How did the Buffalo Bills upset the Minnesota Vikings?

I honestly don’t think I can remember a more perplexing game than this one. The Minnesota Vikings are thought of as one of the best teams in the NFL. If it wasn’t for missed field goals by a kicker who’s no longer on their team, they would be 2-0. On the other hand, many considered Buffalo one of the worst teams in the NFL. Most annalist’s power rankings had them as the worst team in the league. Yet somehow the Bills went into Minnesota and blew out the Vikings. There’s plenty of thoughts for why this happened, first Buffalo was probably better than we gave them credit for (after all they only lost to the Chargers by 11 last week in Allen’s first start). I’m sure Minnesota went into the game already expecting a win, and weren’t as mentally prepared as they should’ve been. But plenty went into Buffalo’s massive upset, so let’s jump into it.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills

Right off the bat, one of the most interesting stats was how much both teams struggled moving the ball. Minnesota only gained 4.79 yards per play, and Buffalo wasn’t much better, as they gained just 4.87 yards per play. The Bills did however start things off with a touchdown. LeSean McCoy was out this week, so Buffalo was going to have to find more ways to move the ball. So starting things off, Buffalo decided to trust Josh Allen. They passed 7 of the 10 plays on that drive, and they also used a set with at least 3 receivers 9 of their 10 plays, 4 of which were from a 4 wide set. As a whole Josh Allen and the Bills did pretty well passing out of typical passing sets. They averaged 6.5 yards per passing play out of 4 wide sets and 5.5 yards per passing play out of standard personnel sets (a set with 3 receivers, a tight end and a halfback).

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It’s tough to analyze Minnesota’s playcalling early on. This is because Kirk Cousins fumbled the ball on the third play of both his first two drives. The Bills took advantage of those miscues and scored two touchdowns. Their second touchdown was a 26 yard pass play out of a 3 receiver 1 halfback 1 fullback set. It’s a set not commonly used in the NFL, but Buffalo used it 5 times. Not just that, but they passed it on all 5 plays they ran out of that set as well. Using it payed off, they had the aforementioned 26 yard touchdown, and they had a 55 yard pass on that set as well. It was a homerun set for Buffalo, and as a whole using a fullback helped the Bills throughout the game, as they averaged 7.43 yards per play over the 14 plays with a fullback in, and 10.88 yards per passing play with a fullback in (although granted the 55 and 26 yard gains skew the numbers a bit).

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For the Vikings, they had very bizarre playcalling throughout the game. Forget about abandoning the run, they didn’t even really run the ball to begin with. 3 of the first 8 plays for Minnesota were rushes, but they only ran a rushing play once more all game. Another interesting stat is that the Vikings used a 4 wide set 28 times, which was 41.8 percent of the time. This was more than any other set, including a standard personnel set, which they used 24 times, which is just 35.8 percent of the time. Their use of standard sets isn’t too much different from last week, as they used them 32.9 percent of the time against Green Bay. But their use of 4 wide sets was way different from week to week, as the Vikings only used a 4 wide set against the Packers 24.7 percent of the time, which was 17.1 percent less then they used it last week against Buffalo. Add that onto the fact that they rarely ran the ball, and just played worse against Buffalo then they did against the Packers, and their numbers took a huge dip. Minnesota only averaged 4.41 yards per play from 4 wide sets, and 4.92 yards per standard sets. A huge drop off from last week when they averaged 7.82 yards per play from 4 wide sets and 7.57 yards per play from standard sets.

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Adding onto the wonkiness of this game, Minnesota only used 6 different sets of personnel, and two of those were only used once (not to mention one of those was just used on the 2 point attempt, so it doesn’t officially count). For comparison, they used 9 different sets last week. Minnesota ran 8 plays from a set with 2 receivers 2 tight ends and a halfback, and only averaged 2.75 yards per play from those, and then they used a 5 wide set just 4 times, where they gained a total of 20 yards (5 yards per play for you math fans out there). As a whole, the Vikings really didn’t mix things up at all, and made things a lot easier on Buffalo’s defense by essentially telegraphing what kind of plays they were going to run. As for the Bills, their offense could’ve been better, they only averaged 3.67 yards per play from 4 wide or 5 wide sets. They also went super conservative in their playcalling at the end of the game. In their final 2 drives, all 8 of their plays were with multiple tight ends in the game, 6 of which had 3 tight ends in the game. Buffalo only gained 2.1 yards per play with multiple tight ends in the game, which is something they’ll probably have to work on in the future (although getting McCoy back should help, as Chris Ivory averaged just 2.8 yards per attempt). At the end of the day, Buffalo’s defense clearly stepped it up, in the NFL you’re going to win most games where you hold your opponent to single digits (you know, unless you’re Jacksonville).

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