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Buffalo Bills stat dive as they prepare to face the New England Patriots

I know — it’s not GIFs

New York Giants v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

With my laptop giving me a headache this week while I was trying to create my typical content, I didn’t want to leave the Buffalo Rumblings faithful hanging. I’m prepared to have done that anyway, as this Buffalo Bills stat-filled musing will fill in for a typical film analysis in preparation of the game against the New England Patriots. It’s the time of year where certain stats become meaningful, so let’s use that premise for a substitute article this week.

The Buffalo Bills on First Down


I figured if I were doing a stats-based article, I may as well do some more obscure or harder-to-find stats at least. I began my journey checking out down analysis numbers for the Buffalo Bills. Always one of the most common down/distance combinations is 1st & 10. To me, this is generally a good snapshot of team identity and success.

The Bills are fairly evenly split on 1st & 10, with 69 rushing attempts and 79 passing. They’re a pass-first team, but not in a landslide. The big difference comes with success rates.

Rushing the ball, Buffalo has an average gain of 3.58 yards. The league average for all rushing plays is 4.2 yards per gain. The Bills have been a bit boom-or-bust from the looks of it with seven first downs (14th in the league). Overall, running the ball on 1st & 10 isn’t great, but they’ve had average success in big gains (first down or more).

The NFL total average for passing plays is 6.9 yards per attempt. Take a second to absorb this fact: On 1st & 10, the Buffalo Bills gain an average of 9.09 yards. They have the eighth-most passing plays in the league for this down and distance, but they’re first in yards. Of their 79 passing plays, — 27 of them (or 34.18%) — go for a first down. For full disclosure, the Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers, and Miami Dolphins have even greater success on 1st & 10 when passing — but Buffalo is in elite territory despite two lousy games.

How the Bills’ numbers relate to Week 7 vs. Patriots

This is Patriots prep week, so let’s compare to their defensive numbers. New England fares somewhat average here with 3.73 rushing yards and 6.76 passing allowed on average. Their rushing defense seems to be their strength, which is also Buffalo’s weakness. Buffalo has the clear advantage in the passing game.


Sensitive readers may wish to avert their gaze for a moment. On 1st & 10, the Buffalo Bills allow a whopping 7.26 yards on average. That’s more than three yards higher than the league average. They also allow a first down 20% of the time. That means one out every five runs here gains 10+ yards. Most years I’ve stood on the mountain proclaiming that the Bills’ run defense was mediocre, not terrible. This year they’re indeed trending toward terrible with 5.4 yards per run allowed overall (only the Denver Broncos are worse).

On passing attempts on 1st& 10, the Bills allow 6.56 yards per attempt, which is a bit below the overall league average.

How the Bills’ numbers relate to Week 7 vs. Patriots

The Patriots struggle a bit with both gaining 3.89 rushing yards and 5.90 passing yards on average. If I were the Patriots, I would try to establish a ground game this Sunday.

Buffalo Bills’ Third-Down Conversions

I was mulling some of these stats with the Buffalo Rumblings team, and Sara Larson felt that the Bills had struggled stopping the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Giants on third down.

At that moment, I was in the down analysis stats and wanted to look at how successful Buffalo is at stopping 3rd & 10+ situations. The short answer is this: Avoid 3rd & Long against the Bills. The longer version is that on 22 attempts, opponents have converted for a first down only three times. Being candid, this probably isn’t rarified air. I didn’t take the time to check every team, but I imagine 3rd & Long is rarely converted across the board.

Honing in on the question better though, the Buffalo Bills allow conversions on third down over 42% of the time — 23rd in the league. It’s “average” by my rule of four, but drifting into the bad range.

I swore I had looked at this not too long ago and it was a strength of the defense, meaning Sara’s hunch appears to be right. For the first four weeks of the season, Buffalo allowed 12 of 39 to be converted. That 30.7% rate would be third-best in the NFL. Against the New York Giants they allowed 10 of 19 and 10 of 18 against the Jacksonville Jaguars (54% for the two games). So yes, Sara was absolutely correct.

How the Bills’ numbers relate to Week 7 vs. Patriots

So how might we expect things to play out this week? The Patriots convert third downs 35.2% of the time — 23rd in the league. By my rule of four that’s flirting with bad but still in the large average cluster. A return to form for Buffalo could knock them definitively into the bad range.

Bend But Don’t Break

During our discussion, Corey Giacovelli stated that the key to focus on is drives that end in touchdowns, and he tossed out the usual idea that the Bills bend but don’t break. How true is that idea this season? Well it turns out Corey is also right.

On average, the Bills allow 30.4 yards per drive (14th in the league). They allow 6.1 plays per drive (16th in the league), and 2:42 time of possession per drive (20th in the league). So yes, the Bills’ defense will bend.

Buffalo allows scoring on 26.6% of opponent drives. That’s third-best in the league. There’s not an inordinate amount of touchdowns either, as they’re fourth-best in the NFL allowing only 1.30 points per drive. Despite the bending, the Bills are very good at not breaking.

A major factor in this is that the Buffalo Bills are number-one in the league (tied with the Jaguars) in creating turnovers. Teams facing the Bills turn the ball over on 20.3% of drives.

Another factor is that Buffalo has an average blitz rate (12th in league) of 23.4%. Despite the lack of heavy blitzing, the Bills have the highest pressure rate in the league (31.1%) and are tied with the Ravens for most sacks this year at 24.

Through six weeks, the Patriots:

  • Have the lowest points per drive in the league at 1.00
  • The lowest drive-scoring rate at 18.3%
  • The sixth-highest turnover rate at 15.5%
  • Third-lowest yards per drive with 23.8 gained on average
  • 5.5 plays per drive and 2:18 ToP averages, both near the bottom of the NFL
  • An average sack percentage allowed (6.0%)

In summary

Last week I noted that on paper the Giants were in for a bloodbath. Buffalo struggled to pull off a win and I’ll even go on record saying that they got lucky to exit that game with a win. So remember the “Any Given Sunday” mantra when I type this summary out. I’ll add that Sunday’s game is supposed to be gusty and we know not too long ago that head coach Bill Belichick beat a then-Brian Daboll-led offense using the wind as the ultimate 12th Man. That said...

On paper, the New England Patriots arguably stack up even worse against the Buffalo Bills than the Giants — and that’s even after adding in the lousy metrics from last weekend. Buffalo firing on all cylinders should mean that punter Sam Martin can focus on holding the ball for extra points this weekend. Even if the Bills only fire half their half cylinders victory should be reasonably easy. The version of Buffalo from the last two weeks could struggle. This should be a “get right” game. If it’s not, I’ll go on record with one more opinion: It’s time to worry.