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Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Advanced stat highlights Bills punting woes

By Mike Rodak

The Buffalo Bills had punting problems this season.

Whether it was Shawn Powell or Brian Moorman at punter, the Bills lagged behind the rest of the NFL. They finished 30th in net punting yards (36.1) and 31st in "Punt Expected Points Added," a metric that tracks punt team performance.

Punt EPA, as explained by ESPN Stats & Information's John McTigue, is a measure of the impact of each play on a team’s potential points based on 10-plus years of NFL play-by-play data. If a team nets positive EPA on a play, that means they did something to improve their chances of scoring. If they net a negative EPA, that means they did something to hurt their chances of scoring and/or improve the other team’s chances of scoring.

In this case, the Bills had a minus-19.6 EPA on punts, which meant that their opponents were expected to score 19.6 points more than they would on an average.

So how does that stack up in recent NFL history? The 2013 Bills rank 375 of 384 in Punt EPA since 2002, so only nine punt units over the past 12 seasons have hurt their team worse than the Bills did this season.

Nonetheless, the Bills extended the contract of longtime punter Brian Moorman last week.

It's a one-year deal at the minimum salary ($955,000) for a player of Moorman's experience. The Bills should receive a veteran minimum salary benefit for Moorman that would limit his cap hit to $570,000.

Either way, the Bills are expected to bring in competition for Moorman, who turns 38 next month. In terms of Punt EPA, Moorman offered little advantage over Powell, who was released after five games. The Bills were 32nd in Punt EPA with Powell punting. They were 30th with Moorman.

There was a turnaround in another statistic, though. With Powell punting, the Bills allowed 14.7 yards per punt return, the fourth-worst mark in the NFL. Over the final 12 weeks, with Moorman punting, the Bills allowed 7.6 yards per return, which was eighth-best.