Bills-Jets: On Buffalo's Defense Post-Ryan, and Will There Be a Real McCoy?

David Malinsky

Thursday, November 2, 2017 2:38 PM UTC

Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017 2:38 PM UTC

A fitting wrap-up to the Rex Ryan years, but how much will LeSean McCoy have in the tank tonight? ... The Cavaliers' defensive issue are not just a short-term thing. ... A deeper look at the 2017 NFL stats, and time to listen to House of Yards.

Point Blank – November 2, 2017

What had been a World Series of high drama closed without much sizzle last night, but kudos to the Houston Astros for a magnificent season and the potential of many ahead for the young lineup on the field. The timing of this for the city adds a silver lining to the literal dark stormy clouds of Hurricane Harvey.

That means another transition time, the 2017 Baseball Prospectus tucked away onto a shelf while the Blue Ribbon Yearbook replaces it at the desk, an annual rite of passage for those in this endeavor. Some of the focus here will be turning to the college hoops next week, but for Thurday we go straight to the matchup on the NFL board, once again with a lot of prime talking points in play.


Item: Are we going to see the Real McCoy tonight?

One of the running themes set early in this season was that the Buffalo downfield passing game was going to struggle, the awkward combination of a new playbook, plenty of new faces in an uninspiring WR group, and the assimilation process slowed down because Tyrod Taylor missed so much time in training camp.

That part of the Bills' arsenal has turned out to indeed be a problem – no WR has more than 15 catches, and RB LeSean McCoy nearly has as many receptions (38) as the entire roster of WRs combined (44). Hence why Kelvin Benjamin is on the way, though whether he will play much, if at all, remains an open question for tonight.

So how have the Bills cobbled together a 5-2 record? It has been a combination of defense and the magic of turnovers (a league-leading +14 in differential), despite an offense that hasn’t even been average, #18 on the Football Outsiders adjusted ratings. How are they even near average despite the lack of downfield passing? Because McCoy has been a workhorse. But that raises questions both for tonight, and moving forward to the second half of the season.

With McCoy it has been about volume and not efficiency. He has rushed for 521 yards, but at only 3.8 per carry, the latter count a career low and a significant decline of 1.6 per attempt from 2016. Those 38 receptions have only averaged 6.4, the second lowest count of his career (5.5 in 2014). This raises a major question – if those per-touch counts reflected a fresh McCoy early in the season, what happens if he begins to wear down?

In particular, what happens tonight against the Jets, as he faces the turnaround from a short practice week off of a major load vs. Oakland on Sunday, 27 rush attempts (fifth-highest of his career and high since 2013) and six pass receptions? If McCoy is even a fraction of a step slower than his norm, it will be difficult for him to give that offense what it has been relying on.

But of course there is still that Buffalo defense. …


Item: The final ribbon to wrap up the Rex Ryan era

One of the reasons why the Bills are 5-2, despite doing a lot of house cleaning on the roster and focusing as much on the future as winning in 2017, is the fact that a talented team that has been badly under-coached is now getting some proper direction. There is no better way to exhibit this than to focus on the supposed defensive expertise of Ryan, and I will make it short and sweet – let’s look at how the Buffalo defense fared the year before he got there, across his two seasons, and how it has performed since he rode out of town, using the Football Outsiders overall ratings and turnovers generated as the guide:

Season       FO     Takeaways
2014           #2         #3
2015           #24     #12 (tie)
2016           #27     #23
2017           #6         #1 (tie)

Rather dramatic shifts, aren’t they? But this is nothing new to PB readers, the arc having been detailed over those seasons, in particular the players being outspoken about feeling constrained by the Ryan system.

Now that defense goes up against one of the most surprising stories of the 2017 campaign, the fact that Josh McCown and a pedestrian group of NYJ skill players surrounding him have seemingly been respectable, and perhaps even good, at passing and catching the ball. McCown carries a 95.3 Passer Rating that places him #10 in the league, an unexpected elevation of his 80.0 career mark.

