It is no secret that the Buffalo Bills have committed a lot of penalties this year. Many people have placed the blame on head coach Rex Ryan. The belief is that Rex runs “too loose of a ship’," that his teams are undisciplined and that he coaches players to play through the whistle. Through nine weeks, the Bills have played 1126 plays and of those plays the Bills have been flagged a whopping 102 times! This is currently the league high. Eighty-five of those 102 penalties have been accepted and have given Buffalo's opponents 764 yards. Rex has tried a couple different tactics to possibly reduce the costly mistakes. In practice he made players do push ups if they committed penalties and he bought bracelets made that said “yes sir” to remind players that when they are flagged that all they should say to the referee is “yes sir."
The biggest perpetrator on the Bills team is Jerry Hughes. Hughes is tied for the 2nd most penalties. He accounts for 10.59% all of Buffalo's penalties, which is nine total according to NFLpenalties.com. Seven out of nine of those penalties have occurred at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Fans and media members have called for Rex to sit or bench players that commit costly penalties. Rex has refused to do so. If Rex would have followed that plan the outcome of the Week 9 Bills vs. Dolphins game could have been totally different. Let’s examine how the game transpired after halftime.
The Bills went into halftime with the momentum. Coach Campbell decided to go for the touchdown at the end of the 2nd quarter and Stephon Gilmore broke the play up and the Fins went into the locker room empty-handed. The Fins came out of the tunnel down 19-7 but they had a new game-plan and that involved RB Lamar Miller. On their first drive after the half, the Dolphins put a nice drive together by throwing several screens to Miller. On 1st and 10 from midfield, the Dolphins threw a screen to Lamar Miller which gained 27 yards all the way down to the Bills 23 yard line. That was the third screen in a row executed by the Fins. This started to frustrate the Bills defensive line as it neutralized their pass rushing abilities. Specifically, Jerry Hughes was most frustrated and on the very next play he took his troubles out on Ryan Tannehill.
1st and 10
Bills 23 yd line
3rd Quarter 11:32
The Dolphins are in 12 personnel, that is one running back (RB) and two tight ends (TE). Motion moved the #1 tight end (TE) to the current position pictured. That motion brought the Bills WILL linebacker Nigel Bradham with him. That movement shows the offense that the defense is in man coverage. The Bills are in their 4-3 Under base defense and indeed in man coverage. SAM Linebacker (LB) Manny Lawson is positioned to the strength of the offense and he is heads up on the TE. Free Safety (FS) Corey Graham slowly drops down closer to the box, indicating that he has the #1 TE in coverage.
Once the ball is snapped quarterback (QB) Tannehill pitches the ball to Landry. The player circled in yellow is defensive end (DE) Hughes. The defensive line and linebackers all see run and fast flow to the ball. Cornerback (CB) Darby has his eye on the WR who is running a slant across the field. CB Gilmore also runs with his WR on the bottom of the screen. The strong safety (SS) Duke Williams has the deep middle of the field but he also fast flows to the ball.
Jarvis Landry runs wide, stops and throws back to Tannehill. Man coverage by the Bills did not account for the QB. He is wide open. Fortunately, the throw was a little behind the QB, so Tannehill had to come back to the ball.
The player that is circled is Jerry Hughes. The inaccurate pass by Landry allowed Hughes to make up some ground.
Hughes lays into Tannehill two yards out of bounds. The jolt almost knocked Tannehill over but Hughes grabbed him so he didn’t fall down. The hit resulted in a 15 yard penalty against Hughes.
Two plays later, the Dolphins went on to score as Lamar Miller scored from one yard out. You could feel the momentum shift after that touchdown. The penalty committed by Hughes was out of frustration and to be honest, stupid. The hit was totally unnecessary and multiple Bills fans were probably screaming at the TV, “Take him out! Sit him for a quarter”. I was interested to see if Rex was going to make an example of Hughes. He has been killing the Bills all year, he helped the other team seize the momentum and played a role in Miami scoring more points.
On the next Bills offensive drive, Tyrod Taylor dropped back to pass and he couldn’t find anyone open and was subsequently sacked. The very next play was also a negative one. The Bills tried setting up a screen to LeSean McCoy but the Fins were not fooled. Shady lost seven yards on the play. So on 3rd and 23 from their own 16 yard line the Bills set up another screen play to McCoy which gained 14 yards, but they were short of the sticks. Schmidt punted on the next play.
So with momentum and the ball, Miami started on their own 30 yard line. The Bills defense stampeded onto the field and Hughes lined up at his usual right end position. I felt like Rex let me down, he let Hughes get away with another dumb play, but the game must go on. The Fins again established Lamar Miller. Miller carried the rock off right guard for 14 yards to the Miami 44. The play was a great drive starter, it got a chunk of yards and immediately put them near midfield. On 1st down, Miami motioned Landry and handed it off to him on the jet sweep. This play attacks the defensive ends. Mario Williams did his best containing the sweep by turning Landry back inside where Bradham made the tackle. The Bills defense was totally off balance at this point. The Fins had attacked up the middle with Miller, attacked the edges with Landry and frustrated our best defensive players with screens. With that said, Buffalo made a stop on 2nd down as Miller received the pitch off the right edge and was tackled by Lawson for no gain.
3rd and 4 starts with the Dolphins in 12 personnel. The TEs, Cameron and Sims, are aligned in the slots. The defense has Robey and McKelvin in the slot in press technique. Gilmore is man-to-man on WR Matthews, while Darby is in press technique on Jarvis Landry.
IK Enemkpali is aligned in a Wide 9 and Bryant at the 3 technique, Bradham threatens the center as if he's blitzing, but really peels back and keeps an eye on the RB. Mario is the 4 technique over the tackle and he attacks the guard. Hughes is the wide 9. Brown drops into the middle zone while Graham has deep middle.
