I haven't done a matchup post since week #1. I got de-railed by life and all of the craziness that ensued after the Jets game. I will try to keep up with this as the year goes on, but as I said life happens.
I use Pro-Football Reference/Stathead for most of my data. But for some of the metrics I take the raw data, put it in a format that I think is more meaningful, and apply an algorithm to adjust for things like Drive Start position, Opponent Strength, etc... The Opponent Strength is corrected by a 5th order recursion to eliminate the impact of Opponent's Opponents and so forth. Additionally, I do a "matchup" adjustment. It fine-tunes the opponent adjustment to the opponent. For example, if the opponent is top 10 in Offensive Rush Yds/Att, then I only adjust the Bills' Defensive Rush Yds/Att by their performance against similar top 10 opponents. Obviously, this fine-tuning does not kick in until later in the year when there are enough games that all teams have against top 10 opponents. In the meantime, I am including the Unadjusted values and ranks for each Adjusted metric so that we can see both.
In the matchup sections below, each row represents a different metric. The Bills metric value/rank are on the right side and the Opponent's metric value/rank is on the left side. In the middle is the resulting delta between the two metrics. The Matchup Delta is highlighted based on how good or bad the for the Bills (see below). Lots of Green = Good for the Bills!!
Note that not all of my metrics are "adjusted" for opponents. My eventual goal is to provide all "adjusted" metrics, but for now just some of the major ones are "adjusted". Here is the key...
The Adjusted ones are in a darker background shade and the Unadjusted ones are in a lighter background shade.
Opponent's Offense vs Bills' Defense Matchup:
Opponent's Pass Offense vs Bills' Pass Defense Matchup:
Opponent's Rush Offense vs Bills' Rush Defense Matchup:
Opponent's Defense vs Bills' Offense Matchup:
Opponent's Pass Defense vs Bills' Pass Offense Matchup:
Opponent's Rush Defense vs Bills' Rush Offense Matchup:
I have said this many times before, but stats tell "a" story (or a "chapter of a story" - Thanks FLBillsFan451) and not "the" whole story. All stats have limitations. It is important to know the limitations of all stats in order to use them correctly.
Even though some of the metrics in this post adjust for opponent strength which is good and important, there are things that are still not considered in this data (yet... ) like injuries, weather, and specific matchup weaknesses (e.g. power running, speed at WR, rushes against light boxes, etc...). This data is also based on averages. Averages are nice, but sometimes the variation for some teams is more than other teams.
Also, early in the year, the "Adjusted" algorithm is only kind of good. Think of it like the College Football Playoff Rankings. They don't post them until Week #9. Each team has not played enough variety of teams to make it super accurate.
So, keep all of this in mind when looking at the data. I know it is a lot of disclaimers, but I wanted to be forthright with the data's limitations. It is not perfect, but I think it is roughly right in most cases, better than most raw stats, and reasonable insight for this kind of matchup assessment. Remember, most stats tell "a" story and not "the" story. If you keep all of this in mind, then I think they can tell "a" fairly meaningful story.
Overall, this will be a super tough matchup for the Bills. The data does not look great. There is a lot of red in the matchups especially when our defense is on the field. There are some advantages when the offense is on the field, but those advantages (on paper) are much smaller (lighter green).