Where would I have projected McCown to place in passer rating this season? If we limit it to the 32 starting QBs, a good Over/Under would have been around 28.5. But you have to be careful with those performance numbers. Where does FO rate that passing game with the difficulty of opposition built in? How about #25, or rather close to the expectation. The key? The average Jet opponent has rated #23 in FO Pass Defense.

I will put these various components together to be in play tonight with a split 50-50 ticket of First Half and Full Game for #307 Bills/Jets Under (8:25 Eastern), for those who can get a 43 for the game. if you only have access to a 42.5 then the ticket goes to 75/25 weighted towards the first half. I do not expect many bursts from a tired McCoy, and bursts from the NYJ offense have little to do with being fresh or tired, they have to rely on the opposition making a mistake, which this defense has not been doing (they only managed 12 points and 214 yards in that earlier loss at Buffalo).

While most of you were watching the World Series last night, or a Central Michigan-Western Michigan game that turned out to be as compelling as was detailed here yesterday, there was a lot to see in the NBA, so let’s get to it. …


Item: About Last Night, NBA

There are a lot of folks across the Sports Mediaverse not taking the 3-5 Cleveland opening all that seriously, the usual notions of “they are just holding back and will be ready when the playoffs come” getting out there. I believe that interpretation is a mistake. Orlando beat the Cavs on their own court by 21, and Cleveland also has lost at home to New York by 19 and Indiana by 17.  How many wins of 15 points or more will that trio get on the road all season?

The problem is not just one of turning a switch on or off, but of the Cleveland backcourt defense being utterly terrible. Derrick Rose and J.R. Smith are both way past their prime on that end of the floor, and it should only get worse when Isaiah Thomas is healthy, it being noted often here in the past that multiple metrics rated him as the league’s worst defensive guard last season.

Consider how bad it was last night, as Rose/Smith went up against the non-descript Indiana tandem of Darren Collison and Victor Oladipo:

Player        Min   Pts    Ast    TO     +/-
Collison      30     25     8       1       +15
Oladipo      34     23     7       3       +14

The Cavaliers rate #29 in PP100 defense, just one missed shot above Dallas. This is not a short-term anomaly about coasting, I believe this is a genuine problem that might take more than Tyronn Lue’s limited acumen to solve. Which leads to this from our friends in Jamaica:

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Next Cleveland Head Coach To Get Fired?
Tyronn Lue -110
Hue Jackson -110

— The Greek Sportsbook (@BetTheGreek) November 2, 2017

There are some other key notions to file away from Wednesday night. While the loss of Gordon Hayward threw a curve into what Brad Stevens wanted to do with this year’s Boston rotation, note how the athleticism of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum is making a big difference on the defensive end. The Celtics are #1 in PP100 defense at 95.1, and that is with Kyrie Irving leading the team in minutes played. Irving has been a minus defender across his NBA career, but some of that could be attributed to coaching, something he is now getting under Stevens.

Also take a closer look at what looked like a bounceback LAC win over Dallas after the Clippers were routed by the Warriors on Monday. One of the major issues Doc Rivers will face is getting an offense to flow despite not having a creator in the backcourt, and what will grade out as a solid performance overall vs. the Mavs brings a question mark from those doing the proper diligence – Blake Griffin had more assists in his 28:14 of courts time (7), than Patrick Beverley and Austin Rivers had in their combined 48:29 (6). They can get away with that against the bottom of the league, but not when stepping up in class.


Item: The Hector Mendez Files

Time for the latest edition of the NFL team ratings from Hector, who generously shares them with us here each week. If you have any questions you can go to the comments section, the grey balloon in the upper left of each edition, and we can get the conversation started:


Item: For your listening pleasure

And it is also time for this week’s edition of House of Yards, Matt Landes and myself breaking down the biggest games across the NFL board, including more on tonight’s Bills-Jets clash, along with some long-term takes on handicapping methodology, Arizona-USC, and of course the Beer of the Week:

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You can find the Point Blank archive here.

And if you want to know when PB is ready to go each day, as well as following along for some of the most important Sports Betting news as in unfolds, make @Vegaspointblank a part of your routine.

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