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Buffalo Bills fourth down expectations under Rex Ryan, Greg Roman

The Bills sure did punt an awful lot on fourth down under Doug Marrone. How will things change under Rex Ryan and Greg Roman? Here's an early stab at an answer.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

If there was one overriding complaint that Buffalo Bills fans had about the outgoing Doug Marrone regime - outside of the way things ended, that is - it was the big problem Marrone seemed to have with taking chances on fourth down. He seemed very hesitant to roll the dice, especially when the game was on the line and the decision to go for it was entirely justifiable. How far against the grain did he go, however, in his tendency to call for the punt team, and how different is that going to look with the incoming coaching staff?

Let me start by setting up the numbers. I took a look at how each coaching staff handled the following scenario: fourth down and five or fewer yards to go, in the fourth quarter, losing by four or more points. It's a scenario that doesn't necessarily scream "go for it," yet it's a good dividing point between the men and the boys. All data comes from the play index supplied by Pro Football Reference.

So, how did Doug Marrone deal with that situation? Let's take a look:

2013-2014 Pass % (#) Run % (#) Punt % (#) FG % (#)
Marrone 62.5 (10) 0.0 (0) 31.3 (5) 6.3 (1)
NFL 48.6 (172) 17.8 (63) 21.8 (77) 11.9 (42)

The sample size isn't too large, but from what we have, we can see a couple items of note. First, there's proof of what we all knew to be true: the Bills were more likely to punt in that situation than the average NFL team. It's not by a huge amount, but it's still there, and if you watched any Bills games over the last two years, it shouldn't surprise you that much. Second - and what might be a little surprising, but not necessarily awful - is the fact that the Bills didn't try a single run play in that scenario. You might have figured that they would have switched at least one of those passes to a rush, especially last season, but it seems that if they were going for it, the ball was going to be in the air.

How is that going to change in 2015? To answer that, we need to see how much input Rex Ryan has into the fourth-down decision. Even though he generally sticks to the defensive side of the game, you'd figure that his opinion would carry some weight when it comes to game strategy like that. Here's the rundown for each of the three offensive coordinators from Rex's run with the Jets:

Coach (Years) Pass % (#) Run % (#) Punt % (#) FG % (#)
Schottenheimer (2009-11) 33.3 (4) 16.7 (2) 41.7 (5) 8.3 (1)
Sparano (2012) 0.0 (0) 16.7 (1) 50.0 (3) 33.3 (2)
Mornhinweg (2013-14) 56.3 (9) 18.8 (3) 18.8 (3) 6.3 (1)

From the looks of things, the decision to go for it on fourth on a Ryan-coached team, at least in large part, lies with the offensive coordinator. Schottenheimer had a clean split, Sparano tended to play it safe, and Mornhinweg liked to go for the gusto.

That would lead any observer to believe that in 2015, the fourth-down calls are going to be in Greg Roman's hands. So what does his chart look like?

2011-14 Pass % (#) Run % (#) Punt % (#) FG % (#)
Roman 54.5 (6) 27.2 (3) 18.3 (2) 0.0 (0)
NFL 47.9 (345) 17.2 (124) 24.1 (174) 10.8 (78)

If you were frustrated by the conservative approach of the last regime, you should be a lot happier this year. Roman likely won't be sending out the punt team on fourth-and-short when he needs a touchdown to get back into the game - and even if David Lee gets some say into things, you can see from the results he had with the Jets that he's not gun-shy about the call, either.

Clearly, this isn't a perfect look at what might happen for this season. Personnel, game situations, opponents, and standings can all factor into the decision to try for a fourth-down conversion. Looking at these results, however, would give you the idea that Colton Schmidt should get a little more rest in close games this season.