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Bills All-22 film review: Trends, problem areas to watch as showdown with Dolphins looms


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For the second week in a row, the Bills blew out their opponents for the entire world to see. This time, a 41-7 pasting of the Titans continued the nationwide belief the Bills are legitimate threats to win the Super Bowl this year.

Next up, they’ll face a 2-0 team that has raced on to the scene in 2022, the super explosive Dolphins. Before the Bills head down to Miami, first is a complete look back at the win over the Titans.

Each week using the coaches’ film, The Athletic grades every individual Bills player based on how they performed. You can find the full explanation for the grades at the end.

What trends carried over from the first week, where were some problem areas, and what could project into future games? Here are some takeaways from the coaches’ film of the Bills’ Week 2 win.

1. Rousseau, Epenesa and Basham flash in a big way

When the Bills faced the Titans in 2021, things were much different. Star running back Derrick Henry dictated the game and allowed for the full-scale Titans’ offensive game plan to be effective. With the threat of Henry busting a huge run, it allowed quarterback Ryan Tannehill to settle in and take advantage of the Bills with their play action-based passing attack. Henry and Tannehill remain, but many of the offensive pieces from last year moved on to other teams. Top receivers A.J. Brown (traded) and Julio Jones (released) are gone, and the offensive line is in flux with two new pieces at left guard and right tackle. Regardless, the Titans have long been a well-schemed and powerful front with the offense capable of Henry breaking loose. We even saw him bust a few big runs against the Giants. So how did the Bills limit his impact? Every single significant piece of the Bills’ defensive line played a role.

Even without defensive tackles Ed Oliver and Tim Settle available to them, the Bills had to feel confident in their personnel against the Titans offensive line. It began with DaQuan Jones, who for the second straight week proved to be one of the best defenders on the team. But the most impressive part was the job done by the defensive ends. Von Miller mixed in for a great stop after shedding a block, but the way Greg Rousseau and A.J. Epenesa took to and executed the defensive game plan  sent the Bills over the top.

The Bills knew the more confined an area they could make for Henry, the more difficulty he would have squirming free for additional yardage. Rousseau and Epenesa both did an excellent job keeping the offensive tackles off of their pads, angling the blockers to create a wall and forcing Henry inside. It helped when linebackers Matt MilanoTremaine Edmunds and nickel corner Taron Johnson were there to clean it all up as often as they did, but it had to start up front with the ends. And when the Titans tried to go wide with Henry, the ends needed to get horizontal and prevent the running back from making his cut up the field as long as possible.

Stopping the run was one thing, but once the Titans turned into a passing team, the pass-rushing moves were on display from Rousseau, Epenesa and defensive end Boogie Basham. Rousseau collected a sack for the second week in a row, but it wasn’t just that he got one. It’s how he collected this one, and more specifically, where it came from that should be an exciting premise for the Bills moving forward.

Rousseau1.png
 
(NFL Game Pass)

Rousseau is not lined up at his customary left defensive end, or even at right defensive end like he’s done occasionally this season. No, instead, the Bills lined him up at defensive tackle over Titans left guard Aaron Brewer (No. 55). Miller was next to Rousseau at right defensive end, while usual defensive tackle Jordan Phillips was lined up at left defensive end. We did not see much of Rousseau at defensive tackle in 2021.

Rousseau2.png
 
(NFL Game Pass)

Having an advantage in arm length, Rousseau aimed to keep Brewer off his pads and went for hand-to-hand combat at the beginning of the rep. In doing so, he grabbed Brewer’s left hand to try and control the guard.

Rousseau3.png
 
(NFL Game Pass)

Still taking away Brewer’s hands, Rousseau begins to use his long arms and leverage against Brewer, knocking him back. From this point on, Rousseau has the blocker exactly where he wants him.

Rousseau4.png
 
(NFL Game Pass)

To finish off the sound one-on-one victory, Rousseau gives one jab with his left arm that completely knocks Brewer off-kilter. The rep is won, and the only thing left is to sack Tannehill.

