If you’re like me, and heaven help you if you are, you don’t like to think of numbers as merely symbols on a page or screen. Instead they can tell you stories if you care to take the time to read them. As we get ready to continue Buffalo Bills football after the bye week, here are a few short stories I stumbled upon. So curl up with your favorite blanket, turn the lights down low, and get ready for Skaresop’s Fables.
The Tortoise and the other Tortoise: To Run or Not to Run
Some have alleged that head coach Sean McDermott can be a bit conservative at times. This season, specifically, many fans have wished the Bills showed killer instinct and finished off opponents such as the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals. Play propensity provides some evidence of this trait.
This shouldn’t be considered the complete story, but play calls on 1st-and-10 might give a small window into how a coach thinks. The league is currently averaging about a 59/41 split between pass and run. When the game is tied, the Bills are definitively a passing offense with a 65% tendency to try to throw.
Put the Bills up one score, however, and passing plays drop all the way to 38% on 1st-and-10. When they’re up by two scores, it falls even further to 29%. When the Bills are up, they flip tendencies like a switch. Time for a chart.
You’re looking at a chart comparing the tendencies of the Bills and some other pass-happy teams. The New England Patriots provide the best baseline with a similarly tied play tendency on 1st-and-10. With a lead, the Patriots are more likely to keep throwing—drastically so when it’s only a one-score lead. The Kansas City Chiefs data speaks for itself. The Los Angeles Rams also turtle up with a lead, but their baseline is lower than the Bills so the cliff is non-existent. The Atlanta Falcons are just weird and the Arizona Cardinals for some reason get MORE aggressive when they start winning.
The moral of the story, though, is that the Bills do seem to have a tendency to try and protect a lead by leaning heavily on the run game.
The Fox and the Throw: To Throw or Not to Throw
Going against the idea of conservative play calling, the Buffalo Bills third-down play selection is wacky. When leading by two scores, on 3rd-and-1 (four plays) the Bills have predictably run each time. For all other distances, though, the Bills are more likely to pass the ball while leading by two scores.
When leading by one score, on third downs there is no distance from which the Bills have been more likely to rush. Overall, they have leaned toward passing here as well.
Now here’s a handy graphic to help you remember how many times the Buffalo Bills have run the ball on third down in a tied game.
That’s correct. When the game is tied the Bills have yet to run the ball. Making this all the more odd, when the Bills are trailing they run the ball on 3rd-and-short (1-2 yards) between 75-100% of the time. Overall, though, if it’s third down the Bills are probably passing. To take away all the fancy percentages based on scenario, the Bills have ten rushing plays on third down, four scrambles, and 48 passing plays.
The Slant and the Grasshopper: Direction for the Bye Week
If the bye week led to self evaluation, hopefully Brian Daboll and Sean McDermott took a peek at the same chart I did that tracks overall success by play direction. The Bills could look to jump-start their offensive output by shifting attention where it’s needed.
With 49 throws marked as “short left” the Bills sit at in 27th place in the league (or fifth fewest attempts). That’s a shame, because Josh Allen’s 78% completion percentage and 7.82 yards average gained are ranked seventh- and fourth-best respectively. Contrasting that are deep right throws. The Bills are the fourth-most-likely team to throw these but aren’t incredibly successful. The 35% completion rate and 9.17 average gain are 22nd and 25th in the NFL. Shifting away from deep right passes toward more short left could pay off.
The Bills could also look to improve areas of weakness, as some seem unavoidable. Buffalo has thrown an average amount of short right passes with 61 attempts. The average gain of 3.43 yards and completion rate of 56% are both worst in the league.
And that brings us to the end of story time. May you rest peacefully with visions of Josh Allen dancing in your head.