Complementary Football

Are the philosophies of the offense and defense conducive to winning in the long run?

 

Analyzing the numbers.


It’s that time a year, the Bills are once again eliminated from playoff contention and the blame game has started. Some may say it has been the tremendous let down on defense, some say it’s the quarterback play. There are many reasons why the Bills failed to make the playoffs again this year, not just one thing. If the defense was anywhere as good as last year the Bills could have been in playoff contention. I don’t think I am going out on a limb by saying that. But from a philosophical team perspective, do we have a recipe that will hold up?  For example, the former Colts’ GM Bill Polian had an offensive philosophy that was predicated on scoring a lot. On defense they utilized a cover 2 philosophy to make teams dink and dunk their way down the field. They drafted Freeney and Mathis to get at the QB because they knew that they were going to be in those situations a lot. They knew that their offense would give them a lead, so the defense utilized their pass rushers to get at the QB. Do you see where I am going with this? Their offensive and defensive philosophy meshed, and played off of each other. Why? Because football is a team sport, all phases must pitch in to win. Is our TEAM philosophy conducive to winning in the long run?


Offense

Looking at the Bills from the top down can you say that the Bills are built to win? Offensively, I have loved what Roman has done. I love the complexity of his run game, the handling of his players, the personnel groupings and the brand of football he puts on the field. Does he have some work to do this offseason? Yes, but overall he has done well with a QB that is starting for the first time. Roman has put Taylor’s career on the right track. He has slowly moved him along,  he has not given him too much to handle. Look at where the offense is as a whole.

What is our philosophy on offense? Ground and pound, run the ball with our two weapons in Lesean Mccoy and Karlos Williams. Control the clock, put our quarterback in 3rd and short situations. Situations where the percentages work in our favor. But the Bills also want to play to our strengths, Tyrod Taylor is a phenomenal deep throwing QB. So the Bills want to run the ball and hit the deep ball to Sammy Watkins right? All of the statistics support that philosophy, lets take a look….

So far this year the Bills rank 1st in rushing yards averaging almost 149 yards a game on the ground! They are 3rd in attempts with 426, that puts them behind Carolina and Seattle, two playoff bound teams. The Bills offense leads the league in rushing yards as well with 2,083 rushing yards and averaging 4.9 a clip on the ground. That’s fine and dandy but does it score points? Yes, the Bills are 3rd in rushing TDs with 15 and are also 3rd in rushing first downs with 106. 25% of the Bills’ first downs come via the running game and they are third in 20+ yard runs with 17. So it is fair to say that the ground and pound and the running game as a whole has been a success. So where do the Bills rank in the pass game?

What is our philosophy as a passing game? I believe Greg Roman’s philosophy is a deep passing attack team. A quick strike vertical passing attack. I come to this conclusion on Roman based on his time in San Francisco. From 2011-2013 Roman’s passing attack averaged 7.6 yards per attempt and averaged 22 passing TDs a season. That rivaled the Packers, Saints and Falcons over those years.  The vertical attack can be supported in the stats as well.

The Bills have been a deep strike or bust kind of passing team. The Bills have averaged 7.7 yards per attempt in the pass game which is 5th overall according to NFL.com. 12 passes have been completed over 40 yards which is also 5th in the league. Tyrod Taylor has shown that he can be an excellent deep ball passer. He is tied for tops in the league for TDs over 20 yards or more, and 5th in deep passing yards with 957 via Pro Football Focus (PFF). His main target Sammy Watkins also is rated really well when it comes to the deep ball. Sammy has been targeted 32 times this year in passes of 20 yards or more which is the 4th most in the league. Of those targets, Sammy has 15 receptions which is tied for 2nd in the league and 1st in the league in yards with 569. It is no surprise that Sammy leads the league in deep ball TDs with 8, the next closest is Odell Beckham Jr. with 6. So as you can see the Bills are very good passing the ball deep.

With all of the offensive statistics shown, you can see that the offense has improved. There is no doubt about that. Roman has come in and executed his philosophy to a T. I am the biggest Roman supporter and think what he has done with this offense and Tyrod Taylor, a first year starter in general has been stellar. But what about the negatives about the offensive philosophy…

As good as the offense has played, how does it affect the team when it doesn’t go as planned? Lets take a look at some of the stats that are results of Roman’s philosophies..

If you look at drive rates on the advanced statistics site Football Outsiders you can get an idea on how this team operates. Remember, a boom or bust offense.