Rousseau5.png
 
(NFL Game Pass)

With Brewer out of the way, Rousseau collapses on Tannehill for the sack at the end of the half. Using Rousseau at defensive tackle on passing downs is quite an intriguing idea moving forward. Not only because he has natural advantages in arm length over most guards, but because he can hold his own at the point of attack if the opposition surprised the Bills with a run. Keep an eye on this in the future.

A.J. Epenesa didn’t have a statistical impact on the game, but he’s continued to keep that pass rushing momentum moving forward. At the beginning of the third quarter, Epenesa had an instant win and a near sack.

Epenesa1.png
 
(NFL Game Pass)

Lined up at right defensive end and working against left tackle Dennis Daley, Epenesa (No. 57) goes for an initial power move that serves two purposes. One, to keep his eyes in the backfield for a run, and two, to ready himself for a second move should Tannehill pull the ball back to pass. This play winds up being play-action.

Epenesa2.png
 
(NFL Game Pass)

Epenesa sees Tannehill pull the ball back and immediately goes into pass-rushing mode. The power move he put on Daley knocked the tackle back off balance just enough to set up his second move, ripping Daley down with his inside hand, and then setting up a swim move to the inside with a lot of space to roam.

Epenesa3.png
 
(NFL Game Pass)

Epenesa successfully completes the move, leaving Daley stumbling forward. The runway for Epenesa to get to Tannehill is set.

Epenesa4.png
 
(NFL Game Pass)

Daley is on the ground, and Epenesa launches himself at Tannehill. The unfortunate part for Epenesa is as good as this pass-rushing rep was, it winds up reading as a completed pass to a receiver because the backend didn’t hold up. But the promising thing for the Bills is that Epenesa continues to flash, and with that newfound strength with added weight this year, there is more consistency.

As for Basham, he didn’t get in a lot early on, but once he came in for a lot of snaps late in the game, he was constantly getting into the backfield against rookie right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere. If those three players continue to play this well, the Bills have some sustainability beyond just Miller.

2. Elam takes a positive step forward

It’s been an up-and-down first few months on the job for rookie first-round pick Kaiir Elam. Thought of as the immediate answer to be Tre’Davious White’s eventual running mate, Elam watched as Dane Jackson became the locked-in starter and sixth-round rookie Christian Benford outplayed him to be the starter over the first two weeks. The Bills have employed a two series on, two series off split approach with Benford and Elam, to which Benford has been the better of the two players. But now that Jackson seems unlikely to play following a gruesome neck injury, Elam will be thrust into the lineup as a full-time starter. The good news for the Bills is Elam looked a lot more comfortable in his second start. He was a confident run defender and tackler and didn’t take the play action bait on one rep as so many young players often do. That play is worth highlighting because of how well he played it from a technique perspective.

Elam1.png
 
(NFL Game Pass)

Near the bottom of the screen, Elam (No. 24) engages with tight end Austin Hooper as Tannehill extends his arm for a handoff to Henry. Elam keeps his eyes in the backfield while being aware Tannehill could pull the ball and go back to pass.

Elam2.png
 
(NFL Game Pass)

As the play gets to the mesh point, Tannehill does a great job of disguising his intentions. Elam smartly keeps hold of Hooper as the tight end begins to drift off his block, allowing the cornerback to prepare for either scenario.

Elam3.png
 
(NFL Game Pass)

Tannehill pulls the ball back, which signals Elam that he needs to get after Hooper. Still with his hands on Hooper, but within two yards of the line of scrimmage where it’s legal, Elam begins to turn to get in position to cover up Hooper.

Elam4.png
 
(NFL Game Pass)

Elam releases his hands and avoids a defensive holding penalty, all while propelling himself forward to cut down the separation Hooper was able to get. Despite Elam’s good positioning, Tannehill saw the height advantage and locked on to Hooper.

Elam5.png
 
(NFL Game Pass)

Tannehill delivers the ball to Hooper, but I wanted to include this stage of the rep because Elam has the target exactly where he wants him. He’s within striking distance and his hands are off the player. He has no idea if the ball is coming to Hooper, but he’s ready to strike if the throw comes his way.

