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Will new Bills coach Doug Marrone go fourth and conquer?

By Tim Graham

Curiosity abounds with new Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone.

One of the biggies for me is whether he'll be the type to punt from his opponent's 36-yard line or go for it on fourth-and-inches from his own 41.

Previous coach Chan Gailey -- and the man before him, Dick Jauron -- infuriated Bills fans with ultra-conservative fourth-down philosophies at times.

Scott Kacsmar of recently reviewed how every team operated last year on fourth-down, and the Bills were among the least daring.

Data showed only two teams attempted to convert a fourth down less often, although the Bills were successful when they did try. The Bills converted five of their eight tries (62.5 percent) with an average distance of 7.0 yards to go for the first down. They scored two touchdowns.

One would think a 6-10 team that trailed late in most games and, toward the end of another lost season, had little reason not to avoid aggressive decisions would log way more than eight fourth-down attempts.

Gailey's decisions were starkly different than his in first two seasons, when no other team amassed more fourth-down conversion attempts than Buffalo's 46. Buffalo ranked second in each of Gailey's first two years with 22 and 24.

Perhaps Gailey's newfound conservatism was a byproduct of a man trying to salvage his job.

The only teams with as many or fewer fourth-down attempts than the Bills last year were the Indianapolis Colts (eight), Atlanta Falcons (eight), Houston Texans (seven) and Denver Broncos (five) -- all playoff teams.

The average NFL team attempted 14.1 fourth-down conversions at a distance of 4.97 yards needed to move the chains. The league converted 49.9 percent of them.

We don't know what Marrone's tendencies will be as an NFL head coach. When he was New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator, head coach Sean Payton made those decisions.

But what Marrone did in his four seasons at Syracuse should be an indicator.

Marrone got more liberal each season at Syracuse. In his first season, the Orange had the fewest fourth-down tries in the Big East. In his last season, the Orange led the conference in attempts and conversions and was second in success rate.

Syracuse on fourth down under Marrone:

  • • 2009: 5 of 12 (41.7 percent)
  • • 2010: 3 of 10 (30.0 percent)
  • • 2011: 8 of 17 (47.1 percent)
  • • 2012: 12 of 19 (63.2 percent)

Buffalo averaged half a fourth-down attempt per game last year, while Syracuse over the past two seasons averaged 1.4 per game.

In a 2010 home game against West Virginia, Marrone decided to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal inside the 1-yard line while down 14-10 in the second quarter.

"It's my responsibility," Marrone said after the loss, "to make sure the players have the opportunity to win the game during the whole course of the game, not to lose the game for them early on."

Marrone twice tried to score a touchdown on fourth down inside Stony Brook's 5-yard line last year but failed both times.


Chan Gailey | Dick Jauron | Doug Marrone
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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |