For regular readers of Buffalo Rumblings you’ve probably noticed two weekly analysis features I write. I’m talking snap counts and All-22 breakdowns. The former is a look at trend data to give a bird’s-eye view of the Buffalo Bills’ scheme during a particular game. The latter is the eye test on a focal point of the week, usually a specific player.
During the bye week it’s always a good time to reset and look at the season to date to talk about the team’s identity. Neither a strict analytics, nor pure eye test will suffice for that though. Let’s combine them both and talk about a few 2020 trends!
The first thing highlighted is the sizable gap in the middle of the defensive line. Despite the usual chatter on 1-tech (1T) and 3-tech (3T) for defensive lines, the Bills often like to have their two interior players a shade further apart. Here, Justin Zimmer isn’t precisely in the 1T spot, he’s a tiny bit left and in between the 1T and the 2i. Vernon Butler is more firmly wide in the 4i spot. That leaves a bigger gap up the middle.
Buffalo then has whichever combination of linebackers and defensive backs that are in run support react to the play and fill in that and other gaps. Tremaine Edmunds gets to the play in a hurry but can’t bring Clyde Edwards-Helaire down until he’s gained five yards.
All of the above facets are typical of the Bills’ defense, including Edmunds struggling to decisively make a tackle. I think he’s been much improved the last couple weeks for the record but we’re talking the entire season to this point.
Why this play exactly? This is actually a slightly below-average result for a run on first down against the Bills’ defense. On average they allow 5.5 yards per carry on first down. That leaves teams with two tries to pick up 4.5 yards. This helps explain why the Bills allow 46% of third downs against them to be converted—23rd in the league. One area of particular weakness is runs up the middle. On all carries in the middle, Buffalo allows 4.87 yards on average, ranking 28th in the league.
This play is a unicorn. The Bills have used nickel defense around 95% of the time this year. Taron Johnson should be considered a starter. The heavy nickel usage is the first trend to identify but that’s one you’ll need to trust the stats on here. What’s right in front of you though with this play is that no matter how the Bills line up they are not traditionalists.
A major reason for recent successes is that Buffalo asks their players on defense to be incredibly versatile. The fluidity in assignments between defensive backs, linebackers and defensive ends is nothing short of remarkable. Who is rushing? In coverage? Who knows! Mario Addison even does a good job covering his zone and clogging his passing lane until his man is passed off on the back end. The other side kind of forgets their job. That’s another trend. Miscues with these complex defensive assignments have been a real thing.
Here’s one last thing I stumbled on for the defense that I think everyone will find interesting. You might want to sit down for this. The Bills defense is ELITE! In the first quarter. Let’s rapid-fire some bullets at ya!
- By quarter the number of points allowed by Buffalo has been: Q1 - 30, Q2 - 68, Q3 - 76, Q4 - 91
- If that Q1 number was extrapolated the Bills would be allowing 12 points per game
- Extrapolating Q4 results in 36 points per game
- The other two quarters are roughly league average
- This means there could be some merit in the idea that halftime adjustments aren’t great
- It also means there could be some merit in teams playing catch up
The Bills have one running back, Devin Singletary, and no tight ends on this play. They do this 18% of the time. That’s the second-most use of 10 personnel (one RB, 0 TE, 4 WR) in the league, behind Arizona at 20%. No one else is above 8% (Data courtesy of sharpfootballstats.com). Josh Allen is also in shotgun. The Bills spend 59% of the time in shotgun, which isn’t all that wild. However, from shotgun they pass the ball 80% of the time. This six-yard gain on first down is about three yards short of their average. You read that right. On first down the Bills gain an average of 8.94 yards when they pass the ball and get enough for another first down 34.6% of the time.
Incidentally, when I look at play tendencies I tend to focus on 1st-and-10 plays. This is because they are, by far, the most common play by down-and-distance, which gives us the best data set. But also I consider them a true bellwether of coaching tendencies. These have the entire playbook open. Would anyone be surprised to learn that the Bills have yet to run the ball on 3rd-and-10 this season? Or are you shocked that it’s an even split on 2nd-and-4? Yeah, didn’t think so.
And here’s the most common personnel grouping. The Buffalo Bills love 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) more than everyone but the Cincinnati Bengals (77%). The Bills are a close second though at 75%. There are several other teams that are in the low 70s so Buffalo isn’t exactly incredibly high at that mark. Remember though that they and Arizona were drastically higher than most teams in 10 personnel usage. If you add up the two for the Bills they spend 93% of their time in one or the other. Their third-most common grouping is 13 at 2% of play time. That’s three tight ends. Or more likely two tight ends and a lineman declaring eligible for a goal line package. The 10 and 11 groupings are associated with...drum roll please...passing.
There are a ton more interesting trends for the offense. Stay tuned for a more focused article on the 2020 Buffalo team.
Aside from Bassking in the glory of this kick I’ll just throw out stats for special teams. With the rigid rules on formations, etc.—in this phase there’s less eye test necessary. On these units a player like a kicker or returner is likely the biggest influence. Whether it’s for good or ill is the question.
- Tyler Bass has a 69% touchback rate good for seventh in the NFL. I’m a big fan of kicking a bit short to draw a returner out as they’re most often not very successful. The Bills have elected to do so on occasion but heavily lean on Bass for touchbacks.
- Bass is 26th in the league for overall accuracy with field goals, making 75% of his attempts
- Not only has Bass been trending better lately but his accuracy is slightly skewed by his number of long attempts. With six kicks of 50+ yards, Bass has the fourth-most attempts in the league this year. Of the trio with more long kicks only Brandon McManus (Denver Broncos) has a higher percentage.
- I laid out why punting stats can be tricky to lay solely at the feet of the punter, but Corey Bojorquez has the fourth-best average punt distance with 49.1.
- Net average is more telling and team dependent. The Bills are 11th with 47.1 yards on average.
- Bojorquez has landed 40% of his punts inside the 20-yard line. That’s 16th in the league.
- He also has 16% of his punts net touchbacks, which is tied for second-worst in the league.
- Bojorquez has been asked to punt an unusually low number of times. Only a handful of punters have less than Bojorquez’s 25 punts. All but one have played in fewer games.
- Wondering why Andre Roberts sticks on the roster? His punt return average of 11.9 yards is fifth best and his 25.6 yards on kickoffs is sixth best.
- Roberts is a large part of the reason that Buffalo is fifth best in the league with average starting field position at the 31.4 yard line.