ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WROC) — The buzz phrase for the Bills’ run defense issues is “gap integrity”.
To understand what it means, first one must understand what the Bills are trying to do against the run.
Buffalo runs a one-gap offense. Imagine an opposing offensive line with a tight end on either side. There are eight “gaps” that must be defended: outside the tight end, between the tight end and tackle, between the tackle and guard, etc. — all the way to the other side.
Simply put, the Bills want one defender responsible for being in every gap.
If one player is not properly in his assigned gap, that’s when the big runs can happen. The mistake could be as small as the length of a football.
“You take a little peek and, your body may be in your gap, but your head is (looking elsewhere) and then, for whatever reason, (a ballcarrier) bounces off somebody and finds your gap and runs right by you,” Lorenzo Alexander said. “You could be standing there and miss the play. It’s really inches.”
“One guy gets nosey thinking the ball already crossed past his gap and peeks in the next gap, that’s when the running back sticks his foot in the ground and finds (your gap),” Jordan Poyer said.
The gaps can change depending on formation. If, say, a fullback is leading a run play behind the guard and tackle, it creates an extra gap. Now, defenders would need to be responsible for the gaps between the fullback and the guard along with the fullback and the tackle.
As Adrian Peterson proved last Sunday, NFL running backs are more than capable of finding a vacated gap. Even if the defender in the wrong spot is there because of the best intentions.
“Most of the time, especially for our defense, it’s just guys wanting to do more,” Star Lotulelei said. “Guys are in their gap and they might see the ball and shed to another gap when, really, they should just stay in their gap.”
If the margin for error is so small, why do the Bills bother using this system?
The answer is simple. Or better yet, simple is the answer.
“Everybody just knows their assignment and knows before the play, this is my gap,” Poyer said “Now, it’s a matter of being physical in your gap and being able to make the tackle.”
Alexander likes the fact that the Bills can play “downhill” in a one-gap defense. Linebackers can help bust double-team blocks off their defensive linemen and it makes running backs indecisive.
“You’re able to play a lot faster. You don’t have to pop your feet and read as much when you have one gap,” he said.
Even though one-gap is intended to reduce thinking, NFL offenses do their best to create choices.
“This is the NFL,” Micah Hyde said. “Teams are not gonna just line up in something and say, ‘hey, we’re running it right at you. You got the B gap. No. They’re going to motion guys. They’re going to trap. They’re going to do a whole bunch of stuff to take your eyes off that gap.”
The solutions can come from a number of places, both physical and mental.
“Little details. Playing with your hands or not playing with your hands. Just little stuff like that,” Hyde said. “Getting your head one way or getting it the other way.”
“Harp on the small things,” Lotulelei said. “Your technique. The inches. Just trusting the guy next to you that he’s going to do his job so you can do yours.”
“Trust is what makes a defense go,” Ed Oliver said “If they don’t trust my gap, then somebody else has to do my job and that’s how big runs happen.”
The Bills certainly aren’t going to make any major changes. Even after allowing 218 yards on the ground to the Eagles and 101 more to Adrian Peterson in one half, Buffalo still has the third best overall defense in the league.
Holding Peterson to only seven yards in the second half buoyed the Bills confidence in their plan plenty. Not that they needed it much.
“(Our defense) works,” Jordan Phillips said. “It worked when Sean McDermott was in Carolina and it works here. We have a lot of trust in each other and, most of the time, we’re (in the right spot).”
“It’s stuff that we practice every day,” Hyde said.” That’s why we’re not panicking. It’s stuff we know we can do.”
“Not panicking” doesn’t have quite the buzz of “gap integrity” in Orchard Park, but it’s a phrase the defense uses pretty freely.