Buffalo Bulls Passing vs. Duquesne

The UB Bulls defeated Duquesne 38-28 on Saturday. Along the way, Buffalo’s passing game averaged 7.39 net yards per attempt with junior Joe Licata completing 69.4% of his passes. 

On average, Buffalo’s receivers were 11.3 yards downfield. Seven of Licata’s 36 passes were thrown twenty or more yards past the line of scrimmage (three were caught). The pass distribution is depicted below.

Licata targets


Licata was lights out on his short passes. After removing one throw away and one pass interference penalty, 81.8% of his passes ten yards or shorter were complete. However, those passes (22 of them) averaged just 5.91 yards per attempt. Licata’s completion percentage distribution is depicted below.

Licata zonal cmp


The Bulls feasted on play action passes. Fourteen passes were thrown (and one throw away) off the fake handoffs, and the target was an average of 20 yards down field. Note how different the target distribution is when the Bulls ran play action.

Play Action Targets


Those play action passes were completed 60% of the time (including the throw away). It’s no wonder the Bulls averaged 12.2 yards per play action pass. The Duquesne defensive backs were unable to content with the Buffalo receivers and accurate throws.

Ron Willoughby was Buffalo’s leading receiver with ten catches, 132 yards, and two touchdowns. He was targeted thirteen times (and was credited for another target on the throw away) and was 13.5 yards past the line of scrimmage, on average. Six of his targets came off play action passes, which accounted for five catches and 106 yards. A detailed breakdown of his targets are below.

Willoughby targets

Next week, the Bulls travel to West Point to play the Army Black Knights. Army allowed just 205 passing yards per game last season (19th best in FBS, but that includes a their final game against the run-intensive Navy offense). Look for the Bulls to have continued success with the play action pass.

Buffalo’s Quarterbacks by wCP



Thad Lewis is out, and Jordan Palmer is in. 

Lewis was struggling this preseason after being a solid backup spot starter last season. Clearly the Bills’ front office felt Palmer was an upgrade (in terms of coaching and playing ability). Palmer has barely seen any regular season action and has just fifteen regular season pass attempts. Including the 2013 and 2014 preseasons (I don’t have the data from prior preseasons), he has just 57 pass attempts.

Palmer has been a more accurate passer than Lewis in the past two preseasons, according to wCP. Comparatively speaking, he has the highest wCP of any of the four Buffalo quarterbacks (apologies to Dennis Dixon). The sample is small, but Lewis’ sample is equally small.

preseason wcp

When combining that preseason data with each player’s regular season passes, Palmer still sits atop the group. 

all buffalo qb wcp

That’s a bit misleading, though, because Palmer’s numbers are skewed by his preseason data and his sample size is incredibly small. Because of that tiny sample size, Palmer’s wCP could be as low as 80.6, which would put him at the bottom of this list.

Another issue with comparing these numbers is that the opponents aren’t normalized. Manuel likely played the better competition than the other three quarterbacks, but I’m not going to worry about controlling for the preseason defenses each quarterback faced.

Palmer might be a better option than Lewis. He’s been more accurate than Lewis has in roughly the same number of preseason plays. Maybe it translates into something, but let’s hope it doesn’t come down to that. 

We all just want EJ Manuel’s rate to improve once the regular season begins.

Introducing wCP

Quarterback completion percentage is a weird thing. “Good” quarterbacks are expected to complete a bit more than 60% of their passes, but the percentage on its own has no context.

Completion percentage doesn’t convey a quarterback’s accuracy very well because dropped passes, throw aways, spiked balls, and other anomalies are all counted as attempts. On top of all that, passes of different distances or lateral depths aren’t equal.

Some sites and analysts, like the folks at Pro Football Focus, rate accuracy by calculating an on-target percentage. That seems like a good start since it controls for events out of the quarterback’s control and passes that aren’t meant to be completed, but it doesn’t factor in the pass type or depth. Furthermore, determining a dropped or a pass that should be caught is very hard to consistently do without biases.

