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'Be patient' | How the Bills defense slowed down the Chiefs

Greg Rousseau (50) interception. Buffalo Bills vs Kansas City Chiefs at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, October 10, 2021.   Photo by Bill Wippert
Greg Rousseau (50) interception. Buffalo Bills vs Kansas City Chiefs at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, October 10, 2021. Photo by Bill Wippert

Leslie Frazier wrote two words on his call sheet Sunday, a mantra to revisit any time the threat of the Kansas City Chiefs tempted him to stray from his game plan.

The message: Be patient.

"There were times where I wanted to get outside of myself," the Bills defensive coordinator admitted Monday. "… They might make a play here or there, but stay with the plan and let our players play."

Frazier never wavered from his plan to rush four defenders and drop the rest into coverage, forcing the Chiefs big-play offense to move the ball methodically downfield. The Bills did not blitz quarterback Patrick Mahomes once on 56 dropbacks.

TruMedia lists single-game blitz rates for games dating back to 2016. In that span, only one other contest has featured zero blitzes: Bills vs. Chiefs during Week 6 of last season.

Mahomes entered the contest with a 122.5 passer rating when facing five or more pass rushers since 2017, the best mark in the NFL among active quarterbacks during that span.

"The more we studied Kansas City and their offense and just watching Mahomes and how he operated versus pressure, man, it created a lot of problems for defenses because of his ability to be able to see things and identify early and make you pay sometimes for bringing pressure," Frazier said.

"Now, I'm not saying that will always be the strategy. But for this game that was the right thing to do."

The Bills lost 26-17 when they employed the no-blitz strategy last season. Many of the underlying statistics were the same this time around. The Bills pressured Mahomes on 3.2 percent of snaps this year compared to 2.9 percent in 2020. Their sack percentage was down from 3.7 percent to 3.6 percent.

The numbers reveal two key differences. Buffalo dared Kansas City to run the ball during the 2020 meeting, and the Chiefs took advantage. Mahomes only attempted 26 passes while Clyde-Edwards Helaire rushed for a career-high 161 yards.

Buffalo's run defense has improved drastically to begin this season, ranked fifth in the NFL with an average of 3.7 yards allowed per carry. The group has been aided by the return of space-eating defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who returned after opting out of last season due to the pandemic.

Edwards-Helaire rushed for 13 yards on seven attempts before exiting with an injury. Darrel Williams added 27 yards on five carries. The Bills had three tackles for loss on run plays.

The Chiefs tried to attack through the air instead, with Mahomes attempting a career-high 54 passes. It was exactly how safety Micah Hyde said the Bills defense hoped to approach teams after a Week 4 win against Houston, forcing them to nickel and dime downfield until they make a mistake.

Which brings us to the other difference from a season ago. The Bills forced one turnover when the two teams met in Orchard Park. This year's Bills lead the NFL with 15 takeaways, all of which have come in Weeks 2 through 5. They intercepted Mahomes twice, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Hyde, and forced the quarterback to fumble during the fourth quarter.

"With what [Mahomes] is able to do after he drops back and nobody's open right away, the way he buys time he's one of the best in the league," Hyde said. "So, we knew that once he did that, we had to find the receivers. Nobody really come out of coverage and just lock to the receivers."

The Bills used the extra personnel in the defensive backfield to disguise their coverages.

"You can kind of manipulate the quarterback to a degree by showing him some different looks because you've got more people in coverage," Frazier said. "Sometimes you may think you're playing a single high defense when you're actually playing a split safety defense or vice versa."

It all added up to yet another dominant outing from the Bills defense, which had feasted against lesser teams in Weeks 2 through 4 but faced outside skepticism ahead of its matchup with the Chiefs second-ranked scoring offense.

Jordan Poyer, a defensive captain, began feeling confident in the matchup during their week of preparation.

"We believe in ourselves," Poyer said. "We believe in our teammates. We believe in just the way we go about things. Obviously last year left a bad taste in my mouth so we wanted to come back and play well today. We had a great week of practice, coach put us in position to make plays."

Here are more notes to wrap up Week 5.

A new look on offense

The Bills ran 21 personnel (two running backs and one tight end) on 19 plays against the Chiefs, according to TruMedia. That's tied as the fifth-highest total by any NFL team this season. Fullback Reggie Gilliam played 39 percent of offensive snaps, a career high.

The strategy helps explain the low usage for slot receiver Cole Beasley, who played 22 offensive snaps (39 percent).

"Just game plan related more than anything," head coach Sean McDermott said of Beasley's low usage. "We've got a lot of confidence in Cole across the building here. So, really appreciate the way he's handled that. I mean it's not easy when you go a week or two with not getting the ball a lot, but it says a lot about who he is and his unselfish nature."

Neal's impact on defense

Siran Neal was another player who saw increased usage, playing a season-high 33 defensive snaps. He was part of an effort that held All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce to 57 yards on six receptions.

Neal's defensive responsibilities came in addition to his typical role on special teams, where he forced a fumble recovered by the Bills during a kickoff in the first quarter.

"He comes every week (with a) kind of chip on his shoulder type approach, me against the world, which is what made him who he is," McDermott said. "And I think he did a phenomenal job last night balancing special teams and defense."

Up next

Another familiar foe awaits the Bills for their Week 6 matchup with the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football. The Titans beat the Bills during Week 5 last season, a Tuesday night game that saw the Bills turn the ball over three times.

McDermott expressed confidence in his team's ability to move on from a significant win over the Chiefs and refocus to next Monday.

"I think it's always a challenge in the NFL to hit the reset button, detach from what has happened the previous week and then move forward into the new week with the growth mindset," McDermott said.

"… But it takes leadership. I'm not talking about coach leadership, I'm talking about player-driven leadership. We've got good leadership in our locker room and I'm counting on those guys this week."

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