Hog Heaven Opponent Scouting: the Buffalo Bills

On the day that the NFL Lockout ended, some internet writer predicted the Buffalo Bills would start off a hot 5-2.  Not to tip any intentions to pick this game one way or the other, but the Bills are 4-2.  And wouldn’t you guess it, but the Redskins need this win a lot more than the Bills do.  Here are some scouting observations gathered from a careful review of three Buffalo games: Oakland, Philadelphia, and against the New York Giants.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is not a mobile quarterback, but Brad Smith is 

The Bills are a team that will throw the kitchen sink at you offensively.  And that means after the Redskins put the inability to tackle Cam Newton and Michael Vick on tape the last two weeks, the Redskins can expect to see a dose of Brad Smith.

Really, after watching the Bills through multiple venues and camera angles, I don’t think the Redskins should have any reason to fear Ryan Fitzpatrick.  They are 1-1 against him in club history, beating him in his rookie year with the Rams (2005), and losing to him in Cincinnati (2008).  Fitzpatrick is pretty much the same player he was for the Bills last year despite the nice record, and most of his big plays this year have come from his receivers after the catch.  And the Redskins, along with the Bengals, do a great job of limiting teams’ ability to run after the catch.  I will touch on the one exception to this rule in a paragraph or so.

Because the Redskins match up so well here, it would make sense for the Bills to use more Brad Smith than they have at any point this year.  He’s been very effective for them out of the shotgun this year.  The Redskins have shut down teams this year who try to play with 10 guys on offense, and the Bills will not hesitate to go to all 11 if they need to get that advantage out of their personnel.

Fred Jackson is going to get the ball in space and there is nothing you can do about it

Fred Jackson has been, to me, the league’s most impressive running back this year.  And the Bills do a great job manipulating their own formations, alignments, and those of the defense in order to get the ball to Fred Jackson where Fred Jackson can make a play.  Jackson will line up as a receiver as often as he lines up in the backfield, and sometimes they will motion him into the backfield, pistol-style, while other times they’ll send him out on the route and throw to him.  They use backup RB C.J. Spiller, who I called the best offensive player in the 2010 draft at that time, in pretty much the same manner, though less frequently.

The Bills are a spread team.  They play with four or five receivers on every snap, and use their RBs and WRs interchangibly at these positions.  They will go with one tight end or one fullback, though typically never both.  What the Bills typically do not have is a whole bunch of unique plays.  Their route tree is pretty limited, and the offense is limited vertically.  For a team that spreads it out, there are surprisingly few trips formations or flood patterns.  The go to routes are the slants and hitches.

For all the talk about how suprising the Bills WRs have been, their OL deserves most of the credit

The interior three linemen: Andy Levitre, Eric Wood, and Kraig Urbik are as good as any there in football.  Banged up LT Demetrius Bell is also a star lineman in the making.  His replacement, Chris Hairston, has been quite good.  The only weak spot on the OL is journeyman RT Erik Pears.  Of course, the last two teams the Redskins faced managed to beat them up with RTs who were worse than Pears.  Still, this group is no longer a work in progress.  It’s the real deal.  This line will beat up the Redskins interior three for four quarters, and the Bills are going to try to frustrate OLBs Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan with quick passes and traps and draws to make them non-factors.  If there’s one thing Chan Gailey will succeed at, it is limiting the effect of the Redskins pass rushers on this game.

There will be plenty of opportunity for guys like London Fletcher, DeAngelo Hall, Rocky McIntosh, and Josh Wilson though to feast or famine in this game.

One other interesting note about this matchup: there really is no reason for the Redskins to show a deep safety look in this game.  The Bills aren’t trying to get behind you, they are trying to make you miss.  Consistently showing Fitzpatrick a number of pressure looks isn’t going to make his day any easier: he’ll rely on the same plays against the blitz that he uses against base fronts.  This is a good week for the Redskins to get aggressive defensively.

You have to pick on Drayton Florence

The Bills defense has all the individual pieces to be great when perfectly healthy.  But it is not a deep unit, and at least one part of the original plan has not lived up to expectations.  CB Drayton Florence has played significantly below average this season.  Between slot corner Terrence McGee, no. 1 CB Leodis McKelvin, and safeties Jairus Byrd, George Wilson, and Byron Scott, only Florence is a significant liability in the Bills secondary.

The Bills DL is also very banged up (OLB Shawne Merriman just went on IR) but not significantly moreso than the Redskins OL.  This is a team that can be run on, though we say that about Redskin opponents every week and it doesn’t matter.  The Redskins are going to throw, so make sure to run a lot of routes at Florence, and ensure that John Beck has a good day.

Key Player

No deep safety looks you say?  Sounds like LaRon Landry will be an incredibly useful piece in shutting down Fred Jackson.  That’s really all this game comes down to.  Jackson is going to get the ball in space.  Landry has to get him on the ground.  The Redskins can and will win if he does so.