Some weeks, you wonder what you’re going to write in a column like this. This week was not one of those weeks. We had the most anticipated matchup of the season and a ton of other fun games. Let’s get to it.
All stats listed are provided by TruMedia unless noted otherwise.
1. Bills-Chiefs Doesn’t Disappoint
There might not have been the constant fireworks of last year’s Divisional Round matchup, but Chiefs-Bills still gave us everything we could have wanted. The close game was tied after each of the first three quarters and the winning touchdown in the Bills’ win was scored with just over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter.
These two teams have spent parts of the past few seasons building their rosters specifically for this matchup. With so much focus and preparation for this meeting, the teams had to be ready to throw some different looks and that’s exactly what we got — especially from the Bills.
Buffalo has used a fullback more often than they did last season when that position was non-existent in the offense. Through the first five weeks, the Bills used 21 personnel on 15% of their offensive snaps. In this game, that rate was 23.6%. It was 46.7% in the first quarter while Buffalo tried to set the tone in the game.
It wasn’t just a heavy personnel look to run the ball and the Bills were able to use that personnel to keep the Chiefs in base defense and throw the ball on them.
On a second-and-11 at the start of the first quarter, the Bills came out in 21 personnel with Gabriel Davis and Isaiah Hodgins as the two receivers on the field. Hodgins and Davis lined up on the same side of the field before Hodgins motioned across the formation across the snap. With the Bills in zone, the motioned widened cornerback Jaylen Warren (35) on the outside. Hodgins’s route was vertical, which carried Warren, as Davis ran uncovered on a crosser, open for 22 yards.
Later in the first quarter on the first play of Buffalo’s second drive, the Bills again came out in 21 personnel. This time, fullback Reggie Gilliam (41) was in-line, inside tight end Quintin Morris (85) on the right side of the line. Davis and Stefon Diggs were the receivers to the left. With the Chiefs still in zone with base personnel, there was only one cornerback to the side with Davis and Diggs. Realizing that, safety Justin Reid came up across from Diggs. But at the snap, Reid dropped back into his zone and Diggs ran free on a corner route for 31 yards.
Those looks didn’t lead to any points in the first quarter, though that Diggs play kicked off a field goal drive for the Bills, but it gave the Chiefs something different to react to in the game. Buffalo averaged 0.33 EPA per play from 21 personnel in the game.
As the game progressed, the Bills got a bit lighter and used 11 personnel on 70% of their snaps from the second quarter on. On those plays, they still averaged 0.13 EPA per play.
The Bills were still able to get some advantages with those looks. Late in the second quarter, with just 22 seconds remaining, Buffalo had a first-and-10 from the Kansas City 34-yard line. The Bills came out in 11 personnel and the Chiefs matched in dime. Buffalo motioned from right to left, which left Davis isolated on the right side. The Bills caught the Chiefs in a seven-man blitz with a single-high safety. That safety was held in the middle of the field, which left Davis one-on-one with fourth-round rookie Joshua Williams. Davis blew by him for a 34-yard touchdown.
Williams was picked on a bit in this game and was left on an island due to both injuries in the secondary coming into this game and the Chiefs’ strategy during it. Down a few pieces, Kansas City blitzed Allen on 34% of his dropbacks, up from their 26% rate over the first five weeks and above Allen’s 28% rate. Allen averaged -0.12 EPA per dropback against the blitz, with much of that when the Chiefs brought heavy pressure on third downs.
On defense, the Bills also tried out a number of things — to mixed results. To this point and through the past few seasons, Buffalo has been almost exclusively a nickel defense (98% of snaps through Week 5). In this game, The Bills used dime on 14.9% of their snaps after not using a snap of it this season prior. Those snaps mostly came on third down — 63% of the Bills’ third down snaps were in dime.
Those looks didn’t completely work as Mahomes averaged 0.72 EPA per dropback when six defensive backs were on the field. That included a 42-yard scramble and throw touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Shuster in the second quarter.
The Bills were more effective at mixing up their pass rush looks. Buffalo had adopted its previous plan against Mahomes — two-high, don’t blitz, almost always rush four — as the overall defensive philosophy. But after rushing four on 86% of snaps through Week 5, the Bills rushed four only 59.6% of the time.
Buffalo mixed up those looks by rushing three and dropping eight on 19.1% of snaps. Many of those snaps involved Matt Milano sitting in the middle of the field and spying Mahomes, defending against a scramble from the quarterback.
