1 – Chris,
Thanks for the constant Bills updates,
First, I was wondering what your thoughts are on how the Bills are going to address offseason needs (LB, CB, OL). Also, what part of EJ’s game do you think needs the most improvement in the remaining games and the offseason to help secure his role as the franchise QB.
Season ticket holder Evan
CB: The draft is where that approach is going to start. I don’t see cornerback as a high need position right now. I could however, see an offensive tackle being taken early knowing Erik Pears is getting up there in years and Chris Hairston is a bit of an unknown at this point. Linebacker is another position that needs a quality addition or two. After that I think a big receiver that can win jump balls in the end zone could be on the add list as well.
I think the only way the Bills make a splash in free agency is if a player they respect is surprisingly available and can be had for the right price. Doug Whaley is trying to build this thing for the long haul.
2 – Chris:
I watch a lot of football and the good teams with top QB’s seem to have at least 1 tall (6’4″) receiver with glue on his hands. They are hard to overthrow, and function well in the red zone. What is the actual height of our WR’s, and isn’t there a tall receiver on 1 of the other 31 teams we could claim and try out? Besides speed, what is the Knock on tall receivers?
Jim in Florida
CB: The Bills tallest receivers are Marcus Easley and Stevie Johnson. Both are 6’2” and Easley is a bit thicker at 217 pounds. Hogan is 6’1” and Woods is 6’0”. As I mentioned above I think a big receiver that can be a dependable red zone target will be something that Buffalo will target in the offseason. Whether it’s a free agent or a rookie in the draft is hard to say at this point.
3 – Chris,
In baseball, the Oakland A’s proved that crunching numbers can translate to more wins on the field. The concepts they employed had been around for a long time, but the key was finding a GM that was willing to step up and take the heat for doing something unconventional.
After watching the Bills punt on 4th & 5 at the PIT 36 with 14:09 in the 4th quarter last Sunday, I wondered if the new analytics department could actually convince Coach Marrone (or any coach for that matter) to scrap the tradition of punting for “field position” and replace it with a plan for 4th down. There is strong statistical evidence that shows an aggressive approach to fourth down, based on field position and yards to gain, would actually translate to more wins in a season.
Alternatively, changing this philosophy could lead to more lopsided losses and will almost certainly lead to more criticism being heaped on the head coach.
Coach Marrone talks about leadership, about standing up and challenging yourself to get better every day. I personally BILLieve he has the internal fortitude to do the unconventional. Is there any chance he is willing to accept the challenge and let the analytics department, not just tradition, help him decide when to go for it on 4th down?
CB: I can assure you that Coach Marrone has a lot of respect for the value of analytics in football. He’s well aware of the data on fourth down. He also is advanced enough in his thinking to not apply those statistics in a vacuum. To blindly go for it because the statistical averages say to do so without factoring in time and score, the caliber of defense one is facing, the personnel you have available to you (injury factor), the personnel the opponent has available to them, the fourth down defense the opponent brings to the table and a host of other variables is foolish.
Coach Marrone is wise enough to consider those other variables that the number crunchers often do not. Not to mention that the fourth down data does not take into account the fact that a lot of the successful fourth down situations are when the game is already out of hand and teams are compelled to go for it in an effort to climb back into the game. Maybe the opposing defense isn’t playing a ‘must stop them’ aggressive defense and is happy to trade a first down for another minute on the clock because they’re up three scores.
Believe me when I tell you that coach Marrone takes the analytics very seriously and is ahead of the curve on this not behind it when it comes to coaches in this league.
4 – Dear Chris,
After watching the Bills lose shootouts under Chan Gailey because of a bad defense, I am impressed that Marrone and Mike Pettine turned it around, allowing us to stay in games despite scoring only 23 points. On the flip side, our offense has been anemic in my opinion, CJ Spiller not living up to hype, etc. I know most of main pieces are young and inexperienced, but if Gailey could make guys like Fitz and donald Jones productive, then I think Nate Hackett should be feeling some heat right now. He has no clue how to use Spiller like Gailey did, can’t call anything good in the red zone, I feel like his play calling has cost us games. My question is, do you feel Marrone is getting irritated at him for the punchless offense? Is there a chance Hackett could get stripped of playcalling duties?
Thanks for your time,
CB: The first thing you need to realize with play calling is Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett are on the same page with everything that is going on with the offense.
Second, Hackett has admitted that he needs to get more creative with the run game, but the amount of running that they are doing (a lot) is partially because they have to keep the quarterback in favorable down and distance situations to maintain a good rate of success on offense.
Last week was a perfect example against the Jets. Despite the fact that they were facing the number one run defense in football, they ran the ball on 12 of their first 13 1st-and-10 situations. They gained all of nine yards.
The reason they did that was to improve the pass protection when it came time to throw. In the third quarter on 1st-and-10 up 20-7 they threw a 40-yard bomb down the left sideline to T.J. Graham to move into Jets territory. The protection on that play did not have to be exemplary because the Jets were expecting run.
On the next first down the Jets were again expecting run, the protection wasn’t perfect, but they dialed up the same vertical route, just on the right side to Goodwin. Manuel’s protection was good enough, because after a big pass play the previous snap, the Jets were expecting Buffalo to go back to the ground. They didn’t and Goodwin scored on a 43-yard pass.
It might look like the Bills are beating their head against the wall sometimes with their play calling, but believe me when I tell you Marrone and Hackett know a lot about play calling and there is a method to what they’re doing. A lot of it is predicated on having a young QB.
Hopefully over the last five games they’ll be able to expand and diversify what they’re doing.
5 – Hey Chris,
Thanks for your in depth coverage for us fans. I have 2 questions that have come to mind after a Huge win against the Jets. First of all, With Goodwin having a great game in the slot filling for Stevie, do you believe this could raise some eyebrows and perhaps change some things up in the Receiving game and maybe change where some players line up? And secondly, it was obviously a big help to have coach Hackett on the sidelines as opposed to the booth. Why do teams even consider having coaches in the booth instead of on the field. Could you enlighten on some advantages that being in the booth would have?
CB: Thanks for the kind words. First, I think the two primary slot receivers will continue to be Robert Woods and Stevie Johnson, just because of their route savvy first and foremost. Second, both of them benefit by having two way go’s inside.
Goodwin is a more dangerous option out on the boundary, but did show he could play inside as well.
That being said coach Hackett and coach Hilliard make all the receivers learn all the positions because when this offense really picks up the tempo they have to be ready to line up anywhere.
As for Hackett being down on the sideline it facilitated the communication between him and EJ. The coordinator can also get a feel for how the players on offense are feeling about certain plays as a group instead of having just communication with the quarterback. It just facilitates communication on many levels being down there.
Being upstairs allows the coordinator to better identify personnel groupings on defense. That allows them to make quicker play calls themselves to counter it. That’s why Jason Vrabel the offensive quality control coach is now upstairs, to be Hackett’s eyes.
Tags: analytics, big receiver, C.J. Spiller, Doug Marrone, EJ Manuel, Fan Friday, Marquise Goodwin, Nathaniel Hackett, offseason needs
Posted in Inside the Bills