Pro Football Focus, does, however, provide zonal pass numbers for every quarterback without the passes thrown away, tipped at the line, or spiked. After pulling all of the data for quarterbacks who played in at least 25% of their team’s offensive snaps, I was able to determine league average completion rates by the zones they provided.

2013 NFL avg cmp rate

Using these zones and each quarterback’s individual performance, I was able to determine the percentage above or below league average to each zone. I then weighted the above or below average rates by the proportion of attempts thrown to the various zones and aggregated them to get one number.

The idea is to compare all passes of a similar distance (including lateral distance) and determine which quarterback has the best weighted completion percentage (wCP).

Finally, I set the baseline to 100 (like some baseball metrics) so that anything above average would be greater than 100 and below average results would be less than 100. A perfectly average rate would be 100. The results of the test are below (AFC East starters are italicized).

2013 wCP

The league average completion percentage was 61.2%. Philip Rivers had the highest raw rate in 2013, but Aaron Rodgers had the best weighted rate. It wasn’t even close, really.

Rodgers outlier wCP

Meanwhile, the AFC East didn’t feature one quarterback with a wCP over 100. Take a look at where the starters all finished the 2013 season.

AFC East wCP

This metric is still in its infancy stages, but it could lead to a better way to view completion rates. I’m going to try to add more seasons to get a better baseline for the averages. Those added years could also lead to some predictive applications in the future.

Lastly, once I gather more data, I will be able to determine whether more or fewer zones should be included in this study. (For example, is there a significant difference between all passes twenty or more yards downfield and those thirty- to forty-yards past the line of scrimmage? Is there a significant difference between passes between the numbers and along the sideline on short throws? Are passes aimed along the sideline different than those just outside the numbers?)

Understanding the context of plays is really important. Weighted completion percentage tells a much better story than just completions divided by attempts.

Junior Lake and Changeups

Junior Lake is struggling. After a fairly hot start to his MLB career last season, Lake is fighting to keep his 2014 batting average over .200. Similarly, his ten game on base percentage has slipped below 10% this July. What’s going on with Lake? Was his first month with the big league team just an aberration?

The issues with batting average and on base percentage (OBP) seem to start with Lake’s whiff rate. In 2013, Lake’s ten game average whiff rate (the percent of swinging strikes per pitch over the last ten games) exceeded 20% just once and sat around 16% for his shortened season. This year, his whiff rate is currently 19.8%, and his ten game average rate is over 22%. The interaction between the outfielder’s OBP and whiff rate through his 146 game career is below.

Whiffs and OBP

According to the PITCHf/x data, it seems Lake struggles with changeups. Those pitches to Lake have resulted in a swing and miss 29.6% of the time (179 pitches). He’s missed split finger pitches at a higher rate (32%), but hasn’t faced nearly as many. The breakdown of whiffs (excluding pitch outs and one eephus, which could be an irregularity of the PITCHf/x system) is shown below.

Whiffs by pitch type

Lake’s whiffs seem to partially be a function of swinging at changeups at a higher rate. Throughout his short career, he has swung at 53.8% of all pitches thrown to him (a bit higher than the 2014 average of 45.2%). His swing rate on changeups is an even higher 63.7%. To compound that problem, Lake fails to make contact when he swings at a changeup 47.4% of the time.

All of that makes a changeup an incredibly effective strikeout pitch to Lake, which is probably why it ended like this:

All three strikes in that sequence were changeups down and away.

Those are the changeups Lakes struggles to hit. The struggle becomes quite apparent when the whiffs are highlighted among the rest of the changeups he’s faced. The swings and misses are in red, while the rest of the changeups (no swings, fouls, and balls hit into play) are blue.

Lake whiffs vs changeups

There’s a lot of noise in that graphic. Just 32.4% of those pitches were estimated to be inside the strike zone, and some missed by a LOT. The graphic does show, however, that changeups thrown to Lake weren’t limited to just one zone. His whiffs, on the other hand, were.

