Early in the week I noticed with interest that some people thought Duke Preston had a good game and that was why the Bills were able to put up almost 200 rushing yards on a team that hardly allowed 20 in the first match up. My thought was that it likely had to do with Kris Jenkins’ injury. In the words of Chris Brown the Thursday before the Bills game:
"Jets NT Kris Jenkins was limited again in practice Thursday due to a hip injury. Though Jenkins is still expected to play, his number of snaps could be reduced due to the injury come Sunday."
Jenkins was in for 11 of 16 (68.7%) run plays in the first match up; he was in for 18 of the 29 (62.1%) in the second match up. Well, it’s always nice to have to report that your own hypothesis was a complete crock. 70% to 50% might have explained things, but 69% to 62% is still in the same ballpark in terms of snaps played.
I think the numbers do tell the story, just not in the way I thought they might.
Now that I’ve lured you to this screen, I thought I’d do something a little different. Instead of doing the finger tiring play by play I’ll look at the difference between the performance of the linemen in the two games. I’ll put it in as a chart, which hopefully stays a chart this time as I think it makes the information easily accessible. The numbers after the names indicate which game is being referenced. Peters 1, for example, is Peters in the 1st game while Chambers 2 is Chambers’ brief appearance for Walker in the 2nd game. Whittle played RG in game 1 while Butler played RG in game 2.
Lineman Good Bad Decent Killed Grade
Peters 1 5 9 2 0 78.8%
Peters 2 12 13 4 0 80.5%
Dock 1 2 12 2 1 75.0%
Dock 2 13 12 4 0 81.2%
Preston 1 0 9 7 3 66.3%
Preston 2 5 11 13 0 69.5%
Whittle 1 0 15 1 0 73.8%
Butler 2 14 11 4 0 81.9%
Walker 1 1 13 2 0 73.8%
Walker 2 7 14 6 0 75.5%
Chambers 2 0 2 0 0 75.0%
Two things really stand out.
First, look at the killed plays. In the first game Dock killed 1 and Preston killed 3. That’s 4 killed plays out of 16 (25%). In other words 1 of 4 run plays in the first game never even got going. Now look at the killed plays from the second game. Zero. That’s right. (It's also a first for Buffalo this season--and, imagine that, on the day when they have their best rushing output.) While some run plays were failures in the second game (run 22 was for -1 yard against and 8 man front) the line didn’t kill any of them. Each of the 6 (with Chambers) lineman had 29 opportunities (145 total) to screw the pooch in the 2nd game and each lineman passed on every chance. In the previous 14 games the line killed 45 run plays, an average of 3.2 per game. It’s amazing what you can do when you’re not shooting yourself in the foot.
Second, look at the jump in grades across the board. Peters went from 78.8% to 80.5%, Dock from 75.0% to 81.2%, Preston from 66.3% to 69.5%, Whittle’s 73.8% to Butlers 81.9%, and Walker from 73.8% to 75.5%. Peters, Dock and Butler all graded out over 80%, I believe the first time I’ve seen that since I started grading the lines at the start of last season.
Here is how Preston’s day in the run game unfolded:
Run 1—2 yards: Preston got a 2 yard push on 77 (Jenkins) with a mild assist by Dock
Run 2—3 yards: Preston and Dock doubled 77 initially. As soon as Dock left 77 beat Preston’s block and got in on the tackle.
Run 3—35 yards: Preston missed a cut on 50, who almost kept Lynch’s 35 yard gain to about 12 yards
Run 4—2 yards: Preston got a 4 yard push on 69.
Run 5—4 yards: Preston slanted right to block 92. He did an okay job for about 3 seconds and then just stopped, which let 92 run to the ball and get in on the tackle.
Run 6—2 yards: Preston and Butler doubled 77 and drove him 5 yards down the line. Butler put him down at the end of the play.
Run 7—13 yards: Preston and Butler doubled 77 initially. Butler left to hit 50 and 77 wrestled Preston down but Lynch was already past them.
Run 8—5 yards: Preston shielded 77 from the RB and got a piece of 50 at the 2nd level, just not enough to keep him from being in on the tackle.
Run 9—2 yards: Preston and Butler doubled 77. Butler put him down.
Run 10—7 yards: Preston cut 53 at the 2nd level.
Run 11—1 yard: Preston got no push at all but at least didn’t give up ground.
Run 12—1 yard: Preston and Dock doubled 77 and put him down.
Run 13—6 yards: Preston danced with 91.
Run 14—14 yards: Preston again danced with 91—no serious movement by either party. Call it a slow dance.
Run 15—1 yard: 77 moved Preston to the right and got in on the tackle. That was in spite of an initial pop from Butler.
