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Bills Xs and Os: The Bootleg Throwback

What a week. An unexpected win over a very strong opponent, and suddenly the Bills are 3-1 with a one game lead in the AFC East. The passing game was exactly what was needed: safe, efficient, and hitting the occasional big play without turning the ball over.

The two biggest passing plays in the Buffalo Bills’ surprising upset of the Atlanta Falcons came on the same concept, to the same player. A 44-yard gain to Charles Clay in the second quarter and a 34 yard gain in the fourth quarter were the two explosive plays the Bills needed to win in Atlanta, and their use of the bootleg throwback concept was the key to both.

Play One

About halfway through the second quarter, with the Falcons leading 3-0, the Bills were facing a first-and-ten at the Atlanta 47. I don’t know about other people, but I certainly felt like the Bills needed to put points on the board during this drive to stand a chance in this game. Well, they put themselves in great position to do so here.

The Bills come out in 21 personnel, with LeSean McCoy (#25) and Patrick DiMarco (#42) in an offset I-formation, and TE Charles Clay (#85) inline on the left of the offensive line. Jordan Matthews (#87) is split to the left, and Zay Jones (#11) is isolated on the right.

The Bills will fake an outside zone run to right, and QB Tyrod Taylor (#5) will begin to boot out to his left. Matthews runs a fly route down the sideline, and Jones will run a deep crossing route. This was a bootleg/route combination I wrote about a lot last week, and the Bills were certainly relying on the fact that they had put it on film for the Falcons.

Charles Clay is the key to this design. He’ll start by flowing to the right with the offensive line, selling the zone run. Then, he’ll release horizontally and jog in front of the underneath defenders, pretending to be out of the play with Taylor rolling to the other side of the field. Then, he’ll put on the jets and turn his jog into a full speed wheel route, getting vertical down the sideline.

The play works exactly as intended, with the defenders either flowing to the side of the field with Matthews and Jones, or biting on Clay’s underneath route fake. Taylor comes off the two wide receivers to his left, as both are picked up well by the defense, to begin moving back to his right. At this point, Clay has just begun moving vertically, and he catches safety Keanu Neal (#22) flat footed.

It’s a great disguise by Clay, an impressive progression read from Taylor, and an even better throw. He drops it right into Clay’s arms on the run with pressure in his face.

While pressure appears to be what forces Taylor to come back towards Clay’s side of the field, this was a designed route fake from Clay all the way. Watching him run, especially from the end zone view, he’s not watching Taylor and converting his route once he sees Taylor scramble back his way. His head is down and he’s selling the fake underneath the whole play, and it’s clear this was a designed backside wheel route from Clay.

It worked just as intended, with Clay hauling in the 44-yard play through defensive pass interference. Taylor would hit Matthews on a 9-yard touchdown on the next play.  

Play Two

This is another play in which Clay releases on the backside of a rollout. This time, though, it’s even clearer that it was designed, as Taylor stops to turn and throw to Clay without pressure forcing him back in that direction.

First, through, the play design:

The Bills will fake outside zone to the left tied 17-all mid way through the fourth quarter, with Taylor coming back to the right on a bootleg. Zay Jones will run a pivot route from the right slot, and Andre Holmes (#18) will run a deep comeback route from the outside to that side.  

Clay will release immediately off the line, showing a post route early as though he’s following Taylor across the field. However, once he gets to the left hash he cuts his route off, and turns it into a corner route to the left sideline.

Tyrod drops an absolute dime into Clay as he’s getting hammered right in the ribs. The end zone view of this throw is legitimately special.

It’s a very well designed play, but an even better executed one. A 34-yard gain to kick off what would end up being the game winning drive.



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Ryan is a student-athlete at Haverford College, studying economics and statistics while playing varsity squash. He’s a life-long Bills fan from Buffalo, NY who loves to scout players, schemes and teams in both the NFL and NCAA. He can be found on twitter @DBRyan_Dukarm.

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