Breaking down the Bills’ 5 best defensive plays in 2022 by EPA

02/09/2023
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Last week we looked at the Top 5 Offensive Plays by EPA, and we promised to give you the best defensive plays by the same metric. You can count on us keeping our promises the same way you can trust Taron Johnson to fire his gun into a fullback with a 30 lb weight advantage. So, below you will find the top 5 defensive plays by EPA from the Bills’ 2022 season. You’ve heard pretty much everyone at Cover 1 mention EPA at some point, but what does that mean exactly, how is it calculated, and what does it look like in real plays?

Bills’ Top 10 Important Players from the 2022 Season: #3 Jordan Poyer

Expected Points Added

Expected Points Added has been creeping into football fans’ lexicon for the last five-to-ten years, but the concept has been around since the late 1980s, particularly in Bob Carroll’s The Hidden Game of Football (If you use this link, shoutout to Nathan Petrie, @thatpetrie, for the heads up on saving a good chunk of change). EPA builds on Expected Points, which is essentially “how many points can a team in this situation be expected to make?” The Expected Points assigned to a play given down and distance, game time, score, field position, home or away, etc. is generated by historical data, and the difference, positive or negative, in Expected Points assigned to the next play calculates that play’s Expected Points Added.

For defense, negative EPA is better. Here’s a hypothetical, not based on any actual data, to illuminate:

  1. Historical data assigns 0.30 points to Team A with the ball 1st & 10 from -35 with 3:15 in Q3
  2. Team B forces a 10 yard sack
  3. The new situation – 2nd & 20, -25 with 2:55 Q3 – has an Expected Points of 0.15
  4. That 10 yard sack has an Expected Points Added of – 0.15

Defensive EPA will clearly favor turnovers, because having the ball greatly increases a team’s chances for scoring duh, and every play below involves some type of possession change. Not every turnover is equal though. An end-of-the-first-half interception off of an opposing QB’s hail mary arm punt won’t create the same potential for points as does an interception return to the +23 with seven minutes left in the game. I’m looking at you, Boogie.

Ladies and gentlemen, your top 5 defensive plays by EPA.

5. Matt Milano Fumble Recovery vs CLE, -5.52 EPA

  • Time: 8:21 Q2
  • Score: CLE 10 – BUF 3
  • POS: CLE, 2nd & 3, +47

Evidently the internet doesn’t want you to see video of this play, but we laugh in the internet’s stupid face. The breakdown of the play is pretty simple.

Brissett fumbles the snap, but the only two people who know are Milano and Brissett himself.

Matty-on-the-spot is a step ahead of everyone else.

Milano locks down the turnover. In terms of need, with the game shifted to Detroit, the Bills down early to the Browns, and the offense being lackluster to this point, this play is arguably the most important play on this list. If momentum factored into EPA, this play is higher.

4. Christian Benford INT vs MIN, -5.82 EPA

  • Time: 0:31 Q1
  • Score: MIN 7 – BUF 14
  • POS: MIN, 1st & 10, -36

Benford was a welcome surprise as a 6th round pick, and the first interception of his career was the product of good technique and execution combined with Kirk Cousins’ overthrow. Being in the right place, at the right time is part of how he earned snaps so early on in his rookie year. Whether his future is at CB or S, his play suggests he’ll be solid contributor for a number of years.

3. Boogie Basham INT (Week 1 at LAR), -6.05 EPA

  • Time: 7:06 Q4
  • Score: BUF 31 – LAR 10
  • POS: LAR, 1st & 10, -48

Basham makes a remarkably athletic play by tipping Matthew Stafford’s pass, hauling it in when it goes straight up, and actually looking pretty comfortable with the ball in his hands. Not as smooth the old 55 Jerry Hughes’ INT return against Denver, but still a fun way for the young D lineman to start the season.

2. Dane Jackson INT (Week 10 vs MIN), -6.06 EPA

  • Time: 12:25 Q3
  • Score: MIN 10 – BUF 24
  • POS: MIN, 1st & 10, +36

This game should have been all wrapped up with Jackson’s interception. No need to relive the rest of this game, but don’t miss Dane’s impactful play. Also, don’t sleep on Jackson’s solid season: he ended 2022 ranked 31st amongst CBs with a passer rating against of 86.1. He will be a very solid CB3 moving forward. (Video from Fox Sports).

1. Matt Milano Pick Six (Week 2 vs TEN), -7.99 EPA

  • Time: 3:57 Q3
  • Score: TEN 7 – BUF 34
  • POS: TEN, 2nd & 13, -38

Just like the biggest offensive play by EPA, Gabriel Davis’ 98 yard TD, it seems to defy logic that a play could generate more than 6 points in EPA, but going from a positive situation for an opposing offense to literally scoring is worth even more than “just a TD.”

You can find Chris on Twitter (@lowbuffa), getting dirty in #MafiaGardens, or watching football. Go Bills!

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