Elam6.png
 
(NFL Game Pass)

Right as Hooper lifts his arms up to catch the ball, Elam mirrors him and goes to break up the pass. Hooper gets his hand on the ball but is unable to bring in the pass due to Elam’s disruption.

Elam is starting to look a bit more instinctive in his zone reps, which is exactly what they needed to see. He’ll have an incredible test this coming week in the Dolphins, but they’ll likely avoid leaving Elam or Benford on an island during the game. The Bills followed up a zone-heavy approach against the Rams with another one against the Titans. The Bills lead the league in zone coverage snaps at 90.8 percent, according to TruMedia and Pro Football Focus. The individual games were the second (Rams, 92.4 percent) and fourth (Titans, 88.7 percent) highest in the NFL this year. I would expect a lot of the same with their rookie starters in Week 3 against the explosive Dolphins receiving room.

3. What happened to the Bills’ running game?

As the Bills’ passing offense had a second straight incredible performance, the running game didn’t do much of anything. After an early 16-yard run from Devin Singletary, the following seven carries from Bills running backs totaled one yard. The offense abandoned the run until they led by three touchdowns. Was the running backs or the blocking in front of them most at fault?

The answer, without question, is the blocking in front of the backs. The backs mostly made the reads they needed but never had the room to gain positive yardage. The interior offensive line and tight ends all had some fault, especially as the Bills tried to get out wide with many of their rushes. So while Singletary, Zack Moss and James Cook earned the brunt of the criticism, it was undeserved. They made the most of what they had. Over those eight early carries, the yards before contact was brutal.

Singletary averaged only 0.8 yards before contact per rush, which somehow includes that 16-yard run to begin the game. Moss averaged -0.5 yards before contact per rush, and Cook’s lone rush garnered -3 yards before contact. With how multi-faceted coach Sean McDermott prefers to be, the Bills will likely need to do some soul searching within the building to figure out how to prevent this from becoming a bigger issue down the line that impacts the team’s passing attack.

4. The LB3 answer is revealed as Terrel Bernard

The Bills primarily stay in nickel for most of their snaps, as they did against the Rams all game, but there are exceptions to the rule when the offensive personnel requires a change. That’s what the Titans did on five separate plays, which signaled an answer to a question we’d had all summer. The Bills had to show their hand at their linebacker depth chart between rookie Terrel Bernard and veteran player Tyrel Dodson. The quick answer was Bernard, who ran on the field for nickel corner Taron Johnson whenever the Titans subbed in heavy personnel groupings. Bernard’s first game was a mixed bag with some good and bad moments. Most of Bernard’s work came during garbage time so it’s tough to get a true gauge on what he’ll be against the competition he’d face as a starter. But the big takeaway is that Bernard is the Bills’ guy, and if anything happens to Tremaine Edmunds or Matt Milano, he’s the likely fill-in moving forward.

5. Saffold really struggled against Simmons

The Titans have an excellent defensive tackle in Jeffery Simmons, but if you check the stat sheet, you would have seen Simmons with zeroes across the board. The natural inclination is to believe that the Bills held Simmons in check. But yet another reminder of why usual defensive stats are so misleading, Simmons found his way into the backfield quite a bit and impacted both the speed of throws and running plays by winning his one-on-ones. The player he most often fought through was Bills left guard Rodger Saffold, who has had a bit of a rocky start to his 2022 season. Simmons’ excellent hands and quickness proved too much for Saffold to handle on most snaps, allowing for instant penetration into the backfield. Saffold won’t have to go against players like Simmons every week, so it remains to be seen how he does in future weeks. However, his performance so far has not been the plug-and-play solid starter some expected when the Bills brought him in this offseason. Especially with some of the struggles with the rushing attack, Saffold’s future performances bear watching.

