Eagles at Bills carries an Over/Under of only 43.5 — and it’s no big secret why. The Bills defense has allowed the third fewest points per game and the third fewest yards per game — behind only the Patriots and 49ers in these categories. Further affecting scoring expectations :: the Bills are tremendous against the pass — ranking fifth in DVOA and fourth in yards allowed per pass attempt, while shaving 10% off the league-average aDOT, 9% off the league-average catch rate, and 9% of the league-average YAC/r rate. The Bills trail only the Patriots (by a mile) and the 49ers (barely) in expected yards allowed per target.
The way to beat Buffalo (it likely goes without saying) is to try to lure Josh Allen into mistakes when he has the ball, and to attack the Buffalo defense on the ground. The Bills rank 10th in yards allowed per carry, but they rank 23rd in DVOA vs the run — and while they are elite up the middle, they are very attackable to the edges.
This creates an interesting setup for this game, as Miles Sanders has only 13 runs this season over center/guards (where the Bills rank first in adjusted line yards) compared to 50 carries over tackle and to the edges (where the Bills are attackable). Jordan Howard, meanwhile, has run over center/guard on 60% of his carries. So the ultimate question is: how bold is Doug Pederson? He is known for his aggressiveness and adaptability (two traits that we love) — but with the Eagles season practically on the line at 3-4 in the ultra-tough NFC, is Pederson bold enough to build his game plan around getting the ball to his fumble-prone but electric rookie back to the edges of the Bills defense? Ultimately, the answer to this question may not even matter, as the Bills — while non-threatening against the run on a per-touch basis — have allowed the eighth fewest running back rushing yards, with this defense as a whole ranking third in drive success rate allowed (making it tough for running backs to compile against them). But for tourneys, it’s at least an interesting thought, as Sanders carries upside if Pederson deploys him (as he should) as the key to an Eagles win.
Last week in this space, we asked if the ultra-adaptable Bills offense would attack the Dolphins on the ground as most teams choose to do, or if they would instead try to drop the hammer out of the bye with an attack built around Josh Allen. The Bills tried to drop the hammer, and they failed pretty hard.
This week, then, the question is the opposite. The Bills pride themselves on being adaptable from matchup to matchup in their offensive identity — and it goes without saying at this point that the way to attack Philly is through the air. But injuries have been piling up for Philly — shortening the rotation on their defensive line and over-straining Fletcher Cox — and the Vikings and and Cowboys were both able to expose some of these cracks the last couple weeks. So do the Bills try to protect Allen and win with “run game, defense, and well-chosen opportunities for Allen,” or do they instead unleash Allen to attack this matchup?
One thing working in Allen’s favor is that Philly has remained dominant on runs up the middle — where Frank Gore is getting almost all of his work. The way to try to exploit the Eagles’ run D is to the edges with Devin Singletary — whom the Bill are not yet putting that sort of faith in. It’s likeliest, then, that Allen gets his share of shots this week.
Of course, we should also realize that this is a different Josh Allen in 2019. He has topped 32 pass attempts only twice. He has topped 40 rushing yards only once. He quietly has a respectable 62.4% completion rate; but with 7.0 yards per pass attempt and a ninth place ranking in average intended air yards, things are different across the board. The field is rostering Allen this year for what we were getting out of him down the stretch last year. His best game this season has been 254 passing yards. (None of which is to say Allen can’t produce in this spot; but it’s not the lock-and-load play some will expect it to be, in this current offense that wants him to be more of a “playmaking game manager” than a do-it-all piece.)
In the Bills’ passing attack, the prize piece remains John Brown. Brown’s targets are down lately (5 // 11 // 5 // 6), but with an aDOT of 14.1 and a 36.59% share of the Bills’ air yards, he’s an integral member of this offense with a solid shot at producing in this soft matchup.
Behind Brown, Cole Beasley has a high floor (especially in this spot), though he needs a broken play or touchdowns for any sort of ceiling.
Behind Beasley, the rest of this attack is a bit of a tossup, with Duke Williams looking iffy for this week (and volume on him insecure anyway) and with key free agent addition Tyler Kroft looking to carve into the role that Dawson Knox has created.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Given that this game carries the fourth lowest Over/Under on the slate, it’s unsurprising that nothing stands out as a major, locked-in piece. It’s also no surprise that the spot that draws the eye is the Bills passing attack against the secondary of the Eagles.
JB is a solid play (though it would sure be nice to see a couple extra targets added to what he’s been seeing of late). His reliance on Allen and the low-ish volume lately introduce some volatility — but this adaptable offense should lean toward the pass, and it’s a good spot for him to climb up to 7+ looks and to produce if he does. His floor is a bit uneven for the price on DraftKings and FantasyDraft, but he’s priced really low on FanDuel — and his ceiling is high across the board in this matchup.
Allen is also an upside piece, with some obvious risk; while Beasley is a floor piece with some paths to upside.
Running backs are a guessing game on both teams (the game is best-suited to Sanders and Singletary, but that would require the coaches showing more faith in these two than they have to date; Sanders, of course, is the likelier of the two to be given a chance to hit).
And of course :: in any matchup, a talented player (Carson Wentz // Zach Ertz // Alshon Jeffery // even Dallas Goedert) can hit for a strong game — but given my style of play, I’ll be avoiding the Philly passing attack this week. They’re a low-floor guessing game in this spot with most of the paths to slate-winning upside sealed off right away.
:: Bonus feature: find current NFL Defensive Identities here!