The Bills have been successful running the ball and hitting the deep passes, but when teams force the offense to put long drives together, the offense has struggled. The Bills are the 5th worst in the league when it comes to three and outs per drive. The Rams, 49ers, Fins, Lions and the Jets all are worse than the Bills. Buffalo is a team that is tops in the league in three and outs per drive, they are also a team that is tops in the league for punts per drive. Again, ranked as the 5th worst in the league.

The lack of consistent drives by the Bills, can also be reflected in the average plays per drive and time of possessions per drive. The Bills are 5th worst in plays per drive. They average 5.67 plays per drive, how does that compare to the league? The average is 5.84, and the leagues’ best averages 6.61 plays per drive. Of course that hurts a teams’ time of possession. The Bills wanted to be a ground and pound offense. Which leads one to believe that you want to run the ball, control the line of scrimmage, shorten the game and control the clock..Well the Bills are ranked 17th in the league averaging 2:40 minutes a drive. That means that the Bills are not possessing the ball long or are scoring quickly.

What about yards per drive, having the #1 run game and an explosive run game you would think that the Bills would be a good team in yards per drive. Wrong, the Bills rank 24th on yards per drive. They average 29.9 yards per drive. To get an idea on where those numbers fall, Arizona is number one averaging 39.89 yards per drive. The Bills are below the league average in yards per drive, the league averages 31.33.

As you can see, we have been great in both the passing and run games. Roman has installed the offense that he had envisioned. But it has also been the reason for a lot of the losses in his first Bills season. Remember, football is a team sport I ask again is it conducive to winning? Is it the right recipe from an overall team perspective? Does it help or hurt your team/defense?


Defense

What is Rex Ryan’s defensive philosophy? Rex likes to have a defense that creates pressure with confusion. A defense that likes to dictate the tempo of the offense, force them out of their comfort zone. He likes to bring pressure and blitzes from all over the field with all different kinds of personnel groupings. He employs a hybrid scheme that is complex in nature and is a being in itself. By that I mean that every player on the defense has a responsibility and if they don’t execute it, the defense fails, the play fails. How is that any different than other defense? Much like the offense, it is a boom or bust type philosophy. If the players execute their assignments the defense can wreak havoc on an offense, specifically the opposing quarterback. But, if there are weak links in the chain, the defense will get carved up. That is what has happened so far this 2015 season.

Where do I begin? This defense is horrible in just about every statistic. The defense is currently ranked 21st overall in total yards allowing 363 yards/game. Quite the drop from last year. A majority of those yards come via the passing game. They give up about 258 yards a game through the air and 106 yards a game on the ground. It is hard to find a statistic that the Bills are in the top five in on the defensive side of the ball. What does that tell you?

The scheme did not work this year. For many, many reasons. Injuries, play-calling, penalties, offenses adjusting, personnel groupings, mismanaging of personnel I could go on and on. I want to examine the defense, from a philosophical perspective. If you look at some of the advanced statistics you can see how badly the team played but how that affected the team as a whole. Remember, football is a TEAM sport and all phases must pitch in to win.

The defense is average in yards given up per drive. The Bills give up an average of 31.26 yards/drive and that puts them at 16th in the league (Football Outsiders). Denver is #1 in the league only surrendering 24.14 yards per drive. The Broncos are second in the league in plays per drive with 5.38, the Bills are 10th in the league with 5.75 yds/drive. That isn’t too bad, but it does reflect something about the passing game. The defense has given up 53 passes of 20 yards or more which is tied for 4th most in the league. That is odd because they only give up 7 yards per attempt through the air which is the 10th least in the league. Do you think that injuries to Aaron Williams, the QB of the defensive backs may have something to do with it? I definitely do, is that an excuse? No, players need to step up. As serviceable as Graham and Rambo have been horrible in coverage. Between the both of them they have allowed 9 touchdowns when either of them were primary cover guys on receivers.

When you look at time of possession, the Bills defense is one of the best, ranking 6th in time of possession per drive. Opposing teams average 2:31 seconds on drives so far this season. The top team in that statistic are the Panthers, teams average 2:15 seconds per drive against them.

What do all of these statistics display? Much like the offense, the Bills on defense are a boom or bust defense this year. A dangerous scheme when it is executing, but gets gashed when it isn’t.

