I’ll start off with a shout out to all the content creators here at Buffalo Rumblings. We have something for every Buffalo Bills fan. If you’re into the podcast scene, you may have caught a recent Code of Conduct with J. Spence, where Bills linebacker Tyrel Dodson dropped in. He had some interesting things to say about Tremaine Edmunds, who has caused some division among the fanbase.
Can I sum up Dodson’s feelings about Edmunds with one sentence? Nah, but Dodson can. “We don’t have that number-one defense without that MIKE.”
Dodson credits Edmunds’s ability to make the rest of the team better by further noting, “He’s the one calling the calls.” You should definitely take a listen. (The comments about Edmunds start at about 17 minutes in.) One point that Dodson makes had us going to the film.
“People are not throwing down the middle,” Dodson says. “You have not seen too many offenses in the last four to five years, throw a slant route, in the middle.”
The assertion is that Edmunds’s height and range scare teams away from throwing in the middle. Let’s see if that’s true.
Let’s start with a chart that breaks down aggregate statistics across six zones (left, middle, right sorted into short and deep levels). I’ve used these before for opponent matchup previews for a quick glance at what a team is good at—or not good at it. Hypothetically, if Edmunds was intimidating across the middle, we’d expect low attempts and low success rates. Those are defined here by average gain and completion percentage. Let’s see if that pans out with our first glance.
I’ve been an Edmunds defender in the past but this isn’t exactly solid evidence of Dodson’s claims. If we take JUST the deep middle stats, it looks like easy confirmation of what Dodson points out. Opponents take an average amount of shots deep middle, but low average. No team in the league was better at defending the deep middle as defined by average gain and completion percentage. I know what many of you are thinking. This is proof of how good Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde are and I don’t disagree. However, Edmunds can’t be excluded from the data set either.
If both the short and deep middle looked similar, I would say it’s great evidence for Edmunds. That’s not the case though. Opponents are attempting short middle passes a high average amount, and Buffalo is allowing a very ordinary completion percentage and an average gain in the low average range. In other words, they’re kind of “meh” defending this zone, and overall this seems like the biggest WEAKNESS in the pass defense. That isn’t good for Edmunds who would be a larger part of this zone than the deep middle. Could something else explain that though?
There are a million different data points we could look at but rather than make this an encyclopedia, I’m going with a hunch based on the eye test and times I’ve looked at Edmunds’s play. What I think I’m seeing is that Edmunds is often asked to drop back a little bit and prevent the big gain, especially on third downs.
Why does that matter? If the Bills are generally successful at getting teams into 3rd & LONG, they’d be willing to concede yardage as long as it’s short of the sticks. That would increase the number of attempts and allow a “high” gain in that short middle zone. Edmunds would be especially important for this role. Let’s data dive to see what we can see...
This is overall good support of my hunch. On 3rd & SHORT (four yards or less) the Bills really aren’t seeing that many attempts. The run game numbers are similar. The numbers in parentheses are league ranks. The Bills are good at avoiding 3rd & SHORT situations.
Between five and eight yards, they see a fairly average number of attempts. For 3rd & LONG (nine or more yards) there’s overall a very HIGH number of attempts compared to the rest of the league. In aggregate, this is strong evidence that the Bills were excellent at forcing 3rd & LONG situations. This would be expected to correlate well with the idea that Edmunds be asked to concede the short middle and keep the play in front of him. That could explain why the Bills are facing a higher rate of attempts and “success” with those short middle passes.
For those of you wondering, the answer is 30.8%. For those of you who were not wondering, that’s the rate at which Buffalo allowed third-down conversions. It’s also comfortably best in the league. As a point of reference, no two adjacent teams on that list had a greater difference than first-place Buffalo and the Dallas Cowboys in second place.
This is all fine and dandy, but all it suggests so far is that while it may be skewed to third down, opponents still target the short middle quite a bit. Thus a thorn in the side of Dodson’s claim that Edmunds is dissuading teams from doing that. Let’s check in on the other downs, starting with second down.
Here’s the second-down pass-defense data. I circled the “common” distances. The 2nd & SHORT distances don’t have a lot of data points to go from. Note that the Bills are ranked very low in attempts against at most distances on second down. There are a few average: two yards, five yards, eight yards and ten yards. They’re at the top of the league when it comes to 2nd & LONG distances of 11+ yards. This too supports that the Bills are very good at forcing teams to work from behind and supports our “concede the middle and stop ‘em short” hypothesis.
I’m only concerned with 1st & 10 here, as that’s the most common distance by far. Look at all those data points! There are two things I want to discuss with this. The first is the idea of Edmunds scaring defenses from attempting passes. Now to be clear, this is team data so the question is do the Bills scare teams away from passing?
Oh yeah. Note that they’re 32nd in passing attempts on 1st & 10. No one saw fewer attempts to pass on first down. To be clear, the overall number of first-down attempts each team faced is relatively stable at a little over 400, meaning this is a decent quick glance at the run/pass ration teams saw. Against the Bills, opponents chose run more often. Let’s compare to the Baltimore Ravens. At 230 attempts, they saw the seventh-most passing attempts on first down. That’s a pretty big difference.
The second thing I’d discuss is effectiveness. No one allowed fewer yards on first-down passing attempts. No one allowed less first downs. Teams didn’t like passing against the Bills with a fresh set of downs—and they weren’t very good at it when they tried.
To be clear, this is passing overall—not just necessarily over the middle—but I’ll see you in the summary.
Yes. Everything above reflects team stats, and Dodson was specifically talking about Edmunds. As many of you probably recall, I’m a big proponent of the “weakest link” team philosophy. If there’s a weak link to be exploited, teams will keep doing it against you and it will be reflected in the aggregate stats. That means, assuming he’s the “weak link,” Edmunds isn’t being exploited on any routine basis. But let’s hit the
living film room and see if the eye test gives us a hint at how Edmunds fits in. Just a couple clips...
At the pause here, three Kansas City Chiefs players are circled. While it’s not true at the time of the pause, during various points in the play, Edmunds could have impacted any one of the three receiving options. The lowest one would have been for the quick pass, but (see below) Edmunds has the speed to adjust. For the top two, he’s on one like glue and his height makes it a much harder throw to hit the target over the top. By the time Edmunds is no longer a threat to get in the way, he has help.
This starts off with good coverage and ends with closing speed. It’s not just his height that’s a factor, Edmunds’s speed gives him incredible range as well.
The data does support the fact that teams avoid passing against Buffalo on first down when they have their entire playbook open. Edmunds is part of that equation. Further, the Bills are excellent at stopping the pass on first down. While other possible explanations exist—the “anomaly” that the Bills see a heavy dose of short-middle passes and are “bad” at defending them—the best explanation I’ve seen is that Buffalo does concede the middle after forcing teams into longer down-and-distance situations.
The Buffalo Bills have had an elite passing defense with this strategy. More important, this elite passing defense has been pretty stable. The role of Tremaine Edmunds shouldn’t be underestimated. Now to our conclusion on Tyrel Dodson’s comments.
We cannot conclusively state that it’s Edmunds alone, but there is good evidence that in a passing league, opponents are a bit scared of passing against Buffalo on first downs when teams often pass a ton. And if you’re about to make a comment that it’s because teams are so successful RUSHING the ball on first, let me remind you of the second- and third-down charts above that show how well the Bills force teams into longer distances. Teams are by and large not that successful against Buffalo on first down no matter what they choose.