It was definitely not the prettiest way to get there but the ten-point win over the Los Angeles Chargers tied the highest margin of victory the Buffalo Bills have had this year. Despite several crushing turnovers, a seeming reversal of identity in becoming a run-oriented team, and other gaffes this was as close to a blowout as the Bills have had this year. So that’s neat. Let’s see who chipped in and what the numbers tells us.
Offense (62 snaps)
Minus Josh Allen, who exited for one play after a scary looking injury, the 100% club was perfect on the day. Though the rotating line this year means the grouping of Dion Dawkins, Jon Feliciano, Mitch Morse, Brian Winters, and Darryl Williams is a bit different than past games. The somewhat weird situation regarding Morse might be resolved but could be worth monitoring. Let’s not forget to mention Matt Barkley and his one snap that should have come with hazard pay.
The big news is Lee Smith who saw the highest amount of time on the field he’s seen all season. He’s only been active for five games. No, the reason it’s big news is not because of his one catch for three yards, but Smith’s heavy inclusion is usually indicative of a run-heavy game plan. Dawson Knox was the featured tight end and saw a fairly ordinary 61% of time on the field. Reggie Gilliam’s six snaps is also about the norm, meaning Smith is the sole anomaly.
Zack Moss got the nod in snaps for the third week in a row and it’s safe to call him the RB1 at this point I’d think. Unless you’re talking production, in which case Devin Singletary was given more opportunities and did more with them. This is very odd considering that the 12 snap difference between the two is fairly significant.
The wide receiver snaps work out to a perfect average of three on the field throughout the game with Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis tied at a whopping 97% of play time. Cole Beasley fell into his usual three spot followed by Isaiah McKenzie and Jake Kumerow.
Looking more globally at game plan, aside from Ryan Bates’s one snap the numbers give a near-perfect 11 personnel split (1 RB and 1 TE). As noted during the bye week the Bills also like to use a fair amount of 10 personnel (no TEs). The numbers don’t inherently suggest the Bills used 11 on every snap—just that it averaged out to that, mind you.
However, the heavy use of Lee Smith and the change in personnel are both backed by the 24/30 split between passing and running. For whatever reason, the Bills changed their identity for this game. If you felt things looked a bit off, the data supports that notion.
Defense (83 snaps)
Before the usual breakdown, I want to highlight the disparity in snap counts, with the defense seeing 21 more than the offense. That’s a dramatic difference and highlights the game plans of the two teams. While the Buffalo Bills ran the ball more often, the Chargers threw the ball 52 times compared to 24 runs.
The 100% club is a short list this week with only one defensive back making the cut. That would be Jordan Poyer who was joined by linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and A.J. Klein. Micah Hyde, Tre’Davious White, and Levi Wallace all fell short. Wallace left for a very brief duration after an injury scare similar to Allen’s, which likely accounts for Josh Norman’s one play.
Taron Johnson sets our nickel floor at 92% of snaps or 76 total. Andre Smith’s five snaps at linebacker likely sets the ceiling at 78, which gives us wiggle room of two plays. Without re-watching and cataloging the entire game, it’s likely that Dean Marlowe’s two were in big nickel.
The defensive end rotation big news is the healthy scratch of Trent Murphy, which opened up more time for A.J. Epenesa and Darryl Johnson. Both were backups to Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison as expected.
Defensive tackle had a fairly usual pecking order with Quinton Jefferson and Ed Oliver taking the top honors. Vernon Butler, Justin Zimmer, and Harrison Phillips round that group out. Two things do jump out on a deeper dive. Zimmer getting more playing time than Phillips seems significant with the latter a healthy scratch a few times this season. Also, if you add up the counts there are six EXTRA defensive tackle snaps and two short on defensive end to go with the missing reps from defensive backs. This is likely more a result of goal line packages than a deliberate ideological shift however. As noted, Buffalo still rolled with a heavy dose of nickel
Special Teams (27 snaps)
Are you shocked to hear that Tyler Matakevitch was at the top of the list here with 78% of play time? Yeah, I didn’t think so. This group has solidified since some early season tinkering. Following Matakevitch with 70% of special teams snaps we have Andre Smith, Siran Neal, Taiwan Jones, and Jaquan Johnson. None of those names should be a surprise either.