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Buffalo Bills defensive front is not a concern for Football Outsiders

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

The Buffalo Bills pass rush fell off in 2016 by traditional statistics. After 54 sacks in 2014, they had just 21 in 2015 followed by 39 in 2016 under head coach Rex Ryan. With a young and inexperienced secondary, it will be important to get a good pass rush but that’s not what Football Outsiders is concerned with.

Aaron Schatz disputes the fact that the Bills’ pass rush hasn’t been effective over the last two seasons. Using advanced metrics he explained to us prior to the release of the Football Outsiders Almanac.

“I hate to be the bearer of good news here, but our numbers disagree with the idea that the defensive front regressed in 2016,” wrote Schatz. “In 2015, the Bills ranked 29th in adjusted line yards, 31st in adjusted sack rate, and 29th in pressure rate. Last season, those same ranks were 22nd, seventh, and ninth, respectively.”

My question would have been better had been broadened to include all of Rex’s tenure. Still, Schatz explained why Buffalo’s sack numbers were down even if their adjusted sack rate - an advanced metric from Football Outsiders - was good.

Jerry Hughes had only 6 sacks, but he had 33 hurries, tied for 17th in the NFL,” continued Schatz. “He’s still a very good player. Shaq Lawson should fit the 4-3 better, but it’s not like he was bad in the half-season he played as a rookie. I do think that this scheme will be better for Marcell Dareus.”

While the switch to the 4-3 will benefit most of the Bills’ traditional pass rushers, it won’t be good for last year’s breakout pass rush star.

“On the other hand, between regression towards the mean and the scheme change, there’s no way you can expect 12.5 sacks from Lorenzo Alexander again. He may not even hit half that. But the Bills’ pass rush is not an overall problem. The problem is the run defense, the off-ball linebackers, and the fact that there are so many question marks in the secondary.”

On that last point, we definitely agree.

Thanks to Aaron Schatz and Football Outsiders for answering our questions this month. You can get your own copy of the Football Outsiders Almanac with a chapter on the Bills written by Greg Bedard right here.