Much of the Bills' 2016 season can be told through the big play. On offense, Buffalo was almost effortlessly dynamic, especially on the ground. As a defense, Rex Ryan's crew routinely surrendered chunk plays. The latter will likely need to greatly improve under Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, so the Bills' offensive efforts won't be wasted.
Last year, 100 of Buffalo's 1,012 offensive plays were either a 10-plus-yard rush or 25-plus-yard completed pass. SportingCharts.com calls those "big plays."
The Bills' 100 big plays led the league, however, just 23 of their 100 big plays came via the pass, the NFL's fifth-lowest figure. Buffalo did boast the best "big play percentage" of 9.88 in the NFL. The Cowboys had 96 such plays, and the Falcons came in third with 93. The Dolphins' big play percentage of 9.76 was the second-highest in football.
Despite their exemplary offensive explosiveness, the Bills allowed 98 big plays in 2016. Only the 49ers surrendered more.
McDermott's past success
McDermott's Panthers defense gave up 74 such plays last season, the 18th-fewest in the NFL.
In terms of big-play differential in 2016, five of the six best-performing teams made the playoffs, and four of the clubs advanced to their respective conference title game. The Cowboys, who lost in the divisional round, had a plus-35 that topped the league. The Patriots (plus-26) and Steelers (plus-18) had the second- and-third-best big-play differentials in the AFC (Titans were first). The Falcons also had a plus-18 differential, and the Packers were right behind them at plus-12.
Recently, the Bills haven't been strangers to creating the big play. In 2015, they had an NFL-best 102 big plays on 1,016 snaps. Their 10.04 big-play percentage was also a league best. They had a big-play differential of plus-29, the third-best in the league.
That year, en route to a 15-1 record and a trip to the Super Bowl, McDermott's Panthers defense allowed just 61 big plays, the fourth-lowest figure in football. In his last five seasons in Carolina, the Panthers defense surrendered an average of 67 big plays per season. Over that same time frame, the Bills gave up an average of 83.8 big plays per year. During the Jim Schwartz-led 2014, opposing offenses recorded 72 big plays against Buffalo, the lowest number the Bills allowed over the past five years.
Now, of course, personnel is vital to this. Having a strong, pass-rushing front four, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis manning linebacker positions, and Josh Norman at cornerback from 2012 to 2015 undoubtedly helped Carolina's efforts limiting the big play.
The accomplishments of McDermott's Panthers defenses in this department don't automatically mean the Bills defense will magically become a lock-down unit against the big play. But if his philosophies and his 4-3, zone-based scheme translate to fewer big plays surrendered, Buffalo's defense would provide much more help to its offense than it did over the past two seasons, campaigns ultimately derailed by porous defensive efforts.