The Buffalo Bills won an ugly Week 8 contest with the Green Bay Packers… and by ugly, we mean beating the two-time defending MVP by 10 points. But with that, the second half of Buffalo’s sixth win on the year saw the team score only three points while the Packers moved the ball at will on the ground, picking up 125 of their 208 net rushing yards on the day in the third and fourth quarters. Is this a sign of things to come? Will teams look to run on the Bills often? Let’s take a look.
Examining win probability
Let’s start by looking at the Bills’ most recent game. As you watched the Packers abandon Aaron Rodger’s arm and saw the Bills give up chunk after chunk to Aaron Jones and AJ Dillion, you may have feared the Packers were mounting a comeback. But what if I told you the Bills’ win probability increased throughout the third quarter? Green Bay possessed the ball for just under 11 minutes in the third quarter, and despite this, the Bills’ win probability increased from 96.5% when the Packers took the opening kickoff to 97.2% by the time the fourth quarter started. How is this the case?
Examining the Bills mindset
The Packers had incredible difficulty getting anything going through the air throughout the contest and had to commit to the ground game to move the ball with any sort of consistency. By doing this, they essentially ran the clock out on themselves. To put it more simply, the Packers were so concerned that they could not pass the ball against the Bills’ defense they sacrificed a chance to win, to move the ball four-to-five yards at a time.
If the Bills force the ball out of the hands of quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, that is a win for the defense. Buffalo was fine with letting the Packers move the ball on the ground, as it knew its largest impact would be felt on the stat sheet, not on the scoreboard.
Von Miller put it best after the game.
“I was shocked that they ran the ball so much,” he told reporters. “I was just playing the pass. I’m looking at the scoreboard, and we’re up 17 points, and there’s two minutes left in the third quarter, and I’m thinking that they are going to start passing the ball soon.”
Certainly, the Bills didn’t want to get gashed in the run game as they did against Green Bay. And in fairness, the coaching staff will likely pour plenty of time into improving that area of the defense after Sunday’s game, but contextuality, the run defense is not as big of a concern as it may seem on the surface.
Here is some perspective about the defensive game plan:
Average Box Defenders
1st Half: 6
2nd Half: 6.1
The Bills saw the runs coming. They didn't care. 9/15 of the Packers rushing plays in the 2nd half resulted in win probability increases for the Bills. #BillsMafia
— Adam (@sharpndpensel) October 31, 2022
So let’s take a step back and look at the Bills run defense as a whole.
As a team against the run, the Bills currently rank:
- 13th in EPA
- 12th in success rate
- 11th in run-stop win rate
- 11th in “stuff rate.”
- 5th in yards per attempt
On an individual basis, Von Miller is ranked first against the run among edge defenders per Pro Football Focus, and DaQuan Jones ranks sixth among all defensive tackles in run stop win rate. This all while the Bills remain among the most nickel-heavy teams in the NFL. And though this hasn’t changed from previous years, the Bills now have defensive line talent that has allowed Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano to be game wreckers for run games.
There isn’t much reason to be worried about the Bills’ run defense going forward. Sunday’s game against the Packers will prove to be an anomaly for Buffalo’s much-improved run defense. If teams choose to run at a rate similar to the Packers, they will run themselves out of football games. To quote Leslie Frazier, “…at the end of the day, it’s about points,” and Bills allow very few of them.