2022 Bills All-22 grades vs. Titans
RANK PLAYER POS. GRADE PLAY COUNT SNAP %
1
WR
A
45
66.18%
2
QB
A
52
76.47%
3
WLB
A-
45
80.36%
4
S
A-
45
80.36%
5
DE
A-
28
50.00%
6
DE
B+
26
46.43%
7
DT
B+
29
51.79%
8
FB
B+
18
26.47%
9
DE
B+
23
41.07%
10
MLB
B+
45
80.36%
11
S
B+
36
64.29%
12
CB
B+
40
71.43%
13
LT
B+
68
100.00%
14
WR
B+
53
77.94%
15
DE
B+
21
37.50%
16
TE
B
47
69.12%
17
RT
B
52
76.47%
18
DT
B
26
46.43%
19
CB
B
37
66.07%
20
WR
B
31
45.59%
21
C
B
30
44.12%
22
WR
B
19
27.94%
23
CB
B
24
42.86%
24
RB
B-
13
19.12%
25
RG
B-
68
100.00%
26
DE
B-
23
41.07%
27
RB
B-
37
54.41%
28
RB
B-
18
26.47%
29
TE
B-
28
41.18%
30
G
B-
17
25.00%
31
DT
B-
27
48.21%
32
T
B-
16
23.53%
33
S
B-
20
35.71%
34
CB
B-
51
91.07%
35
SLB
B-
16
28.57%
36
QB
C+
16
23.53%
37
WR
C
24
35.29%
38
DT
C
21
37.50%
39
IOL
C
38
55.88%
40
LG
D+
58
85.29%

Players with fewer than 15 snaps:
LB Tyrel Dodson (11), CB Siran Neal (11), S Damar Hamlin (11)

Active players without an offensive or defensive snap:
RB Taiwan Jones, LB Tyler Matakevich

Inactives:
*(Total games inactive in 2022 while on the active roster)
OT Tommy Doyle (2), CB Cam Lewis (2), WR Gabe Davis (1), TE Tommy Sweeney (1), DT Ed Oliver (1), DT Tim Settle (1), LB Baylon Spector (1)

The core:
*(Position players who play the core-four special teams units of kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return)
RB Taiwan Jones (100 percent), FB Reggie Gilliam (100), WR Jake Kumerow (100), LB Tyler Matakevich (100), LB Terrel Bernard (100), LB Tyrel Dodson (100), CB Siran Neal (100), S Jaquan Johnson (100), S Damar Hamlin (84), TE Quintin Morris (58), WR Jamison Crowder (32), CB Taron Johnson (26), WR Isaiah McKenzie (11), CB Christian Benford (11), CB Kaiir Elam (5)

2022 Bills All-22 grades, through Week 2
RANK PLAYER POS. GPA 2022 SNAPS
1
QB
4.00
111
2
WR
3.85
83
3
DE
3.67
63
4
DT
3.54
75
5
LT
3.49
127
6
LB
3.47
111
7
DT
3.38
61
8
CB
3.33
105
9
S
3.33
101
10
DE
3.33
71
11
WR
3.33
58
12
DE
3.33
57
13
DE
3.33
49
14
S
3.27
110
15
CB
3.24
89
16
WR
3.19
67
17
TE
3.17
98
18
RB
3.16
72
19
LB
3.13
111
20
C
3.00
89
21
WR
3.00
57
22
WR
3.00
37
23
RT
2.82
111
24
CB
2.81
90
25
RB
2.67
35
26
CB
2.55
67
27
RG
2.05
127
28
IOL
2.02
39
29
LG
1.83
115

*Minimum 30 snaps

How the standards work

When the All-22 film becomes available, we’ll go through and watch every player on every play as many times as necessary to assess letter grades. It is a subjective analysis, and it’s important to note we do not know the play calls and full responsibilities. The grades stem from technique, effort and presumed liability.

The study accounts only for players who take a snap on offense or defense. Players with fewer than 15 snaps — unless they significantly impact the game — will not factor into weekly rankings. The grades range from an ‘A’ (a perfect 4.00 GPA) to ‘F’ (0.00 GPA). There is no such thing as an ‘A+’ on this grading system. Season-long grades will be tallied and documented, with a single game’s grade weighted based on how much the player was on the field in a given week.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”
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