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How the Bills will use 9 minutes of footage before their Bengals rematch

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ORCHARD PARK, NY — During their years together as decorated bouncers for the Buffalo Bills, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are known for their common language, the defense’s ultra-efficient communicators.

Asked about a specific topic by the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoon, they may have needed a translator.

“That’s a good question,” Poyer said, shaking his head and looking down at the Highmark Stadium locker room floor. “I don’t know, honestly. I’m sure you got something out of it, but it’s going to be a whole new ball game.”

A few minutes ago, Hyde had stopped to think as he pulled on his socks.

“You can learn a lot,” said Hyde, “from 1 Touch.”

Three weeks ago, Buffalo and Cincinnati played for 9 minutes and 2 seconds before a nightmare ensued.

Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest while making a routine tackle and collapsed. CPR and a defibrillator were needed to bring Hamlin back to life. He remained unconscious and on a ventilator for two days.

The NFL canceled the game, erased all stats, and pulled the broadcast from its replay service. Officially, the game does not exist.

But happened.

Now that we know Hamlin is on the mend — he was able to reunite with teammates on One Bills Drive last week — everyone can guilt-free revisit the Bengals’ seven offensive plays and the Bills’ 11 plays they played at Paycor Stadium.

The rematch was cemented on Sunday. The Bills defeated the Miami Dolphins, and a few hours later, the Bengals got away from the Baltimore Ravens. The winners will face off at 3pm on Sunday at Highmark Stadium.

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How much is the footage of their abbreviated confrontation worth?

“I know it’s hard for our people to watch because of Damar,” said Bills left guard Rodger Saffold, “but you have to take a detailed look at this. I don’t think it would be professional of us not to consider any of these plays.

“It’s a chess match when it comes to this type of game. Preparation will be key.”

Bengals coach Zac Taylor bowed to Poyer’s uncertainty about the value of those nine minutes between teams that played twice each.

“I’ve never been in that situation in my life,” Taylor said. “It’s so weird because you trained a whole week, and it wasn’t like it was nine weeks ago; it was two weeks ago. There is a balance there. What you adjust, what you keep, both teams are going to deal with it.”

While coaches and players can get different information from each formation, blocking scheme and maneuver, 18 snaps should not be used to assess what might have happened the rest of the way or how to place your bets.

Buffalo trailed 7-3 after one possession apiece, but opened as a 3.5-point favorite on Sunday.

“It’s an incredibly small sample size,” said Sam Monson, lead analyst at Pro Football Focus. “With 18 offensive plays, the Chargers were up 7-0 over the Jaguars, had the ball and were on the verge of scoring again and taking over. Anything can happen in 18 moves.

“It was certainly interesting that Cincinnati was leading and looking good in the game, but who knows how the next 120 plays would have played out?”

That said, substantial action went into those 18 offensive plays, a pass interference penalty, a field goal, an extra point and three kickoffs.

If coaches value just peeking at an opponent’s formation before calling a timeout in critical moments like quarters and inches, then 9:02 of game footage should provide precious clues.

“There really is a lot to learn,” Saffold said. “We can see how they are attacking us. We can see the defense in front of us.

“Both offenses were moving the ball extremely well. It looked like there was going to be a shootout.”

Those who weren’t watching live will have to take Saffold’s word for it because stat data and plays played have been wiped from most sites.

Cincinnati won the coin toss and wanted the ball. Tyler Bass’ kick was a touchback.

On the first snap, Joe Burrow arced deep down the left sideline to Ja’Marr Chase. Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White was flagged 29 yards out for pass interference.

Burrow hit tight end Hayden Hurst for 4 yards. Joe Mixon ran for 5 yards. Bills cornerback Taron Johnson left the game with a head injury. Burrow took first down alone with a 2-yard run, then found Hurst again for 21 yards. On the next play, Burrow spotted Tyler Boyd for the 14-yard touchdown.

“They scored on the opening pitch,” Hyde said, “so obviously you have to look back and see how they did it.”

Taylor’s offense put a number of early scores in the film. They scored a kickoff touchdown seven times if you count the week 17 disallowed contest. They started with a field goal three times.

In Sunday night’s three playoff games with the Ravens, Cincinnati started with a field goal, followed with a touchdown on their second possession and scored their other offensive touchdown of the first series after halftime.

“Open drive touches, we’ve had that before,” Poyer said. “We managed to establish ourselves as defense and counterattack.”

But Buffalo’s defense was forced to wait three weeks to counter Cincinnati’s opening salvo.

For a month, the Bengals have been riding high since the bounce.

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Look at the playoff opener, the first three series against the Ravens in the regular season finale, the only complete series against the Bills and the first three series of Week 16 against the New England Patriots, and the Bengals scored six touchdowns and three field goals. field with zero punts or turnovers. All against the quality competition.

“The first 15 plays are scripted,” said Hyde, sidelined with neck surgery all season but recently back to practice. “They are in a flow, a rhythm. As a defense, you don’t panic about it.”

The Bills’ defense yielded an opening touchdown six times.

“Teams usually have the first 15 plays very well planned out,” Poyer said. “So to say you’re going to stop every team on every opening drive is tough. Being able to handle adjustments throughout the game, that’s what’s important.”

Maybe the Bills’ veteran bouncers still speak the same language after all.

Buffalo responded to Cincinnati with a long, eclectic field goal attempt.

Josh Allen hooked Stefon Diggs for 17 yards and then fouled Isaiah McKenzie. Allen rushed for 9 yards. Devin Singletary ran 3 yards to move the chains. Allen struggled for 5 yards and found Diggs again for 9 yards. James Cook took the next two carries for 18 yards.

Allen then found rarely used Reggie Gilliam for 7 yards in what would have been the quarterback’s second target in nearly three months, a potential lead for Cincinnati’s defensive lineup. Allen’s next two shots were incomplete.

“We’ll probably have the same game plan,” Bates said, “because we don’t get to show as much. Those first few tries, you really can’t say much about it because the first 15 plays you just don’t know. They’re feeling like we’re adjusting to things and all that stuff.

There’s that 15-play reference again.

Bass took the chip shot, then punted it short to Trayveon Williams, who returned it 26 yards. Mixon ran for 7 yards and Burrow threw to Tee Higgins down the middle for 13 yards on the final play.

“It’s like watching your next opponent’s third preseason game,” Hyde said. “You pay attention to what the starters did in the first onslaught, but you understand that they can change. Never know.”

Saffold pointed out that all NFL matches are guessing games, regardless of what is already known. Teams dig deep into the movie theater, sometimes for several years, in hopes of uncovering a strategic clue.

“We’re back to square one,” Bates said. “They won’t know what we’re doing. We won’t know what they have planned for this week. Let’s go in and watch the tape like any other week and make sure we’re prepared.

Bills defensive tackle Tim Settle declined to elaborate on what happened three weeks ago.

Regardless, he reflected, every bit of information will be devoured and adjustments made.

“I’m not trying to go back and think about it,” Settle said. “You couldn’t say anything. It was very early in the game, but we’ll be ready if they try the same things or not.

“We are not going to beat around the bush for nothing. We’ll cut to the chase. We’ve been in this situation before. They can bring Joe Montana in there, whoever they want. It doesn’t matter. We’re just going to keep coming to them.”

Contributing: Paul Dehner Jr. and Jay Morrison

(Photo: Dylan Buell/Getty Images)