Last year, the Buffalo Bills attempted the fewest passes in football, just 474 throws. In 2015, Buffalo attempted the second-fewest passes in the league.
As the NFL's passing renaissance raged on, the Bills limited their reliance on moving the football through the air, and leaned on their excellent rushing attack.
That's likely going to change this season under new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. Like many of his time, Dennison's coaching background is rooted in a clear-cut dedication to running the football, but the former Broncos and Texans offensive coordinator has followed football's recent shift to pass happiness.
Here are the yearly pass-attempt numbers for Dennison-coordinated offenses over the past five seasons.
(It's worth noting that Dennison didn't call the offensive plays in all of these seasons, but as Gary Kubiak's coaching right-hand man since 1995, it's fair to assume he was significantly involved in the offensive game plans.)
- 2016 Broncos: 570 attempts
- 2016 Bills: 474 attempts
- NFL average: 571.1 attempts
Under the tutelage of old-school run-game enthusiast Greg Roman and Mike Shanahan disciple Anthony Lynn, the Bills were well below the league average for pass attempts, while Dennison's Broncos offense threw it right at the NFL average. The league's average completion percentage was 63 percent. Collectively, the Bills completed 60.3 percent of their throws, and Tyrod Taylor's completion percentage was 61.7. The combo of Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch completed 59.5 percent of their passes.
- 2015 Broncos: 606 attempts
- 2015 Bills: 465 attempts
- NFL average: 571.8 attempts
Even with one of the NFL's most ferocious defenses, the Broncos eclipsed the league average in pass attempts during Peyton Manning's final season. Typically, teams with outstanding defenses aren't forced into obvious passing situations. Meanwhile, the Bills were extraordinarily devoted to their ground attack, as they finished more than 100 pass attempts below the league average.
- 2013 Texans: 633 attempts
- NFL average: 566.8 attempts
- 2012 Texans: 554 attempts
- NFL average: 555.9 attempts
- 2011 Texans: 467 attempts
- NFL average: 544.1 attempts
Based on what transpired under Kubiak, the Dennison-coordinated offenses clearly aren't averse to throwing the football. What's interesting though – in 2011, when the Texans attempted around the same amount of passes the Bills have in each of the last two seasons, Houston finished 10th in points scored and 13th in yards gained.
- Bills 2-year average: 469.5 attempts
- Broncos 2-year average: 588 attempts
- Dennison-coordinated offenses 5-year average: 566 attempts
In 2008, Dennison's first year as an offensive coordinator, the NFL averaged 27.8 rushing attempts per contest. As you can probably imagine, that average has steadily dropped. It was at 26.0 last season when the Bills ran the football at a 30.75 carry-per-game clip.
Some of these figures are predicated on offensive personnel. With LeSean McCoy, a congealed offensive line, and Taylor's elite rushing ability, Buffalo won't shy away from the ground game this season. And in 2015, even with a nearly 40-year-old Peyton Manning, the Broncos weren't going to run it 35 times per contest.
The 2013 Texans imploded after a 2-0 start and dealt with a season-ending injury to Matt Schaub that forced Case Keenum into eight starts and T.J. Yates into three relief appearances en route to a 2-14 record. Clearly that squad wasn't going to take to the air if it didn't need to.
Are past offensive trends predictive?
When it came to Buffalo's former offensive coordinator Greg Roman, yes. In his four seasons as 49ers offensive coordinator before being hired by the Bills in 2015, Roman's offenses averaged 447.75 passes per season. The Bills attempted 465 passes in Roman's only full campaign as Buffalo's offensive coordinator. Two games into 2016 – before Roman was fired – the Bills were on pace for 416 pass attempts.
Dennison's Texans offenses threw the football about 17 times above the league average, and his offenses with the Texans and Broncos eclipsed the 600-attempt mark in three separate seasons. The last time the Bills attempted 600 or more passes in one season was in 2002.
Dennison won't morph the Bills into a pass-obsessed offense, but, in all likelihood, Buffalo will now resemble a more modern NFL attack that's inching toward a 60-40 pass-to-run ratio.