A couple weeks ago I was doing some legwork on organizing the 2021 Buffalo Bills sacks into chunks so I could GIF ‘em up like I did the Josh Allen touchdowns. Then the NFL announced Game Pass was going bye-bye, to be replaced by NFL+. Well, I’m still battling the labyrinth of their support team to try and make that “function” so there are no GIFs for now. But I still have numbers! We all love those, right?
With preseason kicking off, it’ll be interesting to see how the Bills do things this year, and there are some numbers that give us a nice quick glance at tendencies. I figured I’d point out a few of those and it’ll sort of give us a viewers’ guide to see if things change up this season.
Stats courtesy of the NFL and Pro-Football-Reference.com
9, 274 and 28
The first two numbers (9 and 274) are the number of unique starting lineups and total unique lineups that the Buffalo Bills used during the regular season. If you’re curious to know where those numbers pan out, they’re both the lowest in the league.
For starting lineups, ten teams had 16 unique ones (tied for most in the league). Seven other teams had 15. For total unique lineups, the range goes from the Bills’ 274 to the Dallas Cowboys at 563 unique combinations.
The 28 refers to the total number of players who hit the field on defense the entire regular season for Buffalo. This is also least in the league and is a stark contrast to the Tennessee Titans who had 43 players take the field for them on that side of the ball.
What does this mean? The Bills had an incredibly stable lineup for their players. While they may be famous for rotating the defensive line, it doesn’t translate to more chaotic rotations. In fact, overall their defense has the least amount of swapping.
Part of this is likely a lack of injuries (fingers crossed that continues). But it’s also likely a tribute to the fact that defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier, head coach Sean McDermott, and general manager Brandon Beane emphasize players with a diverse skillset. Will this change with some new faces on defense? It could if they see some of the new-look defense as more specialist in their roles.
4.32% and 44
Piggybacking off the last stat: Despite the lack of unique lineups, the Bills weren’t particularly attached to a specific lineup. They spent 4.32% of the time with their most common lineup with 44 plays across the entire season using that combination. That was eighth most, so technically an above-average amount using my rule of four, but barely.
In case you’re wondering, this lineup was:
Jerry Hughes, Greg Rousseau, Star Lotulelei, Ed Oliver, Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Tre’Davious White, Taron Johnson, Levi Wallace, Jordan Poyer, and Micah Hyde.
This is a weird number, but trust me it’s a good one to remember. This is the percentage of snaps played by linebackers last season. Every 100% can be pictured as a full-time starter at the position. Bills fans should have abandoned any pretense of calling the defense a 4-3 a loooooong time ago, and this drives that home.
This quick reference suggests that the Bills played in 4-3 personnel less than 3% of the season. They’ve been nickel heavy since Marcell Dareus was jettisoned and this stat shows that Buffalo is now pretty much permanently in at least nickel defense. I won’t say the entire 97% is nickel as there’s some dime and likely even quarter (Hail Mary) tossed in.
Our last stat is a quick check on aggression tendencies. The Buffalo Bills blitzed 26% of the time. That was 13th in the league, meaning the Bills were not even remotely aggressive when it came to blitzing.
Despite that, they had the highest hurry rate in the league (15.4%), the highest pressure rate (30.8%), and were sixth highest in sack percentage (7.92%). While fans often lamented the low numbers for hits, sacks, etc. a lot of this is due to the low number of passes attempted against Buffalo. At 530, Buffalo faced the third-least amount of passing attempts of anyone in the NFL last year.
The league average was 585, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers maxing out at 680 attempts against. So what does this potentially mean? Buffalo was more successful at causing chaos than the volume metrics suggest. They may not increase the level of aggression despite some changes to the roster for the 2022 season.