In Week 11 of the 2019 season, the Buffalo Bills had a change on offense that they hoped would pay dividends. Brian Daboll decided to call plays from the booth when the team took on the Miami Dolphins. Bills fans might recall that Daboll made the opposite move midway through the 2018 season, citing a desire to improve communication with his quarterbacks.
Back where he seemingly prefers to be, Warren Sharp noted a stark difference in personnel usage with Brian Daboll upstairs.
Bills have crazy "let's move Daboll upstairs" splits:— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) January 4, 2020
11 personnel usage:
Pre-week 11: 63% 11 personnel
Week 11-16: 81% 11 personnel (#1)
1st half pace:
Pre-week 11: #19
Week 11-16: #5
Bills closed year vs four top-10 Ds, the hardest schedule in the NFL. Now get #26 Texans D.
As a quick reminder, “11 personnel” refers to groupings with one running back and one tight end. The shift to a higher percentage of “11” likely came at the expense of “12 personnel;” one running back and two tight ends.
With such a significant shift in offensive philosophy of course we wanted to know if it, y’know, worked. Let’s divide some key metrics between games 1-9 and the the rest of the year minus Week 17 (since the starters rested most of it). Will there be charts? You know it!
This one is really straightforward. The Bills moved the ball slightly less effectively after Brian Daboll moved to the booth, but scored at a higher rate. There are two problems here. The first, as Warren Sharp noted is that the Bills faced many of the best defenses in the league during the “booth” period. Secondly, one anomaly like 37 points against the Dolphins could single-handedly have elevated those later stats by several points per game.
So let’s adjust by opponent. This next chart adds a few more pieces of information to create a simple correction for both issues noted above.
Now we’re including the average yards per game allowed by the Bills’ opponents and calculating the difference between the opponent average and Buffalo’s average output in those games. We do the same for points scored.
When we adjust by defenses, the Bills’ opponents allowed over 20 yards less on average for games that Brian Daboll was upstairs. Including that difference, rather than a slight regression there’s a very slight improvement. The Bills were still moving the ball less than the average team against their opponents but inched closer to “average.”
Points, though, are a different story. There’s a sizable gap in performance when adjusting for opponent defense. Against the poor competition earlier in the year, Buffalo stacked wins but did so by scoring 4.7 points less than other teams did on average against these same opponents. Remarkably, in the booth part of the schedule that included the gauntlet of strong defenses, the Bills were a tick above in scoring. I know what you’re thinking, that includes the 37 points against the Dolphins still. If we take that game out of the equation, the average falls, but remains on the positive side of the ledger at 0.23 above.
Put a different way, with Brian Daboll on the sideline the Bills’ offense consistently failed to score the expected amount of points based on their exact opponents. That’s an easy argument to call them a “bad” offense. From the booth Daboll pushed the team to essentially match the expected points. Yeah, that’d be best labeled as “average” but that’s a nice change from bad.