Our 2014 snap counts page, which tracks the number of snaps played for every Buffalo Bills player this season, has been updated following Sunday's 37-22 loss to the New England Patriots. Take a peek at the numbers through six weeks, and read on for a few observations about how the team has been structured through the Bills' 3-3 start.
C.J. Spiller played just 12 snaps in Week 6, his lowest single-game count since his second NFL season in 2011. He has now participated on just 37.4 percent of the Bills' offensive snaps to this point in the season; that's compared to his 33.5 percent figure from the 2013 season, which he mostly spent working through a high ankle sprain. Whether or not he's deserving of more snaps will continue to be a debate amongst Bills fans for weeks to come.
Meanwhile, as Spiller's playing time has declined, Fred Jackson has snuck onto the field for over 60 percent of snaps. That's up three percent from his final 2013 figure, and it's going to end up placing him in the Top 15 in the NFL for his position to this point in the season. Not bad for a 33-year-old veteran.
Chris Hogan, playing in the slot ahead of the inactive Mike Williams, saw a season-high 30 snaps in Week 6 - a figure he actually best twice in the 2013 season, if you'll believe it. Meanwhile, fellow sub-package receiver Marquise Goodwin saw just 14 snaps, providing further evidence that the second-year receiver out of Texas is, by and large, merely a situational player as the Bills' offense is currently structured.
If you were curious about how often the Bills used multiple-tight end sets with Williams sidelined against New England, these numbers tell part of the story: Scott Chandler played 76.8 percent of snaps, Chris Gragg was at 31.9 percent, and Lee Smith came in at 27.5 percent. Those numbers are significantly higher than the tight end group typically receives in a contest, but they're probably not as high as some expected considering it was used as an excuse for making Williams inactive.
Through six games this season, the Jim Schwartz defense, on any given snap, has fielded an average of 2.31 linebackers. A year ago, under Mike Pettine (and over the course of a full season), that figure came in at 1.53 - and it does not include data for Manny Lawson, an end now, and largely an edge-setter for Pettine. Those numbers delineate a clear difference in philosophy on passing downs, with Schwartz sticking mostly to nickel looks and Pettine preferring dime. Add that to the season-ending injury to Kiko Alonso, and it should not be especially surprising that the Bills have the 26th-ranked pass defense this season, down from a No. 4 overall finish last year - even though they still rank second in the league in sacks.
That linebacker philosophy came through against New England, though in fairness, it may also have been an issue of necessity, with Corey Graham needing to fill in for Aaron Williams at safety. Still, the Bills wound up having four linebackers (Nigel Bradham, Brandon Spikes, Keith Rivers, and Preston Brown) play at least 43.7 percent of snaps against New England, with those first three each seeing more than 50 percent of plays. New England figured out how to manipulate them, which we'll discuss a bit later on today.
In the last two weeks, Duke Williams has played 127 snaps compared to just 36 for Da'Norris Searcy. (It's worth pointing out here that Searcy has been a bit banged up of late.) Williams had a rough go of it against New England, but it's looking like he may be the de facto starter over Searcy even when Aaron Williams returns to the field, with Searcy returning to his now-less-used hybrid linebacker/safety role that he excelled in a year ago.
The top six rep-takers on special teams in Week 6: Brown (23), Anthony Dixon (21), Larry Dean (21), Ron Brooks (20), Chris Hogan (18), and Corey Graham (18). Dixon, Ty Powell, Brooks, Hogan, and Dean are the core specialists at the moment, consistently winding up at the top of the rep counts on a week to week basis; Dean is the player that has seen the most work in the continued absence of Marcus Easley.