A common type of inquiry for fans of a football team is to question what “kind” of system their team uses. We’ve already established that the Buffalo Bills use nickel as their base defense thanks to the NFL’s penchant for data collection. What can a data dive tell us about the offense?
Fun with numbers
- Just like we noted with the defense, the Bills used the lowest number of players in the league this year with 57 players. And just like defense, there were 28 players on offense.
- Like the defense, the Bills had an average amount of unique lineups. Their 303 unique groupings was only the 13th highest.
- Wide receiver swaps are likely to blame for the 13 unique starting lineups. Except blame isn’t the best word. Despite this meaning that the Bills had a different grouping to start the game in 13 of 16 regular season games, that’s tied for 24th-fewest in the league. Nine teams only had a single game that featured a repeat lineup. Four teams had a different starting lineup every game.
- Despite a healthy amount of different lineups, the Bills featured their most common personnel grouping 11.75% of the time. Only the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams had a higher amount. The Bills used their most common grouping about twice as often as league average.
- A lot of the numbers above get a small bump from Jordan Poyer taking the field for kneel downs.
I probably could have gone with snap-count notes like I did with defense, but if you recall from an earlier article, Warren Sharp has already given us a good chunk of the story by reporting that the Bills shifted using 11 personnel from 63% to 81% after Brian Daboll moved upstairs to the booth. Sharp further indicates that the 81% led the league in that time frame.
For a brief primer, personnel groupings are generally listed as a two-digit number such as “11.” The first digit represents the number of running backs on the field, and the second digit is tight ends. As there are only five eligible receivers on the field at any time, it also (usually) gives you the number of wide receivers on the field. So 11 personnel would be one RB, one TE and three WRs.
Thanks to sharpfootballstats.com (yes it’s the same Sharp as above), we can take a look at the final tally in addition to the splits Sharp already provided us with. Buffalo used 11 personnel 70% of the time in 2019, which was good for eighth in the league.
A visual would give a better story, so here’s a partial screen grab from the NFL’s data system that shows the Buffalo Bills’ tendencies on 1st-and-10, the most common down and distance.
The NFL listings make you back track to get the number of running backs but it’s a very obvious result. There were 267 instances of the Bills using 11 personnel on 1st-and-10. Of all the plays in this down and distance (407 of them), 66% were in the favored grouping.
Here are a few fun things to discuss from data collected by the NFL:
- As noted above, the Bills used their most common lineup just under 12% of the time, which is pretty high. This lineup includes: Josh Allen, Devin Singletary, Dawson Knox, John Brown, Cole Beasley, Isaiah McKenzie, Dion Dawkins, Quinton Spain, Mitch Morse, Jon Feliciano and Cody Ford.
- That lineup counted for 120 plays.
- The Buffalo Bills gained an average of 5.89 yards passing and 4.38 yards rushing as an offense in 2019. In this personnel grouping they earned 6.69 yards passing on average and 5.05 rushing. That might explain why they liked it so much.
- The Bills’ offense liked 21 and 12 personnel groupings in equal measure, tallying 104 snaps in each (10%).
When the Bills find something they like, they stick with it. Whether it’s nickel defense or 11 personnel on offense, they rolled with it just under three-quarters of the time.