so tip your cap to him" coverage.
We'll start off with the Saints first TD.
The first of Brees five touchdowns goes to Lance Moore (Red). The Bills blitz up the right side.
Nickell Robey is in coverage while Aaron Willams (Circled) gives the Bills a 2 safety look. Jairus Byrd is to the left, Williams to the right.
As Brees drops back, Pierre Thomas slams the door on the blitzing DB (White circle).
Brees gets the time he needs to survey the defense. He can see Williams cheating to the left, and with Moore on the skinny post he makes the throw. Nickell Robey gets beat on the move, but he recovers quite well...he's just beaten by the best. This frame above is frozen at the time of the throw. Brees makes the delivery when he has to, and to the perfect spot despite Robey's best effort.
The throw is on the mark. Robey is right there, and the red circle represents....TWO Bills players. The two safeties are in the same spot, and Brees has burned the Bills with a perfect throw. The better the QB, the smaller the margin for error.
All you can do is tip your hat to Drew Brees.
Robey's beaten again later in the game for the touchdown on 3rd and 20 that put things away. The Bills are down 28-17 and holding on for dear life. On 3rd and 20, Brees makes another incredible play. Rolling out to his right, he then runs forward toward the line of scrimmage to heave the ball into the end zone. Robey is there in coverage yet again, and he's beaten again.
The throw from Brees comes a full 7 seconds after the snap as Kenny Stills improvises on the broken play.
Lesson: Don't go to sleep on Drew Brees. It's a great throw from a veteran QB on 3rd and 20. What's worst case scenario there? A pick. Brees makes it happen and puts the game away.
On Nickell Robey: The pick-six against Miami is the highlight of his year. He's a young player that shows lots an understanding of the defense, and an ability to operate in it. I know he's beaten for two touchdowns in this game, but I'm telling you that he can be the nickel DB for my defense any day. There's a lot to like. Like this play:
He shows an ability to plant and drive...and here you see that he can fight through a big-bodied receiver without taking a penalty. Nice player.
I'm realize that it's not exactly splitting the atom to tell you that Drew Brees and Thad Lewis are light years apart. Lewis has been called upon for a job that he's not entirely qualified to hold. He had good throws and positive plays in the New Orleans loss, but there's a bit of a habit developing that's going to cause problems every time it pops up.
He has a tendency to back out of throws.
On the game's first play Thad Lewis was lit up with a crushing hit to the ribs. It was painful to watch. Many Bills fans will accurately point out that the Saints hit him often, and they hit him hard. While that's true, it's the QB's job to stand in the pocket and make the throws. Sometimes it's going to suck to make that throw.
Let's take a look.
First quarter - Second possession.
The Bills call a play action pass with Robert Woods and Stevie Johnson working crossing routes. Woods will be the open receiver, at about 15 yards down the field. The Saints bring a blitz, and Tashard Choice does a good enough job to slow it down. Lewis sees pressure, but he has time.
Woods clears the LBs, and the high safety that you see in this frame, is the ONLY safety. A touch pass to open space here will go for a big gain. TE Lee Smith also flashes open as a dump over the middle, but that disappears quickly. A strong throw to Woods is needed.
The throw goes nowhere and Smith even seems confused on who it might be intended for. Frank Summers and Tashard Choice both pick up the same blitzing Saints player, which isn't doing Lewis any favors. Still, you have to stand and throw. It wasn't the last time.
The second bailout costs the Bills the football.
In his defense on this play, he doesn't have a ton of time, and there aren't any receivers down the field that are absurdly open. Throw the ball away. Eat it. Six fumbles in three games and a QB that's falling back away from throws, will lead to more pressure in his face.
Funny thing is that there is an odd benefit that comes with this. By dipping his head down and ducking/falling out of throws, Lewis is drawing helmet-to-helmet penalties. He had his helmet knocked off on a successful throw to Stevie Johnson, and drew a personal foul on this throw in New Orleans.