Lake Just Whiffs

That distribution of misses doesn’t really match the rest of his misses (below). It seems that Lake struggles with the speed differential of a changeup, rather than having a hole in his swing.

Lake all Whiffs

Lake has really struggled with the changeup down and away and needs to find a way to fix his problem. He simply cannot make contact with that particular pitch in that zone, despite thinking he has a chance to make solid contact. Lay off that changeup!

Buffalo Rumblings Post: Scott Chandler stats, targets, routes from 2013 season Part 2

 In the second half of the 2013 season, Scott Chandler went from the second-leading receiver to the top gaining receiver on the Buffalo Bills. That upgrade was largely due to injuries and missed time from Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods. In all likelihood, Chandler probably wouldn’t have led the team in receiving yards if everyone stayed healthy.

Chandler really wasn’t the team’s preferred target. He didn’t even take the receiving yards lead until the penultimate game of the season, a home win over Miami. The injuries and depleted receiving corps did, however, cause the Bills to use the big tight end differently in the final eight games.

Chandler’s routes were an average of 1.4 yards deeper in games 9-16 than in the first eight. His routes were also less dominated by curls to the middle of the field. 33 percent of his first half routes were to the middle of the field and shorter than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. That proportion dropped to 25 percent in the second half. The tale of two half seasons is depicted below.

Chandler also progressed from a blocking and dump-off role to a true receiving threat in the second half of the year. He was asked to block or slip into the flat (or both) half as often in the final eight games than in the first eight. Those routes were converted to post routes, which stretched defenses vertically.

Continue reading at Buffalo Rumbings

BW Post: Analyzing Mike Williams

In the past two seasons, Mike Williams was targeted on 166 passes. He caught 51.2% of those passes for 1,212 yards. Where does he excel and how will he fit into the Bills’ offense in 2014?

In his last two seasons, Williams lined up wide on both the strong and weak sides of the formation and rarely in the slot. He did not struggle with getting off the line when on the weak side (lined up on the line of scrimmage, which usually results in getting jammed at the line of scrimmage more often). His speed is dangerous enough to force cornerbacks to give Williams some cushion on the line.

Just as he was used in different parts of the formation, Williams was also targeted all over the field in 2012 and 2013.  Here’s the distribution from the two seasons.

Williams Targets

An initial concern when starting to look at Williams’ statistics from the two seasons was the completion percentage on passes thrown to him. 51.2% is a low completion rate, but is heavily skewed by deep passes. Williams was targeted twenty or more yards past the line of scrimmage 39 times in the two seasons but he caught just 36% of them.

Continue reading at BuffaloWins.com.

Buffalo Rumblings Post: Scott Chandler stats, targets, routes from 2013 season

Scott Chandler was the Buffalo Bills’ leading receiver in 2013. Just four tight ends, including Chandler, led their teams in receiving yards last season (Jared Cook, Jimmy Graham, and Greg Olsen were the others). Buffalo’s leading receiver probably wouldn’t have been a tight end if the receiving corps stayed healthy throughout the season, but it shouldn’t be an indictment on Chandler. If anything, his play, and what he was asked to do, were absolutely critical to Buffalo’s passing attack.

To better understand how Chandler was utilized, I charted every pass route Chandler ran last season. Here, we’ll discuss the first half of the season, when Stevie Johnson andRobert Woods played the most (Johnson did miss Week 6). Later, we’ll analyze the difference in the second half of the season, when Chandler went on to take the clubhouse lead for receiving yards.

I wanted to get an idea of where Chandler’s routes took him, so one portion of my charting was dedicated to mapping the tight end’s coordinates at the top of his routes. When he was targeted, it was the point on the field where he caught (or didn’t catch) the pass. When he wasn’t targeted, it was his location when the pass was thrown or at the top of his route (in the cases where the quarterbacks were under pressure or held onto the ball for an excessive period of time). The results of that exercise are below, with the darker points indicating a higher frequency of plays.

Continue reading at Buffalo Rumblings: link