Third Quarter Grades: Bills Offensive Line

We’re three quarters through the season so it’s time to look at where the Buffalo Bills' starting offensive linemen - Jason Peters, Derrick Dockery, Duke Preston, Brad Butler and Langston Walker - stand. I’m kind of a nerdy chart guy myself, but my last attempt at charts didn’t work out too well. Bear in mind that I don’t have much of the Chargers game factored in...

     Run Plays
Jason Peters: 78 good, 159 decent, 26 bad, 4 killed, grade: 79.0
Derrick Dockery: 66 good, 208 decent, 26 bad, 5 killed, grade: 77.7
Duke Preston: 13 good, 95 decent, 72 bad, 15 killed, grade: 71.6
Brad Butler: 56 good, 135 decent, 30 bad, 7 killed, grade: 77.3
Langston Walker: 43 good, 231 decent, 25 bad, 2 killed, grade: 76.2

     Pass Plays
Jason Peters: 10 good, 329 decent, 17 bad, 11 killed, grade: 74.6
Derrick Dockery: 6 good, 375 decent, 18 bad, 3 killed, grade: 74.4
Duke Preston: 1 good, 214 decent, 15 bad, 7 killed, grade: 70.3
Brad Butler: 10 good, 254 decent, 10 bad, 3 killed, grade: 75.0
Langston Walker: 3 good, 374 decent, 21 bad, 4 killed, grade: 74.1

     Easy Killer
Jason Peters: 15 killed plays (2.1% of plays), 6.5 killed drives (4.9% of drives)
Derrick Dockery: 8 killed plays (1.5% of plays, 5 killed drives (3.8% of drives)
Duke Preston: 22 killed plays (3.2% of plays), 9 killed drives (6.8% of drives)
Brad Butler: 10 killed plays (1.4% of plays), 2 killed drives (1.5% of drives)
Langston Walker: 6 killed plays (0.9% of plays), 3.5 killed drives (2.6% of drives)

Peters infuriated many of when he decided to sit home during all of the OTAs and training camp in a futile effort to get his contract redone. He then missed the first game and spent the first half of the season getting back to his Pro Bowl form. Peters is edging towards 80% range in run blocking. I was actually surprised to see that he has killed almost 1 of 20 drives this year. In short, his petulance cost the Bills dearly but he is indeed back to where he was at the end of last season. He may even be performing better than he was at the end of last year, a much better way to go about getting a new contract than moping at home. The drive he killed against the 49ers was the first he’d been responsible for spoiling in over a month. I suspect his percentage of killed plays and killed drives will drop by the end of the season. Of course he’ll have to overcome the 2 drives he killed against Miami the day after I wrote my prediction...

Dock seems to be a popular whipping boy on the boards. I’m guessing that it has a lot to do with the fat contract he was handed within 38 seconds of stepping foot in the Bills’ front office. A little of it seems to have to do with fat guys from UT. Whatever. He’s a solid guard, though he’s better on the line than he is in space. His 77.7% on run plays is second only to Peters. He also doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He’s killed fewer plays and than Butler, never mind that Dock has played every snap while Butler has missed considerable time. The only thing I’m worried about at the moment is that he killed one drive in each of the three games preceding the 49ers tilt. He added a killed play against Miami but no killed drives.

Preston is just awful. He didn’t play in 4 games and saw limited snaps in several others. He still managed to kill more plays and more drives than any 2 other starting linemen combined. (Yes, Butler and Peters have more killed plays together but not as many killed drives—third quarter grades, not counting Miami.) My guess is that he’s in D-range before the end of the season, something that would make me pine for Fowler… If I figured in only the snaps in which he played, Preston’s killed plays go to 5.4%. Yikes. Well, that’s only one third as scary as the 14.3% of killed drives he’d be responsible for if I looked only at games in which he saw significant action. 4-3, 3-4, some mutant thing Belicheat comes up with…..it doesn’t matter. It’s a good bet Preston can’t handle the man across from him. With Fowler on his way out the Bills will pick up a center (Woo Hoo!) to compete with Preston. My guess is Preston is either cut or 2nd/3rd string by the end of training camp.

