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Cody Ford vs. Ty Nsekhe: The tale of the correlation-driven data

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Strictly based on data, who was the better tackle?

Right tackle was a unique situation for the Buffalo Bills’ line in 2019 as a result of the atypical usage of a rotation between Cody Ford and Ty Nsekhe. We’ve scoured film and compared the two with the eye test, but anyone that knows me knows I’m always game for comparing performance measures. But wait Skare? What kinda stats can you even compare for linemen? Just you wait...


Method

Disclaimer: The data I pulled is from a source that’s less frequently used than most in these discussions because it gave me one thing that made this whole discussion possible. This does mean some numbers might be off from other sites.

Why use this site? It gives me a ton of stats based on each specific personnel grouping. That’s right. This means I find out how the Bills performed with Ty Nsekhe on the field versus how they did with Cody Ford on the field. This is correlation-based data but with a full season in. It’s about as valid a comparison as we can get with stats for offensive linemen.

Nsekhe vs. Ford in the 2019 Buffalo Bills offense

There’s no reason to drag this out or bore you with more method details. Here’s a table with all the results.

Yards per pass

The closest parallel to this on other sites is net yards per pass, where Buffalo is slightly lower at 5.8 yards per pass attempt. Buffalo was the very last team in the large cluster of average teams (if you go by my rule of four groupings).

This context is important as the Bills’ yards per pass attempt with Cody Ford on the field would place the Bills in the “bad” group. With Ty Nsekhe on the field the Bills were in the upper group of the average cluster. Regardless of how you conceptualize rankings though, there’s nearly a full yard of difference on average between the two right tackles.

Yards per rush

This stat matches up with most other sites so we have an even better frame of reference. Pro-football-reference.com, for instance, has the Bills at 4.4 yards per rush, which is the same thing but rounded. This puts the Bills ranked number 13 or solidly in the average cluster.

With Cody Ford on the field the Bills dip to 4.14, which would have them tied for 21st and still mostly average. With Ty Nsekhe on the field it raises to 4.98 yards per rush. If I round it that’s good for a tie for second-best in the league. If I don’t round it’s “merely” fourth-best in the league.

Plays per first down

I prefer going this direction rather than first downs per play to avoid tiny numbers that are harder to interpret. Shown this way, for this stat and the next two, it’s basically how many plays between each event. For the Bills’ overall offense at 3.52 plays per first down then, what this means is that you can expect one first down about every three-and-a-half plays.

This is pretty straightforward between the two tackles then. Cody Ford on the field was associated with less frequent first downs than the overall average. Ty Nsekhe was associated with more frequent first downs.

Plays per touchdown

This is the same idea. All of the numbers are on the graph to peruse so the only thing I’ll add is that the Bills waited seven less plays on average for a touchdown when Ty Nsekhe was on the field.

Plays per interception

Because interceptions kinda stink, this is one where more is better. This is the only stat of the measures I looked at where Cody Ford had the advantage. And it’s pretty darn sizable too. It’s also the one I’ll use to illustrate why these metrics are good enough to conclude it was better to have Nsekhe on the field, but it’s likely not as drastic a difference as some of these numbers suggest.


Summary

Correlation-based data shouldn’t be used to definitively rank or rate in a clean manner. Were the Bills a full yard better on average for each pass with Nsekhe on the field over Ford? I highly doubt it. Were the Bills nearly twice as likely to have an interception occur with Nsekhe? I even more highly doubt that.

Ty Nsekhe missed a good chunk of games due to injury, most of which were later in the season. Regarding interceptions, Josh Allen drastically improved after Week 4 versus the New England Patriots. In other words, with Nsekhe missing five of Allen’s best games it stacked a lot of good performances in favor of Cody Ford. Better protection should be correlated with fewer interceptions, but Allen’s newfound caution and better decision making are all pretty evident on tape. I’m not saying Cody Ford wasn’t a factor. But he’s certainly not the only one.

Back to Nsekhe, were the Bills really that much better with him on the field? Those games Ford went solo on were Weeks 12-16. Buffalo faced the Denver Broncos, Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Patriots in those game. Ford’s stats are skewed by facing some of the toughest competition the Bills had all year.

So take the exact numbers with a grain of salt as there are some factors that also played a part beside who was at right tackle. However, the consistency of the data shouldn’t be ignored either. And in context of film review the picture is clear. The Buffalo Bills were better when Ty Nsekhe was on the field.