Many wondered how Bills coach Sean McDermott would do as the defensive play-caller after he replaced Leslie Frazier, who was Buffalo’s defensive coordinator the last six seasons.
Let’s just say McDermott is more aggressive with his blitz plays. The coach called a near-perfect game in the dominant 48–20 victory against the Dolphins and might have provided the blueprint for how to contain Tua Tagovailoa and his explosive offense.
But not many teams have the roster the Bills do, one that was needed to do what they did against the Dolphins last week. First, McDermott had the luxury of blitzing the league’s most dangerous downfield offense: If Tagovailoa burned them a few times, the Bills could make up the points with their own offense, which is just as good as Miami’s thanks to Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs.
McDermott, however, had timely blitz plays and didn’t lose patience early in the game with Tagovailoa releasing the ball quickly (the Dolphins scored touchdowns on their first two drives). Eventually, the Bills’ two-high safety scheme frustrated Tagovailoa; he struggled to see passing lanes with the Bills’ defensive linemen and linebackers collapsing the pocket. Tagovailoa was sacked four times by the Bills after entering Sunday with only one sack in three games.
McDermott got risky against a team with speedy wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, but he was methodical in how he brought the pressure. The receiving duo was held to a combined seven catches for 104 yards and zero touchdowns.
Here are some other commendable game plans and coaching decisions—and some questionable calls—that occurred across the league in Week 4.
Calls we liked
Timely safety blitz ignites Vikings vs. Panthers: With the Vikings trailing 13–7 in the third quarter, defensive coordinator Brian Flores unleashed safety Harrison Smith on a blitz that led to him recording his first of three sacks—a strip sack on rookie quarterback Bryce Young. Linebacker D.J. Wonnum scooped the ball and returned it for a 51-yard touchdown to give Minnesota a one-point advantage.
Flores called the safety blitz a few more times to end the Panthers’ comeback attempt and seal the Vikings’ first win of the season. Smith sacked Young twice on the final three plays, including on fourth-and-goal from the 18-yard line.
Titans stick with trick play after Bengals’ timeout: Never change, Mike Vrabel. It was funny to see the Bengals freak out after spotting Derrick Henry behind the center as defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons motioned from fullback to offensive lineman. Cincinnati called a timeout to get more defenders closer to the goal line, but that didn’t stop Vrabel and offensive coordinator Tim Kelly from calling the same play just before halftime.
Ryan Tannehill moved to wide receiver for a second time, allowing Henry to throw a two-yard jump pass to rookie tight end Josh Whyle (his first career touchdown reception). It gave the Titans a 24–3 advantage, and from there they never looked back in the dominant win against the Bengals.
Calls we question
Steelers continue to struggle under Canada: It’s time to question why coach Mike Tomlin decided to retain Matt Canada as his offensive coordinator after the unit delivered another stinker last week, falling to the Texans, 30–6.
The Steelers’ offense, which is loaded with skill players, hasn’t just been struggling this season—they’re ranked 25th in points scored and 29th in yards gained through four games. Since Tomlin promoted Canada from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator in 2021, Pittsburgh has only cracked 30 points in a game twice and has never had a game with at least 400 yards.
Perhaps Tomlin focused too much on the Steelers winning six of their final seven regular-season games in 2022 rather than digging deeper into the subpar offensive numbers. But it seems the coach is finally fed up. Following Sunday’s game, Tomlin said, “Hell yeah, we’ve got to make changes. That was an ugly product we put out there [vs. Houston].”
Final four minutes between Chargers and Raiders: Brandon Staley and Josh McDaniels made more questionable decisions in crunch time. Let’s start with Staley, who again went for a risky fourth down deep in Chargers’ territory with a seven-point lead and 3:34 left in regulation.
This time I won’t question Staley’s bold decision, only because his defense did step up last week in the win against the Vikings, and they did the same Sunday when Asante Samuel Jr. intercepted a pass from rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell near the end zone. The bigger issue is offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s decision to attempt a quarterback sneak on the failed fourth-and-1 from the Chargers’ 34-yard line. In a similar situation against Minnesota, Moore called a run play for Joshua Kelley, who was stopped short. The Chargers have too much talent to be this predictable on critical fourth downs.
As for McDaniels, he probably should have gone the conservative route with a rookie fourth-round pick in the midst of his starting debut. After the Raiders stopped the Chargers on fourth down, McDaniels called six consecutive passes for O’Connell. The Purdue product did have an impressive throw on fourth down to Davante Adams, but Las Vegas might have been better off handing the ball to running back Josh Jacobs on the 3-yard line. Samuel picked off O’Connell after the fourth-down conversion.
Commanders settle for overtime against Eagles: I know most coaches would have done what Ron Rivera did by opting for the extra-point attempt to send the game into overtime. But I really wanted to see the return of RiverBoat Ron, with the Commanders going for the two-point conversion to put all the Eagles fans in attendance on the edge of their seats. How sweet it would have been for Washington to leave Philadelphia with a walk-off victory after driving down 64 yards in under two minutes. Instead, the Commanders left with a crushing 34–31 loss in overtime to drop to 2–2 on the season.