Butler continues to be a late round gem for the Bills. He grades out at 77.3% in the run game, third place on the line. He also grades out at a flat 75% on passing downs. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, as the low number of killed plays and drives show. He’s pretty good in space and regularly takes out LBs at the second level. Buffalo makes use of his athleticism by pulling him to lead runs to the left. However, just like Preston, Butler hasn’t been on the field every snap so his numbers look a bit different than if he’d been on the field every snap. He missed essentially 4 games with an injury and has at times come out of games for short spells with various dings. That, to me, is the real concern with Butler. He missed his entire rookie year with a shoulder injury. He missed time here and there last season. He’s now missed a month this year. He’s a talented guy and a nice story but what does it matter if he can’t be counted on every Sunday?

Walker seems to catch a lot of abuse. My guess is that much of that comes from his less-than-stellar physique. (I think Parrish could hide in Walker’s spare tire, though good luck getting Parrish to sign on to that experiment.) Part of it could be due to his Oakland origins and their offensive line woes. He’s not a standout on run plays (76.2%) and certainly isn’t quick enough to keep up with speedy defenders. However, he’s killing less than 1% of plays and has only killed 2.6% of drives. In other words, when he makes mistakes they tend to be big ones but he’s only making 1 mistake every other game or so. Walker’s biggest liability is tied to his physique. He’s just too big to move and hit people in space. You will often see him sort of loping down the line on a run to the left vainly attempting to catch up to anyone in order to throw a block.

Run Direction
The Bills ran through the left C gap 55 times for 298 (5.4 ypa), 62 times through the left B gap for 277 yards (4.5 ypa), 96 times through the A gap for 233 yards (3.3 ypa), 35 times through the right B gap for 143 yards (4.1 ypa) and 54 times through the right C gap for 267 yards (4.9 ypa). Yes, I know. Numbers are nice but what do they mean? The Bills run most efficiently to the outside of the tackles (5.4 and 4.9 ypa). The Bills exceed the standard 4.0 ypa when they run through the B gaps (between Peters/Dock or Walker/Butler) with 4.5 ypa and 4.1 ypa. The Bills are significantly below the 4.0 benchmark when they run up the middle (Dock/Preston or Butler/Preston) with 3.3 ypa. Buffalo needs to be able to run the ball up the gut so I don’t mind at all that they’ve run though the A gap more than any other. However, Buffalo needs to get more per attempt in the A gap and that means they need better play from center. 3 oversized DTs reside in the AFC East so Buffalo’s center needs to be able to hold his own with the big boys at least some of the time.

Other Blockers
While I don’t keep track of TEs and RBs when it comes to blocking I have been watching them more closely of late. I’ve just been blown away by Fine. He’s tenacious, strong and uses good technique. Does anyone think it’s a coincidence that the Bills’ run game started to take off right about the time he started getting on the field? Schouman isn’t as good of a blocker and tends to try to compensate by doing things like holding or shoving his guy in the back as he runs to the ball carrier. McIntyre isn’t at all impressive as a blocker, though he will hit people…just not hard enough to, you know, stop them from making the tackle. Oh, and he has hands of stone. While the TE position has stabilized the FB position is one of dire need. Watching the McClain last rumble for the Ravens was painful, knowing Buffalo could have had him instead of, say, Ellis.

Other drive killers
There are other drive killers besides the offensive line, though reserve offensive linemen killed 8.5 drives—Fowler 6.5, Whittle 1, Chambers 1. It should surprise no one that Edwards leads the way with 24.5 given that he touches the ball more than anyone else. Losman has killed 6 and I’ve (dis)credited coaching with 13. 8 drives have ended at the gun (half or end of game) while Royal has killed 1.5. Wide receivers have killed 8.5—Evans 4.5, Parrish 2, Johnson 1, Hardy 1. Lynch has killed 6.5 drives, while Jackson had killed 2 and McIntyre 1. I am surprised to find that, at this late date, crap calls by the refs have yet to doom any Bills drive.

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