Thad Lewis was sacked four times in the loss to the Saints.
Sack #1 - Unchecked blitz.
There is a quick run fake on this play, which slows Lewis' ability to survey the field. He doesn't get much time to throw the ball due to the blitz, but there's a question worth asking here: Who is buying this run fake? The Saints call here is the right one, and they get to Lewis before he can really do anything. Does Fred Jackson know it's a run fake? If Lewis keeps his eyes up the whole time he finds Stevie open over the middle. Impossible to know if it's miscommunication, bad design, or just a perfectly timed blitz.
Sack #2 - The fumble shown earlier in this piece
Sack #3 - Scott Chandler soundly beaten around the end.
Not much to break down here. The video shows you what went wrong.
Sack #4 - Coverage sack. Lewis loses one yard while scrambling
I'm showing the sacks weekly because the question that's posed to me most is about the O-line v. Thad holding the ball too long. I'm not sure that either is to blame on the four sacks in New Orleans. He's getting time to throw. He's connecting from time to time, but also missing on accuracy, or on making the best decision.
Early in the game the Bills face a 3rd and long on the edge of FG range. It's a half-field read for Lewis. TJ Graham runs the comeback on the outside while Scott Chandler is a dump off to the sideline.
As Lewis drops back he gets good protection.
He sets to throw, and freezing it here...you might think the throw will be to Graham who is open and close to the sticks.
Chandler makes the catch for the short gain, and gets the Bills into FG range. Dan Carpenter misses the kick, which has no bearing here. This is a good example of risk-reward. While Lewis might try the throw to the outside for Graham...it might not get them to Carpenter's range. The OC calls the play, and gets two guys open at different levels. The QB makes the choice and completes the pass.
Who makes the conservative call here? Lewis does, and I'm not saying that he's wrong. He had another throw to make, but just didn't take the chance. Chandler gets them a crack at a FG. Graham likely gets them a first down. This would be a solid example of "managing the game" or checking down when it's not totally necessary.
There are also pre-snap reads to consider. If you're wondering where Robert Woods has been...he's been open. Lewis has shown an ability to place deep balls nicely, but a part of that comes down to the pre-snap read.
One of Lewis' incompletions down the field came against a look the Bills have seen ever week. Single safety high, and both receivers stretching the field vertically. Up top it's TJ Graham, and on the bottom you have Robert Woods.
The safety on the play. just out of the picture to the left, is keying on Stevie Johnson over the middle. Woods has press coverage, while Graham has a cushion. If you're throwing deep here, I think you like the Woods matchup more. He wins his, but the ball is to the other side.
I'm not looking to pick on Thad Lewis here. He had his good throws. The TD to Stevie.
That's the Bills bread and butter. It's also Stevie at his DB-shaking best.
A touch pass to Marquise Goodwin.
Lewis can make some throws. He also limits the offense quite a bit. He doesn't go through progressions very well, and his tendency to fall back into the falling throws is something that will bring pressure in the weeks to come. The four sacks don't tell the entire story because of his tendency to bail on throws if there is someone bearing down on him.
Consider it something to keep an eye on. #GetWellEJ
Remember the holding call on Jerry Hughes on 3rd and 10 that kept a Saints drive alive for a TD? We didn't see a replay. Maybe that's because it was a load of bunk.
Remember the defense in the first quarter that was stuffing the run? Marcel Dareus had a very nice game, and Kiko Alonso looked to be back on his game as well (Not that it really ever left).
If the Bills are to beat the Chiefs this weekend, it'll be because they're much more run heavy than the Saints. New Orleans presents a bad matchup. Kansas City should be a better one for this D, and #99 and #50 will have to lead the charge.
One play in New Orleans shows the Bills run D at it's best. Dareus disrupts, K Williams stands up his man, Mario sets edge, and Kiko finds the ball carrier. Watch Alonso and the RB together. Who's watching who? Just a great look at a very forgettable 1-yard run in the NFL.