Bills trying to get run defense ‘really figured out’ ahead of facing Leonard Fournette and Bucs


Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Leonard Fournette runs against the Indianapolis Colts during an NFL football game at Lucas Oil Stadium, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021 in Indianapolis. (Winslow Townson/AP Images for Panini)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – In three of the Bills five losses this season, the blueprint for the opposing offense was to run the ball which isn’t surprising considering it worked.

“This league is a copycat league so teams watch all the film they can to see how to beat this defense. Obviously if you look at where our defense is successful with, look at the stats, when the ball’s in the air we’re doing pretty well. So teams are trying to find weaknesses of this defense and they’re gonna copycat whatever the other teams were able to be successful on us and that’s the type of stuff that we know, we’re working on,” Bills safety Micah Hyde said after practice on Wednesday.

The Patriots are the latest team to have success running the ball against the Bills. Granted, a lot of that was because of the gusty conditions but the other part is, it worked as quarterback Mac Jones only attempted three passes and New England rushed for 222 yards.

The Colts rushed for 264 yards while Derrick Henry had 143 when they played the Titans back in week six, which is something this defense acknowledges needs to get fixed.

“As far as this defense goes we’re always striving to get better whether it’s pass game, run game and obviously the run game right now is something we want to dial in and really get figured out,” Hyde said.

Another thing those three losses have in common is the Bills knew exactly what the Titans, Colts and Patriots wanted to do offensively and still had no answer for it. Bills defensive tackle Harrison Phillips said that’s a result of how they mix it up with their runs.

“Teams can still be predictable but they still have a rolodex of plays, you can run it from different formations, different personnel groups,” Phillips said Wednesday.

“Yeah it can be predictable but you can’t just play into a play, you have awareness for it but you can’t…”alright I think it’s going outside so I’m just gonna turn and run on the snap.” You can’t do that and so when you play great team defense that’s what makes it so rewarding”

What really hurt the Bills against New England was the 64-yard touchdown run by Damien Harris in the first quarter. This week the Bills take on the Bucs and face another running back with the potential to pop off explosive plays so limiting those will be key on Sunday.

“I think it’s been a few runs here and there that have hit on us. I think last game obviously their game plan was to run the ball, we all know that, and they were mixing it up on us. They were doing different types of runs, inside, outside, all different types. So it was on us to make those adjustments in the game and we were obviously able to do that on some plays, a big one gashed us, a few of them went for first downs but for the most part we were knocking out the runs. And I know obviously we can’t take out the big run and say “without that play blah, blah blah.” You can’t do that,” Hyde said.

“At the same time I think once that play happened we kind of focused, dialed in and were able to get some tackles for losses and all that type of stuff. So it’s just been a few runs hitting us here and there.”

While Tampa has Tom Brady and a number of weapons in the passing game, the Bucs have a strong running game to compliment their passing attack. It was just two weeks ago against the Colts that Fournette had 100 yards rushing and three rushing touchdowns. He’s also shown he can be a reliable pass catcher out of the backfield with two touchdown catches in the last two games.

“Ton of respect for their offense as a whole and the evolution of Leonard Fournette. He’s really put himself into a true three down back and you’ve seen what he’s been able to do in the passing game as well. I think their success in the run game stems from their success in the pass game,” Phillips said.

“So being able to make them more predictable or try to get them one dimensional will obviously help us but he’s a great downhill runner, can make guys miss and go through you so it’s gonna be a fun, fun test for us.”

When it comes to pinpointing the issues with the Bills run defense, Phillips says all it takes is for one mistake on one play and if it continues to happen, things spiral.

“It takes everybody and so let’s just say you have 11 players that play every play, 50 plays a game and each player just has one bad play, 49 of the plays they’re all in their gap but if those all happen on different plays that could be 11 touchdowns. So you all have to be in your gap every single time.”

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