Buffalo Bulletin: Toning Down The Turnovers
The Cincinnati Bengals will visit the Buffalo Bills in the Divisional Round. We all knew it was coming; One of these two giants would always have to topple the other on the long road to the Super Bowl, and it’s what football fans wanted to see. Bills fans and Bengals fans alike may have preferred easier opposition, but they didn’t get it. As these two go head-to-head, an incredibly even matchup looms. But what separates them? What part of their story decides who lives on and who goes home? If the Wild Card round was any indication, the great equalizer is obvious: Turnovers.
By observing the scope of their seasons, the Buffalo Bills are a definitively better team than the Cincinnati Bengals. There’s really one large issue that keeps these two impressive franchises in a dead heat. Last week, in what was expected to be a crushing rout of the Miami Dolphins, the Bills allowed them to stay in it with a series of unfortunate turnovers, giving up poor field position. The Bengals themselves underperformed, but were fortunate enough to be on the other end of the turnover margin.
The Power Of The Turnover
One play, a miraculous fumble recovered for a 98-yard defensive touchdown, resulted in a 14-point swing for the Bengals. There’s a good case that without this play, they’re on the couch right now. Let’s take a look at how the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals matched up in that game.
|Passing Yards||226 (17/29)||209 (23/32)|
|Rushing Yards||155 (4.4 Y/C)||51 (2.8 Y/C)|
|Times Sacked||2 (-17)||4 (-26)|
Now, we’re going to utilize a statistic called Post-Game Win Expectancy (PGWE), from Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders. PGWE is used to indicate the likelihood of victory based on the statistics of the game as they stand. The Bengals’ PGWE against the Ravens was a lowly 33%. Given the same performances, they would be projected to lose two out of every three matchups. The weight of their single 98-yard fumble return carried an otherwise poor performance to victory. With 11:39 left in the game, and the Ravens on the goal line, the play moved the Bengals’ win probability from 45.8% to 87.6%, per Next Gen Stats.
On the other hand, the Bills were rolling through the Dolphins, but for a few plays of a similar freakish nature. Unfortunately, the shoe was on the other foot. Let’s dive in.
|Passing Yards||252 (23/39)||220 (18/45)|
|Rushing Yards||107 (4.1 Y/C)||42 (2.1 Y/C)|
|Times Sacked||7 (-36)||4 (-31)|
Yes, this performance was even more lopsided than the Ravens’ performance over the Bengals.
But it had to be.
Given the Buffalo Bills’ penchant for giving away possessions, dominance in every other phase of the game is almost necessitated. We’ll revisit PGWE to give you an idea of just how significant the gap between the two teams was on Sunday afternoon. The Bills, supported by the box score, held a whopping 98% PGWE over the Dolphins at the final whistle.
Turnovers and poor field position gave them a fighting chance. Two interceptions, one of which bounced off the hands of WR Cole Beasley, and a massive strip-sack recovered for an instant touchdown were the difference between a blowout and a close contest.
The Significance of Lost Possession
Turnovers are an issue, but giving away the ball is only part of the problem. Some interceptions and fumbles are more costly than others. Where it happens, and how, are more indicative of the issue than the fact the turnover happens at all.
On the first interception of the day, with six minutes remaining in the first half and a 17-3 deficit on the road, Miami’s offense recovered the ball at the Buffalo Bills 48-yard line. Due to the stalwart nature of the Bills defense, it took eight plays to gain 18 yards, and kick a long field goal after the turnover. Defensively, that was success, despite the Bills’ offensive failure.
Let’s take a look at the second interception. It occurred near midfield, on the outside where there would be few blockers on the return. The ball was on-target, but took a bad bounce into the arms of a waiting Dolphins defensive back. With room to run, their defense gave Miami the ball back on the Bills’ own 18-yard line. More poor field position, and it only took four plays to find the end zone. The Bills received the ball with 33 seconds left, and managed to force their way into field goal range to retake the lead, but the damage was done, with more to come. In the span of 5:30, the Bills coughed up the ball twice to give the Dolphins free field position and added possessions.
The Bills allowed one yard to the Dolphins on the first drive of the second-half, but on the first offensive play Josh Allen was sacked by an unblocked rusher for a fumble, recovered for a touchdown.
Three offensive failures, 18 points, and a massive competitive disadvantage.
The Buffalo Bills are good, better than the Bengals, even. All they need to do to beat any team in the NFL is have an entirely pedestrian game by their standards. Defensively, the Bills are a stout, bend-don’t-break unit who surrender little and rarely give up a lot. Offensively, they’re a powerhouse who outscored 97% of the NFL this season despite their warts.
The only thing we have to do better in the Divisional Round and beyond is take care of the ball. The Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs are too prolific on offense to award extra possessions to, and good field is a boon they don’t need. Tone down the turnovers and, in only four short weeks, we’ll be comfortably on top of the NFL.
Like this piece? Check out the previous Buffalo Bulletin.
The Buffalo Bulletin on Buffalo Fanatics is a weekly editorial by Iestyn Harris. Check back regularly for hot topics, riveting discussion, and, occasionally, some actual insight.
Original Featured Image: Joshua Bessex/Associated Press; Composite By Iestyn Harris