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2011 was dubbed the year of passing in the NFL. Spread offenses and the passing game seems to have reached a pinnacle of a trend that started 3 years ago but really peaked last year in 2011. The Bills have been one team in a long list of teams that have gone to multiple wide receiver sets and the spread attack.

I expect this trend to continue for the foreseeable future throughout the league and certainly while Chan and Buddy are in Buffalo.

It use to be that when you drafted a WR you expected them to struggle early because they had to adjust to the NFL talent. This is still true today but is overcome by offensive systems rather than waiting for the WR to get good enough at this craft in order to consistently make plays in the NFL. The spread is allowing teams to more out of their talent earlier and get more physically gifted players (read; fast quick players) more opportunities to make plays.

Year

Pass Attempts

90+ Catches

Avg Attempt per game

2011

17410

5

34.0

2010

17269

5

33.7

2009

17033

9

33.3

2008

16526

7

32.3

2007

17045

14

33.3

2006

16389

8

32.0

2005

16464

5

32.2

2004

16354

7

31.9

2003

16493

8

32.2

2002

17292

11

33.8

2001

16181

11

32.6

2000

16322

11

32.9

If you look at the past 3 years you can see that in all 3 years the NFL had 17,000+ pass attempts as opposed to only 2 the 9 years prior to that. What you also see is less and less NFL players with 90+ receptions. The reason obviously is offenses are spreading the ball around to multiple players and allowing scheme and coaching to get more out of the available talent. It use to be hard to find 2 good WR's to make an offense efficient but with the advent of the spread teams can get more play makers on the field and allowing them to have more of an immediate impact.

Year

Rookie 50 + Catches

Total Rookie TD's

2011

5

63

2010

4

94

2009

3

64

2008

7

51

2007

1

41

2006

2

50

2005

0

49

2004

3

67

2003

2

55

2002

1

74

2001

1

43

2000

2

36

* The above table includes RB, TE and WR because of the ability of the spread formation to get everyone involved.

You can see how in the early 2000's it was rare for rookie receivers to crack that 50+ catch threshold that is nothing more than an arbitrary number that i've always used to gauge rookies impact. It may or may not be a good indicator but that's something i've always looked at. Yet over the past few years more and more rookies are hitting that threshold. It may not seem like a lot in that you go from 1 or 2 a year to 4 or 5 a year on average but those numbers show a trend that you see every Sunday in the NFL. The NFL is a passing league more than ever.

Now look at the number of TD's. The past 3 years have yielded 3 out of the top 5 TD catches for rookie classes from 2000 until 2011. The spread attacks have allowed rookies to make more of an immediate impact on football teams as it's rather clear that rookies are scoring more than they have since 2000.

What does this mean for Buffalo?

Back when Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey came to Buffalo they talked about both of them being on the same page about what they wanted to do. Obviously Buffalo has gone to a spread attack on offense for a number of factors.

1) Colleges run a lot of spread so it's easier to find players that are familiar and can play in that scheme.

2) NFL is a passing league because of elite QBs and the NFL rule book. When you're in the playoffs and you're facing great QBs you have to be able to match their scoring abilities.

3) You can get more dynamic players on the field and can scheme to get those players in the open field. Players that are once in the open field have the ability to take it the distance.

What this means is that Buffalo will have an easier time finding talent throughout the draft and after the draft in forms of UDFA because there are plenty of players that are extremely athletic that can help you right away because they are (a) use to the systems and (b) very athletic.

This also means that Buffalo can concentrate more heavily on building the defense and defending the spread. In order to beat the spread you need good corners which are difficult to find. Wide receivers that have the able to produce in the spread are not as difficult to find as those types of players are becoming more and more common. This might be a reason why Buffalo chose Gilmore over Floyd and took Aaron Williams in the early 2nd last year, Dareus over A.J. Green or maybe Troup over Gronk (sad face).

