The Bills had just scored a touchdown of their own to cut Jacksonville’s lead to 18-13, and with the Jaguars facing a 3rd and 4, the crowd at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was in full voice. As Jacksonville head coach Doug Pederson noted after the game, Bills fans had made the trip, and turned Sunday into a road game for the Jaguars in every sense of the word. “Bills Mafia was full effect today,” Pederson said. “It did feel like a road game for us.”
The team even needed to use a silent count at points throughout the game.
Facing this third down with just over three minutes remaining, Jacksonville desperately needed to extend the drive. A punt here would give Josh Allen and company a chance to go down and win the game themselves.
Here’s how Lawrence, Calvin Ridley, and the Jaguars offense prevented that from happening.
They break the huddle and empty the backfield, putting Lawrence alone in the shotgun formation. Tight end Evan Engram and wide receiver Christian Kirk align on the left side of the formation in a tight slot, while wide receivers Ridley, Jamal Agnew, and running back Travis Etienne Jr. are in a trips to the right. The running back aligns along the boundary, with Ridley in the middle:
Now take a look at the Buffalo defense. The first thing you probably notice? They do not have a safety deep. All 11 defenders are within six yards of the line of scrimmage. Then you notice a number of “capped” defenders. If you look at Kirk in the left slot, for example, you see a linebacker right across from him, with safety Jordan Poyer lurking six yards downfield.
If you look at Agnew on the right, you see a cornerback lurking over him, with another defender nearby.
These are all signals to Lawrence that the Bills are likely bringing pressure, perhaps a Cover 0 look where they play straight man coverage without safety help, and send everyone else. The fact that the defensive backs along the boundaries are in man alignment — hips parallel to the line of scrimmage, eyes on the receivers and not the QB — are more signals that a man pressure scheme is coming.
Of course, nothing is ever guaranteed
With this formation, if Buffalo does bring six, Jacksonville has just five in protection. Lawrence knows he’ll have to get the ball out quickly.
Which is exactly what he does, but he has something bigger in mind than just picking up the first down. He looks downfield, with Ridley running a vertical route out of the slot:
Let’s first talk about the throw from Lawrence. He has every reason to believe that pressure is coming, for the reasons outlined above. When that pressure comes, the QB cannot hesitate. Even a hitch step after he completes his drop will take too long. So he uses a three-step “hit and throw” drop, meaning that once he drives his right foot into the turf on the final step of the drop, the ball is coming out.
If he hits his final step and tries to hitch up, this is a sack.
Even in the face of pressure, he puts this throw in a perfect spot, leading Ridley away from the leverage of the defender for a huge gain.
Now let’s talk about the route. Ridley uses speed to get separation here, but a critical element is his path. He releases to the outside against the cornerback, but does not drift too close to the sideline, getting more vertical following his initial release. That gives Lawrence enough room to lead him to safety. If the receiver were to drift closer to the sideline on his release and route, this could end up an incompletion.
Finally, a word or two on the route design itself. Good plays give a quarterback option against different types of coverage. On this design, Lawrence has choices against man coverages or zone coverages. If the Bills decided to play with a softer zone coverage, the hitch route from Etienne on the right or one of the in-breakers from either Engram or Kirk on the left were options. If, for example, the Bills plays Cover 2 Man, with two deep safeties to take away the vertical throw to Ridley, the pivot route from Agnew would be a good option.
But without deep help, the vertical route from Ridley gives Lawrence another option.
Put it all together, and you have a huge play for Jacksonville in a critical spot. They would score on a Etienne touchdown run a few plays later to take a 25-13 lead. Just how critical was this play? Allen and the Bills needed just 4 plays and 45 seconds to follow with a touchdown of their own, making it a five-point game in the closing minutes.