Run 16—4 yards: Preston hit 50 at the 2nd level and kept after him. He put 50 down at the end of the play.
Run 17—6 yards: Dock chipped 77 for Preston. 77 then tossed Preston aside and got in on the tackle.
Run 18—1 yard: Preston was shoved into the backfield 2 yards by 77. 77 and Lynch each went to their respective right which meant 77 couldn’t kill the play.
Run 19—6 yards: Dock chipped 77, who then manhandled Preston but Jackson was already past.
Run 20—2 yards: Preston got a 1 yard push on 91.
Run 21—8 yards: Preston hand fought with 92 but never got into his body. 92 moved right and got in on the tackle.
Run 22—minus 1 yard: 77 drove Preston back 3 yards and then down the line 5 more yards.
Run 23—3 yards: Preston was driven to the ground by 91.
Run 24—9 yards: Dock chipped 91, who then threw Preston aside.
Run 25—11 yard TD: Preston wrestled 91 down.
Run 26—4 yards: 77 shoved him back 1 yard, then turned and made the tackle as Lynch tried to run by.
Run 27—5 yards: Preston stood up 77 one-on-one.
Run 28—3 yards: Preston was pushed back 1 yard but got 77 on the ground.
Run 29—4 yards: Preston was shoved back 2 yards by 77
If you’ve been following my long winded rants you’ll see that Preston had a Preston-esque game. He’s not nearly good enough to handle the DTs in the division one-on-one. He even struggles when he gets initial help from one of the guards. I did notice on Buffalobills.com that Chris Brown believes that Buffalo will be looking to upgrade the center position this offseason. He also reported that Peters has been given assurances that a new deal is in the offing. With no progress yet I’m assuming that it’s an offseason (pre-OTA) project. That would make Peters the third highly paid offensive lineman. I don’t know that Buffalo can afford 4 of them so that rules out a free agent like Birk. All signs point to Buffalo using a high draft pick on the center position.
For the game, the Bills ran 9 times through the left C gap for 58 yards (6.4 ypa), 4 times for 19 yards (4.8 ypa) through the left B gap, 7 times for 18 yards (2.6 ypa) through the A gap, 5 times for 45 yards (9.0 ypa) through the right B gap and 4 times for 22 yards (5.5 ypa) through the right C gap. Running away from Preston and the DTs he can’t handle paid off for Buffalo—something that isn’t supposed to work against a 3-4 defense.
When the Bills have run wide, they appear to have found a blocking scheme that they really like. Run 3 (35 yards—though it really would have been about 12 if not for shoddy tackling and Lynch’s drive) illustrates it perfectly. (I’d draw a picture if I could—you can doodle it and that might help make my ramblings clear.) The alignment was Peters, Dock, Preston, Butler, Walker, Fine and Schouman. 77 lined up over Preston. 70 lined up in the gap between Butler and Walker. 96 lined up in the gap between Fine and Schouman. 50 was about 4 yards off the line behind 77 and 70, about even with the gap between Preston and Butler. 52 was about 4 yards off the line behind 70 and 96—roughly even with the gap between Walker and Fine. 24 was about 4 yards off the line and outside of Schouman’s right shoulder.
Peters pushed 93 4 yards and wouldn’t let him turn to chase the play. Dock slanted right and tried—unsuccessfully—to cut Jenkins. Preston went more or less straight to the 2nd level where he missed a cut on 50, who almost limited the gain to 12 yards. Here’s where it gets interesting. Fine slanted left and blocked 70, who started the play in the gap between Butler and Walker. Butler pulled to Fine’s right, went to the 2nd level and did a good job blocking 52. Schouman slanted slightly to the left and blocked 96. Walker pulled all the way around Schouman’s right and blocked the only guy out there, an unhappy 24…who was unceremoniously deposited 12 yards downfield with 2 swats.
So, the blocking alignment went from Butler, Walker, Fine, Schouman to Fine, Butler, Schouman Walker. The Bills trusted Fine to block a 3-4 DE one-on-one. How did he do? Well, he battled 70 for 3 yards and then cut him. Schouman had a rush OLB one-on-one. He tied 96 up, fought him for 6 yards and then cut him after hurtling 70’s prone body. The TEs made that play and the Bills used it several times during the game—both running wide left and wide right. Look for them to use it against Denver and particularly against the Patriots as they run a 3-4. It really is a thing of beauty. The play also demonstrates how the Bills rank their TEs. Fine is their top blocking guy as he is consistently given the toughest assignments, like DEs. Schouman would be second because he’s getting the easier gig, like a LB. Royal, well, he’s not even on the field.