Bills vs Titans: All-22 analysis of Buffalo’s rookie CBs

The Buffalo Bills routed the Tennessee Titans on Monday night, 41-7. Buffalo’s defense looked spectacular, only allowing the Titans 187 total yards. This defense was fun to watch producing four turnovers (technically one turnover was on a muffed punt), including an interception returned for a touchdown by linebacker Matt Milano. Unfortunately for the Bills, they had to deal with a handful of injuries throughout the game on the defensive side of the ball. With a scary injury to starting cornerback Dane Jackson, both of Buffalo’s rookie corners had to step up. Here’s an All-22 look at how they fared against the Titans.


Christian Benford

Christian Benford led all defensive players with 51 snaps (91%) played. This is a glowing endorsement of the Bills’ confidence in the sixth-round rookie. Benford started the game’s first two series and then switched off with fellow rookie corner Kaiir Elam. Once cornerback Dane Jackson was injured (thankfully he is okay), both Benford and Elam played the rest of the game together.

Play 1


Benford jumps right in on the first defensive series of the game and makes a huge tackle on Titans running back Derrick Henry. It’s great to see a young player have the tenacity to challenge in the run game—something both head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane have said they look for in cornerbacks. At the snap, Benford immediately recognizes the toss play and forces the issue by running UP field, not sitting back. This ultimately puts him in a good position to set the edge four yards deep in Tennessee’s backfield. Henry tries to bump the run outside to no avail because Benford strings the play out nicely and makes an excellent tackle for a four-yard loss.


Benford played well but here’s a play where he could have had better coverage. On this 3rd & 14 play by the Titans, they lined up in a bunch formation to Benford’s side. The Bills show a Cover 2 look with 2-high safeties. In this situation Benford should be thinking three things:

  1. One of the WRs of the bunch should go out towards the sideline. They most likely won’t run all three of them towards the short side of the field.
  2. Realize that all of his help is inside, so he should have outside leverage.
  3. Be aware of the first-down marker—they are likely going to run routes at the marker because they are already in close field goal range. The Titans have nothing to gain by throwing a short dump-off.

Understanding situational football is a key component to understanding what your opponent is trying to do. This was a critical play that gave the Titans a 4th & 1, which led to a touchdown on the next play.

Play 3


Let’s end on a good one! Benford does a wonderful job recognizing the “wheel route” on this play. He seamlessly passes off the in-route to the linebackers and then picks up the vertical wide receiver while squeezing the route to the sideline. Good coverage!


Cairo Elam

Kaiir Elam played 37 snaps (66%) on Monday night. Although he didn’t “start,” it was nice to see him out there getting more playing time. Elam carries high expectations from being a first-round pick in this year’s NFL draft, but McDermott and defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier are staying patient with him and letting him develop as the season progresses. Let’s take a look at some plays from his encouraging performance.

Play 1


Another cornerback on the Bills who is a willing tackler. Bills Mafia should be excited about the aggressiveness that these two young corners showed Monday night. On this play, Elam immediately recognizes the run play and flies up to the line of scrimmage for his run fit on the edge. Watch as he approaches the edge. Titans running back Derrick Henry sees him and turns it back up inside… perfect! Then Elam jumps in on the tackle to stop Henry for a minimum gain. Great play! Elam had another tackle almost identical to this play in the third quarter where he ended up taking Henry down on his own.

Play 2


Another great tackle here, this time in the open field. Kaiir Elam played a lot of press coverage in college at the University of Florida. He seems more comfortable when he’s playing up on the wide receiver as he does here. On this play, he shows a nice jam on the line of scrimmage of the wide receiver and sticks with him for some solid coverage. As soon as Elam sees quarterback Ryan Tannehill turn to throw the swing pass, he drives up the field to close the gap to the ball carrier. This is paramount in an open-field tackle. It gives the ball carrier less space to make a move. This play ends up for no gain thanks to Elam’s quickness and sound open-field tackling technique.

Play 3


Elam executes his role in Cover-2 perfectly on this play. The Titans run a “switch route” where the outside receiver runs a post and the inside receiver runs an “out and up” or “wheel” route. This route is usually to try and confuse the cornerback and safety on defense, but it doesn’t phase Elam. He calmly drops back into position and realizes he has two vertical routes. Elam closes the window on the post route, carrying it to safety. Then he switches off the wheel route and squeezes his man to the sideline, leaving no room for a throw.


Summary

With the injuries stacking up in Buffalo’s secondary, all eyes will be on the rookie cornerbacks heading into their Week 3 matchup against the Miami Dolphins. The cheetah (Tyreek Hill) and the penguin (Jaylen Waddle) are some of the most explosive wide receivers in the NFL. Miami is coming fresh off of an impressive offensive performance in their big comeback win against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and company present some challenges for the Bills’ secondary, but it was encouraging to see the young rookie corners play well in Week 2. We’ll find out quickly if they are up for the uniquely challenging task the Dolphins present.

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