The Buffalo Bills’ Week 9 game versus the Cincinnati Bengals did not go as planned for Bills’ fans. In evaluating that game, we have been talking about how the Bills can rank highly in several trustworthy metrics, but lose and not really pass the “eye test.” One factor we’ve landed on is that analytics like EPA and DVOA “reward” drives even if they don’t score points. A 75-yard drive that ends in a goalline stand by the opposing defense does nothing for the scoreboard but looks like a positive series in some of the analytical models.
Take a look at a drive chart from RBSDM.com (analyst Ben Baldwin’s website).
The Bills’ second drive starts at the -40, marches to the goalline and…nothing. Zero points. Nothing added to win probability (those squiggles to the right indicate WP). The plays that moved the team toward the goalline earned EPA and impacted DVOA. Those metrics and WP are measuring different things. The moral of the story is what Cover 1 has always taught: understanding the game is best done in a combination of film study and analytics.
Studying the tape versus the Bengals was not particularly fun. I didn’t go as deeply as I normally would, but I did go further than what our one play for today would suggest. As the chart above indicates, the Bills’ first drive of the game was probably their best, and the very first play of that drive had a lot of interesting components.
The Bills come out in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE) which they used an overwhelming amount of the time versus the Bengals (93%). The running back is James Cook, next to Josh Allen in the shotgun. The wide receivers are Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis offset to the boundary side, and Khalil Shakir wide to the field. Tight end Dalton Kincaid starts the play in the slot to the field side and motions across the formation to set attached on the boundary side. When he does so, the Bengals’ underneath defenders (safety Dax Hill and linebackers George Pratt and Logan Wilson) slide a couple of steps to that side.
The Bengals are in nickel. They are showing a single high safety with Nick Scott, and Hill is in the box. The three defensive backs are Cam Taylor-Britt, Mike Hilton, and DJ Turner.
As soon as Kincaid sets, Diggs motions across in the opposite direction. As Diggs slides across, Hill expands in that direction with him. Allen calls for the snap while Diggs is in motion.
Allen takes the snap, and the play appears to be an RPO (“appears” is explained below). Brown starts to pull around as if the run option is dart, which is also called tackle wrap.
Allen prepares to hand off to Cook while reading Hubbard, who is crashing down. The handoff here isn’t as close as you would expect for a true RPO. Maybe Allen has read Hubbard so early that he has already decided to go to Kincaid or the RPO was misdirection, and the play was designed only to go to Kincaid.
You can see Davis already starting to “rub” Hilton to free Kincaid up.
Davis runs a rub or pick across Hilton. Taylor-Britt is dropping to take Davis, as the No. 2 WR on his side, deep. Kincaid shoots out into the flat, immediately looking over his shoulder for the pass.
Hilton, who is one of the best slot corners in the league, does a nice job of getting under Davis’ rub and fights his way out into the flat. If Davis had been able to get in front of Hilton just a little bit more, Kincaid might have been freed up for a few more yards, but Davis also doesn’t want to risk getting called for offensive pass interference.
Kincaid makes the catch. He has caught 40 of 45 targets on the season and has an On-Target Catch rate of 94.9%, which ranks ninth among TEs with 15+ targets. He smoothly turns upfield and makes a nice gain for the Bills’ first offensive play of the game.
It was just the first play of the game, but the multiple levels of misdirection and the quick play design gave the impression that the Bills were ready to bring their A-game to Cincy.
Next week the Bills will hopefully encourage a full second and third watch and will have the scoring to match their analytical success and, most importantly, a W at the end of Monday night.