How Zack Moss will Boost the Bills’ Short-Yardage Game


About two months ago, a bit before the draft, Erik Turner wrote an article highlighting the Bills’ struggles in short-yardage situations. On 3rd-and-short, short being two yards or less, the Bills were ranked just 24th by Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. Part of this was Buffalo’s predictability. Of their 51 attempts on 3rd- and 4th-and-short, the Bills ran the ball on 43 (84%) of the attempts. This resulted in a 65% successful running rate, below the league average of 68%. 

Bills Need Improvement on Short Yardage situations

There were a lot of factors that could have, and ultimately did, lead to this poor success rate. First, as already highlighted, the Bills were extremely predictable in 3rd/4th-and-short situations. They passed the ball only 16% of the time, allowing opposing defensive coordinators and their units to put an emphasis on stopping the run in these scenarios — which also led to a league-high 88% success rate when passing the ball. Second was the lacking usage of their more elusive running back in Devin Singletary. Singletary was only used in these scenarios on five different occasions, and he picked up the first down on four of the attempts. This leads us to what I view as the biggest reason for the Bills’ struggles in this area — the overuse of Frank Gore. 

You can’t not appreciate everything that Gore did for this team last year. The professional attitude and mentorship he brought to the locker room, and specifically to Singletary, was truly commendable. The huge game in week four against New England that really kept the Bills’ hopes alive in the second half was something special, as well as seeing him surpass 15,000 career yards. But you can’t lie to yourself in that his legs, for all intents and purposes, essentially died last year after about week seven. Despite being the “power” back, Gore was used on 3rd/4th-and-short 12 times last year and was only successful on three of them for a 25% success rate. He averaged just 0.6 yards per carry. When you bring it inside the two yard line, the conversion rate was even worse. On ten attempts, Gore managed a measly two touchdowns and a total of zero yards. 

Now, to the point of this article, insert Zack Moss. There’s a new power back in town, and one that — at least in college — has presented much more success on these 3rd/4th-and-short scenarios. Last year on 3rd-and-short scenarios (this time three yards or less, rather than two), Moss had been used on 23 attempts and gained a first down on 13 of those attempts. This 57% success rate is much higher than that of the 25% that Gore had offered. As for 4th downs, Moss had four attempts that resulted in two first downs. Throughout his collegiate career, Moss had a 57% (31/54) success rate on third-and-short, and a 63% (12/19) success rate on fourth-and-short. 

Whether it translates to the NFL or not is still to be seen, but on paper, Moss certainly offers some upside for a team that was rather sterile on 3rd/4th-and-short situations. He has a powerful running style paired with underrated vision to navigate a stacked box in these situations.