When the Buffalo Bills hired Greg Roman to be their new offensive coordinator under Rex Ryan, some good observations were made about the direction that the unit would be heading in 2015: namely, that they'd be a run-first offense that would feature some significant personnel usage shifts from previous Bills teams.
Personnel will always dictate how an offense is constructed, and if the season were starting tomorrow, there's a good chance that Roman would break from his norm a bit to accommodate some of the Bills' current weaknesses. But we also know that Roman likes what he likes - namely, a creative running game featuring blocking from massive dudes at several different positions.
How much, exactly, should we expect the Bills' personnel use at the various offensive positions to change in 2015? Let's compare the per-play numbers between the Bills and Roman's old outfit, the San Francisco 49ers, over the last two seasons. The chart below outlines the number of players at each position that the Bills and 49ers used per play in that time frame.
|Pos.||'13 49ers||'14 49ers||'13 Bills||'14 Bills|
For clarity, if you're confused by the numbers: from the nearest whole number, the difference is a percentage of plays in which a team did (or did not) use a player. As an example, the 49ers used 5.12 offensive linemen per play in 2013, meaning that they used five linemen on 100 percent of plays, and an extra lineman or two on roughly 12 percent of plays. Another example: the 49ers used a fullback on 55 percent of plays in 2013, but didn't have one on the field at all the rest of the time.
Got it? Let's trundle on and clear up some misconceptions.
Tight end usage: There's this notion out there that Roman needs several tight ends to run his offense, and to an extent, that's true. But the 2014 Bills actually used tight ends more often than the 2014 49ers did. Most NFL teams use multiple tight ends on a significant portion of their snaps. That's going to be the case for the Bills, even if they don't make any further changes to their tight end depth chart; if they do, however, they could approach 2013 49ers territory, where San Fran used an extra tight end (or two) on a huge number of snaps.
Extra offensive linemen: This, more than the tight end thing, is where the truly unique aspect of Roman lies. The 49ers used extra offensive linemen a lot in 2013, and likely would have repeated that trend had they not suffered through a series of injuries up front last season. It's not a huge number of plays, but it's not insignificant, either. We'll need to be talking about who the Bills' sixth linemen is going to be, in all likelihood.
Multiple backs: To be clear, we're talking about tailbacks, here. We know that Roman likes to use a blocking fullback far more than the Doug Marrone era Bills did; they didn't even have a fullback on the roster to close out the 2014 season, which is why they paid big money to Jerome Felton. But in terms of running backs, you can essentially forget about the idea that they'll use more than one on the field at a time for anything more than a handful of plays. LeSean McCoy is going to play a ton, and the other guys are limited role players.
Sacrificing receivers: When you're adding blockers left and right, someone has to come off the field, and it'll be wide receivers. But don't get too caught up in the 2013 number there for the 49ers; they were waiting on Michael Crabtree to return from injury that season, and the 2015 Bills will most likely look more like last year's 49ers outfit in terms of how often they're using receivers. But it's still going to be a tick downward for Buffalo, which makes a potential playing time competition between Robert Woods and Percy Harvin even more interesting.