The Buffalo Bills hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers and things went pretty well for 45 minutes of game time then...unraveled a bit. You know all that already, we’re here to talk playing time and set a baseline going forward. Let’s jump in!
Offense (85 snaps)
The 100 percent club was mostly intact with Darryl Williams, Jon Feliciano, Josh Allen, and Mitch Morse all hitting the mark. Dion Dawkins sat out for one play, and Cody Ford saw some of his play time taken by Ike Boettger. With no reported injury to Ford, this could be a sign the team will rotate like they have with Ford in the past. Or not. We’ll see.
It’s no surprise to see Emmanuel Sanders and Stefon Diggs nearly hitting the 100 percent club. Cole Beasley is a bit higher than we saw last year, but not shockingly so. Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, and Jake Kumerow round out the list about as expected.
The Bills’ game plan was passing all the way. If the 51 passing attempts to 25 carries doesn’t convince you, let’s go beyond the surface numbers for backs and tights ends. Devin Singletary and Dawson Knox led the way at those positions with Matt Breida, Reggie Gilliam, and Tommy Sweeney all hitting “afterthought” territory.
Adding up all the backs, you get 89 percent, meaning a good portion of snaps saw zero backs. This is compounded by Gilliam’s presence who would be expected to hit the field only as a second back. The tight ends are more glaring, hitting a mere 59 percent of playing time. This might be a reason we didn’t see an Ertz trade. Why pay for a position you aren’t using?
Defense (58 snaps)
Before we discuss the defensive 100 percent club, I want to point out the drastic difference between snap counts. The offense had nearly 30 more plays, which is an enormous gulf. This isn’t snap count notes, but overall the defense did their job well and the offense had four drives of ten plays or more. The stalls and mistakes need to be cleaned up but there were some positives and the snap counts reflect it.
NOW we get to the 100 percent club. What a way to highlight the usual starters with a record SEVEN players hitting the full 100 percent. I’ve been beating the “Call Taron Johnson a ‘starting CB” drum for quite awhile now and it’s hard to refute for this game (read: “impossible”). He’s joined by Tre’Davious White, Levi Wallace, Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, Tremaine Edmunds, and Matt Milano.
This also provides one of the cleanest defensive dives I’ve ever done with one of these. With zero additional defensive backs taking the field, the Bills played nickel on every single snap.
The defensive ends were led by Jerry Hughes and Greg Rousseau as expected. Mario Addison was the primary rotation, but not all that far ahead of A.J. Epenesa and Efe Obada. A lot of this is a tick down for the starting duo. Historically, the Frazier/McDermott defense has steered toward a 67 percent/33 percent rotation as it’s goal. With both Hughes and Rousseau under 60 percent, that opens up more snaps for the entire depth group.
With Star Lotulelei out, Ed Oliver saw a lot of snaps as expected and led defensive tackles at 62 percent. He was followed by Vernon Butler, Justin Zimmer, and Harrison Phillips. Adding up their snaps it comes out to 109 or seven short of the expected (58 snaps defense x 2DTs every snap = 116).
If you ran the numbers on defensive ends, you saw that they had seven extra. This is a hallmark of the Bills’ defense, with the defensive ends acting in hybrid roles. Expect this with all defensive ends moving forward, though Rousseau is a likely candidate to float most often. Against Pittsburgh he also had some time dropping into coverage to provide what amounts to a dime look. If using a safety in nickel is called “big nickel” I’d imagine using a defensive end for this is something like “hugenourmous dime.” I’ll workshop that name for this season as I think we’ll be coming back to it.
Thanks to Corey Giacovelli for the naming assist. Adding Groot into coverage gives us the WOODEN DIME defense! You saw it here first folks!
Special Teams (29 Snaps)
We’ve talked about the importance of special teams and it showed up yesterday in two ways. The blocked punt is what everyone will remember (as they should) but don’t discount Isaiah McKenzie’s huge return to start the game. There are some good and bad takeaways from this unit. That said, let’s discuss the core group with the expectation we might see some changes this week.
If you’re shocked that Taiwan Jones and Tyler Matakevich led the way at 86 percent of special teams playing time then this would be a good time to jot down some notes about the two. I expect these two will remain at the top. Following them is Reggie Gilliam (79 percent), Siran Neal, Jaquan Johnson (both at 69 percent), A.J. Klein, Tyrel Dodson, and Jake Kumerow (66 percent). The Bills have historically tweaked these quite a bit, but this might be a more intriguing space than usual this year.
This list is a healthy blend of depth players who won’t be easily made inactive. That said, Andre Smith and Boogie Basham might be names to watch who were inactive this week. Particularly Smith who played a lot on special teams last season.