As I have stated, it is blatantly obvious that this year was a wash defensively. This defense is not the type of defense that Rex likes to run, nor is it typical of his defenses. Over his 6 years as the head coach of the Jets, his defenses have been in the top ten every year besides one. One year they were ranked 11th. His defenses have been pretty bad in points per game though. Over the six years, his defenses have averaged 15th (24th,19th 20th,20th,6th,1st) in points given up. So I want to try and find a what the typical Rex Ryan defense will look like and if it will mesh with our offense.

Lets take a look at how Rex Ryan’s defensive statistics stack up to this years league averages.

These stats are courtesy of Football Outsiders, definitely go take a look at the fine work they do other there!!! The numbers in parentheses are the rankings, except in the AVERAGE ROW (YELLOW). The number in the parentheses of the AVERAGE ROW, is the average of all of the league rankings from 2009-14.

If you look at the Rex’ average numbers vs. the #1 team of 2015 categories you can see his numbers stack up pretty well. Look at the actual numbers, not the rankings in parentheses. The most glaring statistics are the yards per drive, points per drive, TDs/drive and the three and outs per drive. Usually Rex led defenses are much better in those departments. So was this year an apparition? I tend to believe so, but I’ll leave that up to you. His schemes have worked in the past, when he has had the personnel at certain positions.


Big Picture

The statistics for this particular year obviously show why the Bills record is what it is. But, think big picture. Even if the defense was as good as the Jets defenses from 2009 and 2010, are the philosophies of the offense and defense complementary?

If Roman can get the offense to resemble this years output year in and year out, does it mesh well with Rex Ryan’s defense? I think that it could, did it this year? No, the offense averaged 30:44 seconds in time of possession which is 16th in the league. As good as the offense has been they have put their defense in a bind with many three and outs and quick scores. The offense will have to work on controlling the clock more and putting more drives together but still scoring. If you look at Greg Roman offenses in 3 out of his 4 years in San Francisco he was in the top ten for time of possession per drives. So, I believe that the offense can improve in that area.

Rex Ryan has never had an offense ranked better than 11th. This year the Bills are ranked 13th in scoring (24.4pts/game) and 13th in total yards per NFL.com. So the offense has pretty much held up their end of the bargain.

Courtesy of Footballdb.com Courtesy of Footballdb.com

Can the defense complement the offense? If Rex Ryan can drastically improve upon this year I think it can. As a head coach, Rex Ryan defenses have only allowed 21.5 points per game. As you saw earlier the Bills have averaged more than that this year on offense.

The statistics chart that I posted earlier really explains it all. Rex Ryan defenses have worked, Greg Roman offenses have worked. Anyone can see that if they dig a little. Has this year imploded? Absolutely, but after doing some research I unlike many Bills fans don’t believe we should fire our head coach. I don’t believe that we are that far away from being successful. I have stated that I believe that Whaley had this planned all along. He knew the play-makers were aging and were at the tail end of their hefty contracts. I believe that Whaley had all of this information when he and Pegula made the decision to bring Rex on board. Whaley knew that it was going to be difficult to replicate what the Bills had done for another several years. So he wanted to bring in a scheme that can create pressure and confusion.

With that said, Rex and Doug Whaley have a lot of work to do after the season. They need to find guys that will buy in and play well in this scheme. It is not a major transition because most of these players have played in a similar scheme. They need to fill ina couple pieces and add depth at key positions. The injuries have killed this team. There have been major losses on every level of the defense. Talent and leadership was lost for most of the season. Leadership is not measurable, players on the field who hold their peers accountable is not measurable. It is more obvious than ever that the Bills miss the likes of Kyle Williams and Aaron Williams.

The numbers definitely support that the offense and defense can complement each other. They didn’t this year, but there is no doubt in my mind that the philosophy of this TEAM is conducive to winning in the long run..

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. I was a girls coach for 19 years, I learned long ago not to run plays that I want but to run plays that fit the players i have. I think the Bills errored but pushing there plays and not looking who was playing them.

  2. Erik Turner 12/27/2015 at 2:12 am

    I disagree to a certain extent. I believe he tried installing the ultimate defense knowing the talent he had. But it was too much for the team. So he scaled back and even incorporated what the team did last year after the bye. Due to injuries, that didn’t work out either. So after the big loss in KC. He started the complete transition to his defense, to his kind of team. He figured if I am going to lose, I am going to do it my way. Things are still as bad, but I do think he can turn it around..

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