Tannehill takes the snap, looks off the single high safety, and throws a dart to Landry. Landry catches the contested ball and gets past the marker for a 1st down. It was great coverage but just a heck of a catch by Landry.
The Dolphins are in the groove at this point. They have found a personnel grouping (12) that began to work versus the Bills team. On first down. they stay with that grouping. Miami lines up in a double tight formation, 2x2 set with a WR and a TE on each side of the formation. Tannehill fakes the run to Damien Williams and drops back to pass. The alignment of the offense put Jerry Hughes outside the TE. This is important because it made the LT Brendan Albert have to kick slide a lot further to meet Hughes. WR Matthews runs a clearing route and Greg Jennings runs a deep crossing route from right to left of the formation.
Hughes gets a great jump off the ball and forces Tannehill to hitch 2 times into the pocket. On the second hitch, he releases the ball. Jennings had to slow his route pace down because the ball was thrown behind him.
This allowed Darby and Leodis to simultaneously jar the ball loose from Jennings' hands. If completed, the Dolphins would have had the ball on the Bills 25 yard line. It was a great play by McKelvin; his speed definitely helped him close the gap. But the pass rush by Hughes led to a poorly thrown ball. He started to take over.
The next play was 2nd and 10 from the Fins 40 yard line with 5:22 left in the 3rd quarter. The Dolphins bring in 11 personnel and line up with four wide in a 2x2 set. But the RB in the backfield is Landry.
The defense shows double A gap blitz with Bradham and Brown. Bryant is in a 4i technique as he drops into the middle zone, Dareus is in a 3 technique. The edge defenders are Jerry Hughes and Alex Carrington. Hughes drops into coverage and looks to wall off the #2 WR because Robey blitzes out of the slot. Graham slides over to help with that coverage. Carrington looks to wall off his #2 WR.
Tannehill motions Landry wide right. As he motions, Leodis Mckelvin begins creeping to the very same side as Landry.
The ball is snapped and Leodis is at full speed as he blows by the TE Sims who was supposed to block him. Tannehill rifles the pass to Landry to set up a screen but Leo tackles him for a loss of 2 yards. It was remarkably timed by Mckelvin.
Tannehill was in rhythm. He had completed 21-of-24 of his last passes. Although the Fins were behind in down and distance and losing by five points, the next play was not impossible. Miami had been on a roll and getting chunk plays since the beginning of the half. So with 3rd and 12 from the Buffalo 43 yard line Miami lined up to run a play. Ryan and everyone in the stadium could feel the importance of this play. The Bills defense needed a stop so Rex Ryan wisely took a timeout.
On 3rd and 12, the offense brought in 11 personnel. They align in a 3x2 empty backfield set. The TE is in the off line position to the offenses’ left. The 4 receivers all run clearing routes.
The defense is in nickel, showing soft man coverage with 2 high safeties. Brown is in the slot covering Lamar Miller. Based on this alignment the Dolphins look to have the pass rush under control.
Enemkpali is aligned outside the TE in a 9 tech, Bradham is in the C gap, Dareus is in a 3 technique on the outside shoulder of the guard. Mario is in a three point stance heads up (4 technique) on the RT Fox while Hughes is aligned well outside the tackle in a wide 9 technique.
The ball is snapped and the Bills look to be bringing five rushers. Play-side, Bradham and Enemkpali feel the screen to Dion Sims developing, so as the offensive lineman peel off their blocks, Nigel and Enemkpali stay with them. This totally shuts down the attempted TE screen. The defensive alignment gave the Buffalo Bills the advantage on the weak side. Mario takes on the guard and that puts Jerry Hughes 1-on-1 with Fox. Hughes dominated Fox in their first meeting back in Week 3. Fox couldn't handle Jerry’s speed rush. Hughes got to Tannehill in that meeting by making Fox think that he was going to speed rush outside, then he quickly cut back in and caused a fumble. Flash forward to this play and Hughes sets him up in the very same way. His wide alignment already makes Fox have to kick slide quite wide so all of this weight is shifting left to right. So Hughes attacks outside with speed and just as Fox is about to engage, Jerry plants his left foot and imitates his old teammate Dwight Freeney with a textbook spin move back inside.
Tannehill does not throw the ball at Sims’ feet and move on to the next play, instead he holds the ball too long.
This allows Hughes to swipe the ball out of Tannehill's hands.
Jerry takes Tannehill down and scoops the ball up on the way down. The stadium goes crazy at this point.
This play may be the play of the year thus far. Jerry Hughes had been in the doghouse of many fans and commentators. His dumb decisions on the field have proven to be costly all year. This game wasn't any different. The first drive of the 3rd quarter, Hughes committed an unexplicable penalty on Tannehill. Fans had met their threshold for his foolish play on the field. They were calling for him to be benched. There's no denying Hughes' talent on the field, he's the Bills best pure pass rusher. Can you imagine if Rex actually did punish Hughes for his late hit on Tannehill? Jerry would not have been on the field the very next drive and the momentum would have still been with the Fins. As much as I had agreed with benching players who commit dumb penalties, I have to hand it to Rex here. He stayed with his guy. In fact, he utilized him on this 3rd and 12 play. The play was designed to get Jerry 1-on-1. Jerry re-directed his frustration and made a play when the Bills needed him the most, which is the only way to win the masses back. The sack, strip and recovery was the turning point in this game and could be the play that we look back on and say that was what jumpstarted the Bills playoff run.
Erik Turner owns and operates cover1.net. You can follow him on Twitter at @Cover1ETurner.