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Matchup Index: Buffalo Bills

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The Daily Norseman dives deep into statistical trends and player grades to find possible matchups to exploit.

Wesley Hitt

This week we'll once again look for statistical trends and matchup advantages that the Vikings could potentially take advantage of in their clash this Sunday with the Buffalo Bills.  Starting with the Bills offense versus the Vikings defense there are a few general trends to make note of.  Overall, the Bills have generated an average of 327 yards of total offense per game through the first 6 games, good enough to rank 25th overall (2 spots ahead of the Vikings, incidentally).   Like the Vikings their offense is having trouble scoring points, averaging only 19.7 per game ranked 25th overall (2 spots ahead of the Vikings again). They are not particularly good at generating first downs either, averaging only 16.8 per game (ranked 31st) and they aren't great on third down either, converting only 38% of their third down attempts (ranked 25th).  But they are careful with the football, maintaining a +3 turnover margin.

When you break down their offensive production into passing versus rushing you can see that they don't really excel at either one, but also aren't league worst.  Their passing game averages 226 yards per game (ranked 19th overall), although Kyle Orton has been attempting more passes than EJ Manuel and as a result has averaged nearly 100 more passing yards per game than EJ Manuel.  While Orton is throwing the ball a little farther down the field than Manuel (7.5 yards per attempt versus 6.4), he is also a little more efficient sporting a 3-2 interception ratio and a 90.9 passer rating after two games, to Manuel's 5-3 ratio and 80.3 passer rating after four games. All of this is to say that Orton represents a slight upgrade over EJ Manuel to their passing game.  Unfortunately, the change to Kyle Orton so far hasn't resulted in more offensive points.

The Bills rushing game used to be a main strength of the team in previous seasons, but as Fred Jackson has gotten older, and C.J. Spiller has never gained consistency (despite his explosive athleticism), they are mired in mediocrity as a team.  Buffalo is averaging only 101 rushing yards per game, ranked 22nd overall.  They are running the ball an average of 26 times per game (ranked 21st most), but are only generating 3.9 yards per carry.  In this split backfield Fred Jackson continues to be the more effective runner with 4.4 yards per carry to Spiller's 3.4, despite Jackson getting slightly fewer carries per game.

As I've done in previous versions of the Matchup Index, the tables below will compare the blocking grades of each individual Bills offensive lineman against each of our defensive lineman's blocking grades.  This should allow us to see where there might be some potential for matchup exploitations in the trenches.  Last week I highlighted Linval Joseph against the Lions left side of the O-line as a possible point of exploitation.  Sure enough, Joseph notched two sacks and two quarterback hits as he man-handled Rob Sims and Dominic Raola in the passing game. So, let's see if there are any decent matchups this week.

Matchup Index: Bills Pass Blocking vs Vikings Pass Rushing

Bills Player

RT Seantrel Henderson

RG Erik Pears

C Eric Wood

LG Cyril Richardson

LT Cordy Glenn

PFF Grade

-10.2

-5.1

-3.3

-9.9

+4.8

Minnesota Player

DE Brian Robison

DT Shariff Floyd

DT Linval Joseph

DE Everson Griffen

PFF Grade

-3.6

-1.9

+0.6

-3.2

Unfortunately for us, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen have been struggling as pass rushers.  The two defensive ends have combined for only 4 sacks after 6 games.  Both of them are in the bottom half of the league in "Pass Rushing Productivity" when compared to other 4-3 defensive ends that have at least 50% of their team's snaps.  This is a stat maintained by Pro Football Focus that divides their total pressures (sacks, hits, hurries) by their total number of pass rushing snaps.  As you can also see in the table above, their individual pass rushing grades are also quite low.  The Vikings have faced some stellar offensive lines to open the season, and I would expect the unit to look much better against this Bills offensive line.  Only left tackle Cordy Glenn has a positive pass blocking grade, and Henderson and Richardson have truly awful pass blocking grades.  As a unit, their offensive line is ranked 28th overall in Pass Blocking Efficiency (another stat maintained by PFF that looks at pressures allowed versus pass blocking snaps).  All that said, Football Outsiders has the Bills offensive line ranked 14th overall in Adjusted Sack rate (5.6%), so they may not be quite as bad as their individual grades paint them out to be.  The Vikings defensive line should have an easy time getting after Kyle Orton this week, and Linval Joseph in particular could have another great game.