After previously taking the “do not blitz Mahomes” strategy to the extreme, Buffalo blitzed on another 19.1% of dropbacks. Those blitzes were well-timed and effective. Mahomes went 3-of-9 against the blitz with an average of 2.89 yards per attempt and -0.35 EPA per dropback.
The pass rush overall got home and Von Miller was a consistent presence in the backfield. He was credited with nine pressures and a 25% pressure rate in the game. Buffalo got pressure on 42.6% of dropbacks but that wasn’t always quick pressure. The 2.73 average seconds to pressure was the second-slowest of any team in Week 6.
As expected, this game came down to the final drives. The Bills got the ball down 24-20 with 5:31 left in the fourth quarter. Buffalo would then drive 76 yards in 12 plays and 4:27 for the go-ahead touchdown. That drive included a quarterback sneak (aided by a motion and push from Davis) on a fourth-and-1 from Buffalo’s own 33-yard line that prevented what could have been a three-and-out.
Down by four and with under four minutes left, it would be nearly impossible to fathom giving the ball back to the Chiefs and allowing them to attempt to run the clock down on the following drive. The Bills made the right call (a 7.4% swing by the Ben Baldwin model and 7.6% per the ESPN model) and they converted. We probably won’t hear much about the decision because it went well, but the Bills wouldn’t have won the game without it.
That drive was capped off by a 14-yard touchdown pass to Dawson Knox. The Bills were in a 2×2 set with Knox and Diggs on the left. With great protection for Allen, Know was able to beat Justin Reid to the corner and come back to the pass for the touchdown and the lead.
The game was sealed on the next official play from scrimmage when Mahomes was picked off by Taron Johnson. This came in one of Buffalo’s 6DB looks that also had Matt Milano lined up as an interior rusher that dropped back as the middle-of-the-field spy with a three-man rush — combining both of Buffalo’s change-of-pace strategies in the game. Johnson passed off a route from Smith-Schuster as he read a crosser from Skyy Moore and jumped in front of the pass for the interception.
Taron Johnson interception dots!! pic.twitter.com/Cni6yWXLlN
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) October 16, 2022
This game clearly featured the two best teams in the league with two quarterbacks who were able to make some plays out of nothing. That should be appreciated. Buffalo getting the win was huge for the overall standings. Per FiveThirtyEight odds, the Bills went from a 49% shot at the No. 1 seed in the AFC to 71% after the win. These teams will likely play again at some point in the playoffs and we’ll get another chess match with a little bit of magic thrown in.
2. The Jets Defense Came To Play (aka Is it time to panic about the Packers)
No team has been favored more often by at least 7.5 points at home than the Green Bay Packers over the past three seasons at 12 games. Green Bay is now 11-1 in those games with a 27-10 loss to the New York Jets. (This could technically be 11-2 in 13 games after the Week 5 loss to the New York Giants when the Packers were the “home” team in London, but we’ll stick with just Lambeau here.)
The Packers offense continued to look disjointed as the Jets defense was all over everything Green Bay tried to do in the game. The Jets got pressure on a third of Rodgers’s dropbacks while only blitzing on four of them.
There were some plays where Rodgers just froze under the pressure and didn’t have anywhere to go, such as this sack on a third-and-9 from empty early in the second quarter.
The Jets were able to create pressure and rush Rodgers with the front four. Quinnen Williams pushed the pocket from the interior with six pressures, three hits, and two sacks. Williams’s first sack was knocking the ball out of Rodgers’s hand on a rush and his second came on one of the Jets’ few bliztes, from a five-man front with Williams over the center.
Rodgers didn’t have many options when he was able to get the ball out. The Jets had five passes defensed and 17.1% of Rodgers’s throws were into tight coverage, per Next Gen Stats. Rodgers had a few Rodgers-eqsue throws, two to Allen Lazard and one that could have been a deep completion to Aaron Jones but it was ruled out of bounds.
The Jets weren’t scared of Green Bay’s receivers and they sat in Cover-1 for a season-high 37.7% of plays in the game. Rodgers averaged -0.23 EPA per dropback when the Jets were in Cover-1, as he completed just 7-of-14 passes with 6.71 yards per attempt on a 12.79 aDOT.
From a clean pocket, Rodgers averaged -0.19 EPA per dropback in this game. He’s averaging just 0.08 EPA per dropback from a clean pocket on the season, which ranks 27th among 33 qualified quarterbacks.