Even per Buddy Nix, defense is more difficult to play so it makes sense for Buffalo to use early draft resources on defensive players that will help combat the current league trend while also having the ability to find offensive talent through other means because there isn't a lack of talent to play the spread offense like there is in finding elite defensive players to defend the spread.

The following information is from Advanced NFL Stats "What's Going On With Passing in 2011"

* I recommend read that article

Consider these graphs all from Advanced NFL Stats:

As you can see the net yards per attempt and yards per reception are way up yet deep passing is way down. What gives?

Well as the article eludes to it's the space player in the spread. The spread is allowing fast athletic players to get into space and making more yards out of the short passes because of schematic advantages.

When you watch C.J. Spiller in space you can watch him get 3 or 4 more yards than most players would traditionally get on any given play because of his speed and ability in space.

C.J. Spiller and T.J. Graham

Lots of people scratched their head when Buffalo took C.J. Spiller in the 2010 NFL draft. After all Buffalo had Lynch and Jackson and I only know of 2 people (1 real life, 1 national) that predicted that pick in advance.

Spiller is the perfect spread RB. He's amazingly fast and can play wide receiver plus running back. This means that Buffalo can keep the same players on the field while running different formations (pass or run) and not allowing the defense to change personnel if they want to dictate that. The same can be said about F. Jackson but let's not get into semantics about Lynch/Jackson/Spiller here. When Spiller got more opportunity when Jackson went down you saw the talent that he has and how his speed and versatility really helps the Bills, as evidence by his being the best RB performance of 2011 against Miami.

Buffalo was slammed early because of the Spiller pick claiming that the Spiller pick alone showed no lack of a plan when it's clear now that the Spiller pick was a launching point for Buffalo's offensive spread attack by using his abilities in space. Luckily for us, Fred Jackson is now allowing Buffalo that same luxury but with 2 different players.

T.J. Graham was considered a reach by NFL "Experts" (yes Chan, I use that term lightly). Regardless of where he was drafted you have to consider what he does for the Bills offense.

Graham's speed alone will keep defensive safeties from cheating up and covering the short zones that Fitz likes to attack. I never saw the game speed in players like D. Jones in which there was true separation on a consistent basis. With Graham I think you will see that as he's simply an extremely fast player that will keep defenses honest by allowing the Bills to attack either deep or short and allowing guys like Spiller and Jackson to get more space underneath to keep that yards per reception at a high level as the league trends indicate.

Finding a speed guy was a priority for Buffalo this off season and now we know why. It gives Buffalo the ability to keep the safeties honest because of blazing fast speed and ability while allowing Buffalo get to players like Jackson and Spiller in space in order to make defenders miss and continuing to rack up more yards per pass attempt while not necessarily throwing deep on a consistent basis.

The Plan

After 3 years I think we can say that Buddy and Chan did have a plan and have executed it fairly well at this point.

Buffalo went to the spread in order to maximize the available talent (college spread players) while having the ability to find other ways to acquire those talents (UDFA, waiver wire) because those types of offensive players are easier to find than they have been in the past.

This in turn has allowed Buffalo to focus on drafting defensive talent early in order to stop the spread concept with good young physically talented corners that are traditionally difficult to find and certainly more difficult to find than players that can play the spread offense. Gilmore, Aaron Williams, Dareus and CJ Spiller exemplify what Buffalo is trying to build as a team at this point.

Buffalo has also done a good job, this year, of acquiring the necessary talent to put pressure on the QB as well. After reviewing the past 3 years Buddy and Chan seem to have stuck to their plan and have not deviated because of fan or any other pressure. It's no coincidence that this roster seems like it's the best that it's been in a long time. No team is perfect but Buffalo's plan of attack and strategy in acquiring talent seems to be logical and seems to be paying off. Will it work? I have no idea but it seems that we're certainly going in the right direction for once.

Just another great fan opinion shared on the pages of BuffaloRumblings.com.

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