Believe it or not, but after 6 games the Vikings have the 6th best passing defense in the NFL in terms of passing yards allowed, and that is after facing some of the best QBs in the league: Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford.  The Vikings are only allowing an average of 213.8 passing yards per game.  That said, they have allowed 10 passing touchdowns and a 94.2 passer rating (ranked 20th) and their 23.8 points allowed per game is also only ranked 20th.  Still, if they can take advantage of the Bills terrible pass blocking line and get after Kyle Orton, they should be able to maintain their high ranking after week 7.

Matchup Index: Bills Run Blocking vs Vikings Run Defense

Bills Player

RT Seantrel Henderson

RG Erik Pears

C Eric Wood

LG Cyril Richardson

LT Cordy Glenn

PFF Grade

-10.5

-13.3

+2.6

-0.6

+1.5

Minnesota Player

DE Brian Robison

DT Shariff Floyd

DT Linval Joseph

DE Everson Griffen

PFF Grade

+3.0

+1.7

-4.0

+2.5

While the Bills are definitely a better run blocking line than pass blocking line, the Vikings appear to have some pretty major advantages covering their right side.  Henderson and Pears are atrocious run blockers, while Brian Robison and Shariff Floyd are both good against the run.  The Bills should find it difficult to run to their right side.  That said, if they want to gash up the middle against Linval Joseph, it looks like Eric Wood and Cyril Richardson may have a bit of an advantage.  All that said, Football Outsiders only has the offensive line ranked 27th in "Adjusted Line Yards" which attempts to account for rushing yards generated by run blocking.  So, while they are better at run blocking than pass blocking, they aren't really very good at either one.

The Vikings run defense has slipped a bit in recent weeks allowing an average of 118.2 rushing yards per game, ranked 20th overall.  They also allow 4.2 yards per carry (tied for 15th).  But as mentioned above, the Bills running game is not particularly effective and as you can see in the table above the Vikings appear to gain quite a few individual matchup advantages.  I would expect the Bills to have a tough time running the ball this Sunday.

I'm not sure how particularly useful this next table is, but I do find it interesting.  Last week, I highlighted Golden Tate as having a good matchup if Calvin Johnson played, but having a not great matchup if he sat.  Megatron sat and Tate caught 7 passes for 44 yards and no TDs.  So, take that for whatever you think its worth. The next one highlights the Bills wide receivers "receiving" grades against the Vikings defensive backs "pass coverage" grades.

Matchup Index: Bills Receivers vs Vikings Defensive Backs

Bills Player

WR Sammy Watkins

WR Marquise Goodwin

TE Scott Chandler

WR Robert Woods

PFF Grade

-2.1

-1.0

+0.2

-0.5

Vikings Player

CB Xavier Rhodes

S Robert Blanton

S Harrison Smith

CB Captain Munnerlyn

PFF Grade

+0.7

-3.1

+5.1

+0.2

This week it looks like the Vikings have some pretty good advantages, and this is without including CB Josh Robinson.  Robinson has the 2nd highest pass coverage grade on the team, just behind Harrison Smith at +2.7.  When the Vikings go to the nickel defense, they should have an even greater advantage in covering the Bills receivers.  They are a very young receiving corp and these grades don't paint them out as being really bad, so much as inexperienced.  Scott Chandler could give us some matchup problems depending on who he is lined up against, especially if we have a linebacker covering him.  None of our linebackers have a positive pass coverage grade.

Like last week I think our defense should be able to do a very good job of holding the Bills offense in check.  The matchup index indicated that we would have a very good chance to be able to keep the Lions at bay last week and it looks like more of the same this week against the Bills offense.