Even when Rodgers had a bit of a slow start to his past two MVP seasons (as evidenced by his performance against the blitz), he was still killing from a clean pocket. That’s just not the case this season.
Aaron Rodgers vs Blitz & From Clean Pocket, 2020-2022
data per TruMedia
|Season||EPA/DB vs Blitz thru W6||EPA/DB vs Blitz Season||Clean Pocket EPA/DB thru W6||Clean Pocket EPA/DB Season|
Rodgers was also running into what has turned into a pretty good defense. After the second-best defensive performance by EPA in Week 6, the Jets are now ninth in EPA per play on defense for the season.
Rookie Sauce Gardner was all over in this game. He allowed just one reception according to Next Gen Stats and had two passes defensed — one breaking on a hitch to Romeo Doubs and another jumping in front of a crosser intended for Lazard. With Gardner and D.J. Reed along with the talent up front and some linebackers who flashed, the framework of a good sustainable defense looks to be in place.
The offense has some other issues. Despite the win. Zach Wilson had the second-lowest EPA per dropback (-0.41) of any quarterback this week. The Packers blitzed Wilson on 47.6% of his dropbacks and the second-year passer. He handled some blitzes well but when pressure got to Wilson overall in this game, he crumbled. Wilson went 1-of-7 for 0.43 yards per attempt with two sacks and -1.05 EPA per dropback.
Most production from the passing game was schemed up by Mike LaFleur. The Jets motioned on 85.7% of Wilson’s dropbacks, hoping to create some type of advantage in the passing game.
That motion and misdirection also helped a run game that averaged 0.14 EPA per rush, the third-best mark of the week. The Jets were constantly using jet and orbit motion and those paid off with a Braxton Berrios rushing touchdown on a jet sweep and a long Breece Hall touchdown on a fake pitch to Michael Carter.
The Jets might be the only team this season that has successfully figured out Pony personnel on a consistent basis. They’re averaging 0.12 EPA per play and 6.67 yards per play with a 16.7% explosive play rate when Hall and Carter are on the field together. The most explosive offensive overall this year has a 15.5% explosive play rate.
There is a lot to like with the Jets overall, though the quarterback continues to be a problem. And despite a 4-2 record, the Jets have a 37% chance at the playoffs, per FiveThirtyEight odds.
The opposite is the case for the Packers. They’re supposed to have a quarterback capable of lifting up the rest of the roster but he hasn’t remotely well enough early in the season.
3. The Giants keep throwing things at the wall and they’re sticking
At 5-1, it’s hard to ignore the New York Giants and the way they’ve hung around in games they shouldn’t. They’re doing this by trying out some different things to make up for a lack of talent across the roster and it’s been working.
Let’s start of the defensive side of the ball where Wink Martindale had his revenge game against his former team. Martindale was let go as defensive coordinator for the Ravens partly because he knew one speed — play man and blitz. That backfired last season when Baltimore didn’t have healthy corners to make that work.
The Giants shouldn’t have the corners to make that work either, but through Week 5 they were the heaviest blizting team in the league. Against the Ravens, Martindale turned it up to 11 and blitzed Lamar Jackson on 69.4% of his dropbacks. Blitzing Jackson had been the way to get to him in the past, but through Week 5 he was second in EPA per dropback against extra rushers.
Jackson averaged 0.06 EPA per dropback against the blitz in this game while he completed 54% of his passes for 6.05 yards per attempt.
With Rashod Bateman out of the lineup, the Giants didn’t have much of a talent disadvantage in the secondary and they sat in man coverage for 55% of their snaps. Against man, Jackson averaged -0.14 EPA per dropback and completed less than half of his passes (7-of-15), including an interception and two sacks.
The Giants don’t have a good defense (they’re 19th in EPA per play) but that can cause just enough chaos to have some breaks go their way.
Meanwhile, the offense keeps on moving in weird ways. The Giants ran the league’s first play from 32 personnel this year — three backs and two tight ends.
On a first-and-10 from the Baltimore 40, the Giants opened as if they were going to use the Saquon Barkley wildcat package, but shifted into a full house look with Gary Brightwell behind Daniel Jones and Matt Brieda and Barkley to each side. Jones faked the handoff to Brightwell and started a short sprint out to the right and bit Briedda on a wheel route for 15 yards.
Jones was put in a perfect caretaker role in the offense. He had the fourth-highest EPA per dropback of the week even with four sacks, while he averaged 6.41 yards per attempt on a 6.63 aDOT.