Bills' Defensive Matchup Summary:
The defense has got their hands full. The big difference between the Phins last year and this year is their running game. Last year the Phins were not good at running the ball. I think it is because of the of the learning curve of the outside zone run blocking. A hallmark of the Shanahan offense is that it utilizes the outside zone scheme. As we know in Buffalo, you need a very specific athletic profile for all of the O-linemen to make it work and, even so, it is a very difficult scheme to get right. But if you can get it right, it is a very hard scheme to defend. They seem to have gotten it right. They had 350 yds in rushing last week! They also have two 4.3 speed RBs on the team. The Phins were great at passing last year, but now that they have a legit running game, this offense could be historically good. It is much easier if the defense just has to focus on stopping just one aspect of the offense. If they have to worry about both, then that is a much more difficult task. While the Bills did a good job at containing the run against the Raiders, they were not good at it against the Jets and the Commanders. I know that the Phins have not played the toughest defenses in the NFL so far, but I think it is safe to say that they are very very good. I think they are by far the most talented team in the NFL. They have 4 sub-4.4 weapons (including one 4.22 weapon). While speed alone is only kind of good, they have 4 speed weapons that are also capable football players. The impact that Hill and Waddle have on the defense is enormous. Teams are forced to play a soft shell which creates cavernous holes in the defense for the Shanahan offense to find tons of space for easy throws. That said, the Shanahan offense can be defended but you need to jam the receivers at the LOS in press coverage. The pass is out to the primary target just barely after the receiver is off the LOS. The QB throws it to the spot assuming that the receiver will get a free release and be at the spot in the zone at the right time. That is the design of the offense. If you can disrupt the timing with a jam then the receiver will not be there at the right time and this offense can be contained and be exposed for INTs (like the 49ers and the Chargers did last year). But if you miss the jam and don't have the speed to recover, then it could easily be 6 points. It is a big risk. The Bills' defensive backfield is slow by league standards and they have always had an Achilles Heel with offenses with speed and a quick first-read offense. The Patriots tried to contain the Phins with a 3 Safety deep shell. It kind of worked. They did force the Phins to look for easy passes underneath. It prevented the big play, but there were tons of easy throws underneath because of all of the space that the 3 deep shell created. The Patriots' goal was to run the ball on offense and play a soft zone to shorten the game and hope for some lucky bounces. It did keep the game lower scoring and close, but ultimately they did not have enough to pull off the win. If you do that strategy, then you have to make sure that your offense is really good at scoring points. Whatever strategy the Bills choose, I predict it will be a very long day for the defense.
Bills' Offensive Matchup Summary:
On offense, I think there is an opportunity for the Bills to exploit the Phins rush defense. Our run offense has been solid (albeit against very light boxes), but it does seem like there could be some opportunity. If they can be successful early in running the ball, then it might keep the pass rush off of Josh. The one big anomaly in the data is Pts/Drive that stuck out to me. The Bills are #2 in Unadjusted Offensive Pts/Drive, but 26th in Adjusted Offensive Pts/Drive. That is a big difference. I predict that eventually the Bills' Adjusted Offensive Pts/Drive ranking will smooth out as the weeks go on. So, for now we are left guessing if we are closer to #2 or #26. So, I did some digging into why it was such a big difference. The Adjusted ranking is so low partly because the Raiders are really bad in this metric (32nd). And it is not just because the Bills were very good. Other teams have been beating up on them too. The Bills have also had some really short fields to work with thanks to some nice turnovers from the defense. In those instances, points are expected so they don't get as much credit for those points as they would if they drove the whole length of the field. I also adjust the Offensive Pts/Drive by the Expected Pts/Drive caused by Turnovers given to the other team. When the Offense gives the other team the ball, they also give the other team an opportunity to score more points (depending on where it is on the field). The turnovers have been frequent and costly so far in this short season. 3 of them led to points by the opponent.
Pts/Drive will be an area to watch for the Bills' offense going forward though. While they have moved the ball well, they have not been consistent at scoring TDs at the end of their drives. In my years of watching and collecting this data, Pts/Drive is the dominant metric to determine if the team will succeed or not. For this Sunday, we will have to see if the Bills are closer to the Unadjusted #2 ranking or the Adjusted # 26th ranking. My hope is the former! The Phins defense is not elite, but they are solid. It will be a formidable matchup.
Overall Matchup Summary:
Despite the concerning matchup metric deltas, the games are not played on paper. Bounces of the ball, weather, penalties, and luck may also play a factor. Josh is also the X-factor. He can cover up a lot of sins and be a difference maker if things line up for him.
Like always, I try to be realistic with my assessments. But no matter what the matchups look like I always keep my predictions on the positive side...
I predict a high-scoring game.
What do you see in the data and in the matchup?