Looking ahead to the Vikings offense, last week painted a pretty grim picture in the trenches.  And unfortunately, it doesn't get much better this week.  The table below compares the passing game first, and the Vikings run game second.

Matchup Index: Vikings Pass Blocking vs Bills Pass Rushing

Vikings Player

RT Phil Loadholt

RG Vlad Ducasse

C John Sullivan

LG Charlie Johnson

LT Matt Kalil

PFF Grade

-1.2

-0.4

-1.1

-2.8

-12.7

Bills Player

DE Jerry Hughes

DT Marcell Dareus

DT Kyle Williams

DE Mario Williams

PFF Grade

+3.7

+3.8

+8.5

-1.6

As you can see based on the individual grades, things don't look good for the Vikings offensive line once again when it comes to pass blocking against the Bills, especially against their interior.  Football Outsiders ranks the Vikings dead last in the NFL in adjusted sack rating (10.5%), while Pro Football Focus ranks them 30th in pass blocking efficiency.  Just about any way you slice it, the offensive line looks poor.  Although it's worth mentioning that Vlad Ducasse held up pretty well last week and even improved his overall pass blocking grade.  Matt Kalil on the other hand continues his freefall.

The Vikings passing game has been out of synch the past two weeks under Ponder and Bridgewater.  Whether it is the receivers high drop rate (which I highlighted on twitter), their low overall production as expressed by yards per route run, or the fact that Teddy Bridgewater is holding onto the ball too long, something has to give.  Now, for as good as the Bills are at pass rushing they still allow the 26th most passing yards per game (269.2) and a 94.3 passer rating (ranked 20th).  As you'll see below we might have some advantages in the secondary.  But first, here is the run blocking index:

Matchup Index: Vikings Run Blocking vs Bills Run Defense

Vikings Player

RT Phil Loadholt

RG Vlad Ducasse

C John Sullivan

LG Charlie Johnson

LT Matt Kalil

PFF Grade

-1.1

-5.5

+0.7

-1.7

-6.1

Bills Player

DE Jerry Hughes

DT Marcell Dareus

DT Kyle Williams

DE Mario Williams

PFF Grade

+2.3

+6.0

+5.1

+6.8

Just like with pass blocking, our offensive line looks completely overmatched again in the running game.  For as strong as the Bills pass defense looks, their run defense is even better.  They lead the league in rushing yards allowed per game, and yards per carry allowed (68.5 and 2.8).  This is a scary good rushing defense and I would be very surprised to see Asiata and Mckinnon getting much of anything going on the ground.

Things get slightly better when looking at the skill positions. As before, I've included the Vikings receiving grades to compare against the Lions pass coverage grades.

Matchup Index: Vikings Receivers vs Bills Defensive Backs

Vikings Player

WR Greg Jennings

WR Jarius Wright

TE Chase Ford

WR Cordarrelle Patterson

PFF Grade

-3.9

-3.9

-0.5

-2.2

Bills Player

CB Stephon Gilmore

S Da'Norris Searcy

S Aaron Williams

CB Leodis Mckelvin

PFF Grade

-3.7

+1.0

+2.9

-5.8

The Bills defense has a strong front four, just like Detroit, but their secondary is not nearly as highly graded.  The Lions were a complete defense and shut us down to the tune of 3 points last week.  I don't expect quite the shut-out this week against the Bills.  While they do have a pair of great safeties, their corners are terrible in coverage.  This should help Jennings and Patterson get open much easier this week.  If they can get open it might encourage Bridgewater to get rid of the ball sooner, and neutralize the Bills pass rush.  That is about the only hope for offensive production this week.

Once again it looks like our defense should be able to handle the Bills offense while our own offense could struggle to get much going, especially on the ground.  But, perhaps Teddy Bridgewater's ankle and Patterson's hip are 100% healthy.  And perhaps our receivers can get open.  Those are big ifs, so I'm not predicting a particularly positive outcome again this week, especially considering that we are on the road.

I didn't offer a scoring prediction last week, but I'll attempt to give it a go this week.  I expect another low-scoring affair with the Bills coming out on top.

Bills: 20, Vikings 13