The Giants are 12th in EPA per play on offense though the team still lacks explosion outside of Barkley — the offense ranks 22nd in explosive play rate.
This team continues to figure things out at the end of games. The Giants are tied for the most points scored in the second half this season (87) and they have the third-best second half point differential in the league (+38).
There must be a limit on exactly how far this can go this season, but to this point the Giants haven’t found it yet.
4. The Bengals Made Adjustments and leaned on shotgun
One of the problems with the Bengals’ offense this season — and even to an extent last season when things were going well — was a lack of cohesion. When the Bengals are in shotgun, they run the Joe Burrow offense. When they’re under center, it’s the Joe Mixon offense.
Cincinnati had tried to will the under center run game to work this season but it just hasn’t. Entering Week 5, the Bengals were 30th in EPA per rush on under center runs. Cincinnati was only in shotgun 69.3% of the time, the 13th-highest rate in the league. There were no adjustments to make things mesh or even make the run game better.
In Week 6, the Bengals’ adjustment was saying screw the under center game. They used shotgun on 96.3% of their plays and had their best offensive performance of the season.
There were even some adjustments to open things up for the offense throughout the game. Late in the first quarter, the Bengals had a third-and-goal from the New Orleans 9-yard line. The Bengals came out in empty with Ja’Marr Chase and Mixon to the right. At the snap Chase pushed vertically into the end zone and the two inside defenders focused on him while Mixon ran a quick in-breaker underneath with open space. Mixon caught the pass and got into the end zone for the opening score.
To that point in the season, Chase had a 40% target share when the Bengals were in empty. With coverage fixated on him, there was designed room for Mixon to work.
The Bengals also had some change-ups against Cover-2. Burrow averaged 0.22 EPA per dropback against Cover-2 in Week 6 and went 6-of-7 with just one of those passes going to Chase. (Burrow still had a 3.14-yard aDOT against Cover-2).
Chase also got his with 132 yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions. His fourth quarter catch and run touchdown came on Cover-1 with Burrow still going his way when there is a one-on-one look. His 15-yard touchdown in the third quarter was also against a single-high look as he beat Paulson Adebo on a post.
Over the past two weeks, the Bengals have gone harder into the shotgun game, which includes running from it.
Bengals Rushing Production, 2022
data per TruMeida
If the Bengals can get a shotgun run game going so more run and pass concepts can mesh together, Cincinnati could have some more opportunities for creative design without having such a blatant run-pass tell. For now, at least, riding shotgun where Burrow is more comfortable is working.
5. The Eagles Are the NFC’s Best But Still Have Some Questions
The Eagles stayed undefeated with a 26-17 win over the Cowboys on Sunday Night Footall. What looked like a blowout became a close game but Philadelphia was able to hold on to the victory.
Philadelphia’s defense has continued to improve and the Cooper Rush, safe game manager facade was blown up in this game. Rush threw three interceptions in the game after previously keeping that part of his stat line clean. Rush has actually played well under pressure and against the blitz but he was forced into mistakes and bad throws from a clean pocket in this game.
Jalen Hurts has thrived from a clean pocket this season but those might be closing in as teams start to blitz him more often. The Cowboys blitzed Hurts on 43.3% of his dropbacks and while he faired well, there were some significant splits with and without Lane Johnson, who left the game with a concussion.
With Johnson on the field, the Cowboys blitzed 42.1% of the time and Hurts averaged 0.37 EPA per dropback against the blitz. Without Johnson, the Cowboys blitzed on 45.5% of Hurts’s dropbacks and he averaged -0.15 EPA per dropback against the blitz.
As a number of the adjustments for the Eagles’ new offense have come from quick throws in rhythm, defenses have been blitzing Hurts to speed up that process and get the ball out quicker. He’s now the seventh-most blitzed quarterback this year. Here are Hurts’s splits with and without a blitz this season:
Jalen Hurts vs Blitz, 2022
data per TruMedia
With all of that quick pressure, the Eagles’ deep passing game has been stunted. Hurts did not attempt a pass over 20 air yards against Dallas and only 16% of his passes were between 11-19 air yards.
Part of this was a heavy RPO plan that had the Eagles reading Micah Parsons off the edge instead of letting him dictate the rush. But this is also a problem that has stemmed more than just the deep passes against the Cowboys. The Eagles are going to need another counter here, especially if Johnson is lost for an extended period of time.
