A legend of sports once said this: “Great moments… are born from great opportunity” – Herb Brooks. And that is what the Buffalo Bills have this coming Sunday. Kyle Brandt of GMFB referred to the Buffalo Bills as a “team of destiny.” For the Bills Mafia collective the world over, that is exactly what this impending game feels like. With nerves as frayed as old rope, hearts pounding like an earthquake, and tension as palpable as a handful of lake-effect snow, we forge onward in hopes of victory.
One important act we can make to relieve anxiety and keep ourselves centered is to spy into the heart of the details, to find some measurable and understandable context we can believe in. The players on the gridiron prepare with fervent and fanatical levels of effort. Thus, as fans, we should be no different. That is why The Buffalo Fanatics brings you this edition of the Spy.
With all that said, we finally come to the crux of what is at stake: How can we dethrone and vanquish the behemoth Chiefs?
SPY 1: The Dolphin Tell
In the Chiefs vs. Dolphins Week 14 matchup, the Chiefs won a victory of 33-27 in a close, one-score game. Said plainly, the Dolphin defense gave us a gift in the form of a beautiful model of defense. In this game, Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes was under immense pressure, and the team was nearly beaten.
The Dolphin tell, as so dubbed, comes in the form of 3rd down defense executed to perfection. On the said play, Mahomes was the victim of a 30-yard sack near the goal line, which the broadcast purported to be a “sack of the year” candidate. The underlying issue here is Mahomes reaction to the Dolphin defense on the play. He makes his drop but then continues to drop farther and farther back as the pocket he expects to be there dissolves.
Dolphin pass rushers employed a complex zone blitz off the edge from Mahomes’ weak side. The key is that the zone blitz is delayed, occurring between 1-3 seconds after the snap. On the play, the Chiefs running back is aligned on the strong side and attempts to escape to the strong side flat after coming off a block. In this alignment, the weak side is especially weak in that a fast Linebacker can beat the offensive lineman as Jerome Baker of the Miami Dolphins did and did well.
As the play continues to break down, Mahomes is now having to deal with a multitude of problems:
1. He is still moving backward and in too awkward a position to attempt a pass.
2. He is multi-tasking in that he must evade an active rush/pursuit while still attempting to let the play develop.
3. The more he moves, the more his targets must move, which thereby turns the play into a convoluted and unrecoverable mess.
Note that in this specific play, it is hard for Mahomes to even throw the ball away because the Miami defense is forcing him straight back and containing the edge so that he cannot escape laterally to be comfortable.
- CLICK HERE to see the play we have just broken down (NFL).
The overarching point here is that the Dolphins had noticed Mahomes deep drops on 3rd down and 5 or more and rightfully exploited that weakness with fast linebackers. There is another team with fast linebackers in the AFC East. This team played the Chiefs in Week 6 without one of these linebackers and another significantly hobbled by injury. We are talking about the Buffalo Bills, of course.
The Bills linebacking corps will need to have an all-season level performance, even more elite than their performance against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in the Divisional Playoff Round. If the Bills linebackers can smartly pressure Mahomes, play sound situational defense, and maintain both eye and gap discipline, chances of victory grow exponentially. This is in direct contrast to the opinion of Matt Verderame (Fansided) who asserted that if the Bills Defense cannot get pressure with their front four, they cannot win. This is, of course, false. Comparing the Week 6 matchup to the upcoming one is a dangerous proposition that lacks immediacy, relevancy, context, and analysis. Patrick Mahomes will have to contend with a Bills Defense that has been on the come up consistently and for weeks. The Ravens’ hot offense had little in the way of answers for the Bills’ fast (albeit, undersized) defensive line, agile linebacking corps, and elite secondary. Mahomes will face that same defense and will do so injured. (Although, to what degree, we do not know.)
- This column will not speculate on Patrick Mahomes Injuries beyond the mention of them. Other Buffalo Fanatics columns have done so and to do so here would deviate from the scope of this article.
SPY 2: A Passive Aggressive Chief?
This concept is a rather puzzling one. Over the course of the second half of the season, the Chiefs continued to win. However, all of their victories came by slim margins, one-score margins in fact. Being nearly beaten by the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins drives this point home. The consensus seems to be that during this period, the Chiefs were not playing their best brand of football. But why? Furthermore, does this matter?
It matters if point differential is a statistical metric you place faith in. Basically, this stat measures how much a team scores in contrast to how many points are scored on that team. The Buffalo Bills are ranked just ahead of Kansas City in this metric overall (by one point), but in the last three games, the Bills are +15.7 while the Chiefs are -3 according to www.teamrankings.com. Point differential can also open doors into measuring efficiency along with DVOA. DVOA measures efficiency on singular plays. In this category, the Bills rank #1 in weighted offensive DVOA while the Chiefs come in at #6. Credit for this stat goes to Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders, who tweeted this ranking on 1/17/21.
If the Chiefs show a passive nature in the AFC Championship at all, in any way, the Bills MUST exploit it and do so with violence of action. The importance of this cannot be understated. The Bills must rely on what works for them to beat the Chiefs. Their offense is lethal, plain and simple. In fact, on a by-the-numbers basis, the Bills’ offense is better. It’s not homer syndrome; it is numbers.
SPY 3: Execution Solution
The Spy column has determined that the formula for victory over the Chiefs is as follows.
VOA + A + CR = VICTORY
VOA = Violence of Action
A = Aggression
CR = Calculated Risk
The team that beat the Chiefs this season (excluding Week 17) is the Las Vegas Raiders. They did so by employing all three of the variables completing the formula above. They violently matriculated the ball down the field, thereby aggressively targeting the Chiefs secondary. They took a calculated risk knowing that the Chiefs cannot be matched (much less beaten) unless risk is involved.
Sal Capaccio of WGR 550 had explained in so many words that the Bills played somewhat passive and tentative against the Chiefs in Week 6 in all phases of play. The game plan may have been sound but was overdone to an extreme degree via selling out to stop the passing game. Even this week, HC Sean McDermott explained that he can coach better and will need to.
Most importantly, the Bills MUST spare NO opportunity for taking risks and for scoring points. The Chiefs offense is cutting edge while the Bills offense is sharpening its edge in terms of what the national perception is. Sunday… The Bills must prove through their execution that they are even sharper. Examples of some of these risks the Bills might need to take include but are not limited to 4th down attempts, deep passing involvement, delayed blitz packages/complex defensive play, and offensive dissection of the field between the hashes and on the boundary.
The Bills will want to avoid over-aggression, however. If ever there was a coach who could properly belay this point, it is Sean McDermott. Brian Daboll, on the other hand, will likely aim to keep Josh Allen off his “hero ball” stimulants when times are chaotic during this game, as they certainly will be.
The world of Bills Mafia is increasingly aware of this teams’ DNA: The process, the 1/11th, the finding of a way. Now, more than ever before, all should remember these ingredients of what the Buffalo Bills culture is. We know the team will.
Do well to remember that the Buffalo Bills can win this game, any game really. We are in territory that many Bills fans have never been in, and for those who have been here, that experience is draped in trauma and despair. Stay centered in the here and now. We are here in a time of so much chaos and darkness, and yet we stand together united under the Bills’ banner. Hold this in your hearts, embrace and enjoy this, for tomorrow is not promised. What is promised is our everlasting faith in our gridiron gladiators that wear our beloved red, our white, and our blue.
GO BILLS, WE THE BUFFALO FANATICS, SALUTE YOU. Spy… Out.