6. The Falcons Can Still Run
In a week when Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes faced off, the best quarterback performance by EPA per dropback came from Marcus Mariota (0.44). Mariota only dropped back 17 times with 14 attempts but those plays were efficient.
The entire Falcons offense has been efficient and Mariota has been a big part of it. His ability to run has opened up thins through the air and on the ground. The Falcons have the sixth-highest EPA per play on offense for the season.
Atlanta ran through an injury-depleted San Francisco defense in a 28-14 win. The Falcons had 10 rushing first downs and a number of them came straight from Mariota zone reads. Mariota had six rushes for 50 yards with an 80% success rate.
One of the best things about Atlanta’s run game has been the ability to avoid negative runs. It’s not the most explosive outside of Mariota, but only 11.3% of the Falcons’ running back runs have been stopped for zero or negative yards, the third-lowest rate in the league.
They’re also the best first down offense by EPA with a 70% run rate.
No team has more EPA than the Falcons on outside zone runs this season — by a wide margin — more than double the next highest team, due in part to the most such runs in the league. The EPA gap between the Falcons and No. 2 is bigger than the gap between No. 2 and No. 6.
The Falcons still might not be good enough to be serious playoff contenders throughout the season (35% chance per FiveThirtyEight) but they continue to be one of those teams good enough to hang around and take advantage of a worse or weakened opponent. They’re also a lot of fun to watch while doing so.
7. Are the Bucs in trouble?
The Buccaneers are now 3-3 after a bad loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers lost Kenny Pickett during the game and Mitchell Trubisky came in to throw some ropes to ice the game late.
Even while Pickett played poorly to start (-0.18 EPA per dropback), the Buccaneers were never really able to look in control of the game and they never held a lead.
Tom Brady was mostly fine but there wasn’t anything special to his play. That’s just kind of been a theme as the Buccaneers have worked through a number of injuries along the offensive line and the skill positions.
Brady hasn’t had an aDOT over 10 since Week 1 and his Week 6 performance netted his second-lowest yards per attempt of the season. Part of that is compensating for the offensive line. Brady has always had a fast time to throw, especially since he got to Tampa Bay but it’s been getting faster each season. He’s dropped from 2.41 to 2.32 to 2.24 over the past three seasons. He’s also upped his rate of throws within 2.5 seconds from 54.4% to 60.5% to 65.5%. With that his aDOT has dropped each season.
Part of the allure of Brady’s Tampa tenure has been his ability to push the back downfield while getting the back out quickly. The offense currently isn’t built for that and it shows.
The Buccaneers should be able to figure this out, especially once more players return to full health but there might be more on Brady’s plate until that happens.
8. Chart of the day
If you wondered if things could get worse in Carolina, I present to you a -0.06-yard aDOT.
9. Play of the day
After a gross Thursday night win against the Broncos, the Colts came alive a bit against the Jaguars. Indianapolis asked Matt Ryan to dropback 58 times and he averaged 0.33 EPA per dropback, the third-highest of the week. They also asked Ryan to go heavy on the no-huddle offense — 27 of his dropbacks.
The Colts scored a touchdown on all three of their second half drives, capped off with this 32-yard pass to Alec Pierce while getting hit for the win.
10. The Dolphins Might Need Tua
The Dolphins are 0-2 without Tua Tagovailoa, 0-3 if you count the game he left early against the Bengals. There are obviously a lot of factors surrounding Tagovailoa but as of now, he has been cleared and is expected to start next week against the Steelers.
Miami had more injury issues at quarterback, shuffling between Teddy Bridgewater and rookie Skylar Thompson but neither of those quarterbacks have been able to replicate what Tagovailoa was doing over the first three weeks of the season. Even with Tyreek Hill (177) and Jaylen Waddle (129) both going for over 100 yards receiving in Week 6, there’s still something missing.
The offensive line looks just a little worse — the pressure allowed matters more. The passes aren’t exactly on time enough to maximize the play. The intermediate game has disappeared. Tagovailoa led the league in EPA per dropback on throws between 11-19 air yards. Without Tagovailoa, the Dolphins are the only team with negative EPA on intermediate passes.
There is nothing more important than Tagovailoa’s long-term health, but his absence has shown his value to this offense. That’s a big deal as many wondered how much of the production was the offense and how much was the quarterback. We’ve seen there’s at least something to the quarterback and we should hope for a long and healthy return.